War’s Lasting Harvest

President Bush has declared that the war in Iraq is over. But from the vantage point of his garden, recent National Guard retiree and Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator, Tom Springer, wonders what the lasting harvest of this conflict will be:

Transcript

President Bush has declared that the war in Iraq is over. But from the vantage point of his
garden, recent National Guard retiree and Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator, Tom
Springer, wonders what the lasting harvest of this conflict will be:


When I retired from the Army National Guard last December, I was looking forward to having
more free time. To commemorate my 22 years of service, I decided to plant my biggest vegetable
garden ever.


But even with more leisure time, I still hate to pull weeds. So I’ve covered my garden with
newspapers and straw. After the fall rains, I’ll till this organic matter back into the soil to prepare
for another growing season.


However, my usually peaceful garden conceals a litany of troubles. That’s because the
newspapers I’m using for a weed barrier read like an almanac of the recent war. Beneath my
cherry tomatoes, there’s breaking news of the early fights for Umm Qasr and Basra. Under the
green peppers, I can follow the 7th Marines on their river campaign up the Tigris and Euphrates.
Near my Spanish onions – and I’m sure the Spanish prime minister would approve – Saddam’s
statue falls to a cheering crowd in Baghdad.


Yet this guns-and-butter irony is a bit unsettling. Like many Americans, I am still ambivalent
about the war. Initially, I was against it. Then once it began, I believed the best course was to
win decisively. And as a veteran, I deeply respect the American men and women who so ably
proved themselves in Iraq.


Regardless of your viewpoint, on this much we can agree: Those who fought the war have seen
horrors and faced dangers that we civilians can scarcely imagine. Here, at home, the war may
already be old news. But for our returning veterans, its impact will last a lifetime.


I think about that as I read my garden newspapers. I think about how the sun and rain will
transform this violent news into food for the plants and nourishment for my body. And I think
about the life-changing nature of war – how it leaves some people broken, but gives others a new
sense of purpose and vocation.


Without question, our veterans deserve all the parades, yellow ribbons and happy homecomings
we can give them. But after the brass bands die down, I hope our newest heroes find something
equally valuable. I hope they find quiet, blissful places where they can heal their jangled nerves.
I hope they find a peaceful garden, where the fears and angers of war will melt away beneath the
cloudless skies of summer.


Tom Springer is a freelance writer from Three Rivers, Michigan.

Hollywood Warnings Undue

Many famous entertainers love preaching to America about environmental issues and war. But Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Mike VanBuren says they first ought to look at their own lavish lifestyles:

Transcript

Many famous entertainers love preaching to America about environmental issues and war. But
Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Mike VanBuren says they first ought to look at their
own lavish lifestyles:


On the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, musician Sheryl Crow issued a challenge on her web site.
She urged those supporting the military action to trade in their “gas guzzlers” and buy smaller cars.
She said this will break our dependency on foreign oil and, presumably, help avoid future wars.


Sheryl’s challenge goes nicely with recent claims by other Hollywood celebrities. Namely, that
SUVs are as threatening to America as angry members of al-Qaida. Sheryl’s no terrorist, so she
promised to sell her own SUV – a BMW.


I’m sure these critics are well intentioned. And I agree that we need to find ways to conserve
energy and break our addiction to Middle East crude. But they seldom mention anything about the
sprawling mansions they live in, the stretch limousines they use, or the fuel-guzzling jets they fly to
holidays in Paris and Acapulco.


All these things – and more – make us dependent on foreign oil. SUVs are only part of the
equation. The U.S. Department of Energy says that transportation of goods and people accounts
for less than a third of our energy use. Another third is consumed by homes and commerce, and
slightly more than that by industry.


So why are celebrities taking aim only at SUV owners – while ignoring their own energy wasting
habits?


It reminds me of students at a conservation school I attended many years ago. Each of us wanted
to save the environment. Or so we said.


One day, I challenged classmates about driving into town each evening to drink beer and dance at
local taverns. How could we teach others to save resources if we couldn’t keep our own cars
parked for even a few days?

They rolled their eyes and snickered at my stinginess. Our instructor – a Ph.D. in biology – called
me a “sour grape.”

He may have been right. I could be a “sour grape.” But I can’t help it – especially when I meet
self-righteous do-gooders. They tend to see others with 20/20 vision, but are blind to the
wastefulness in their own lives.

The last time I was in Tinseltown, I was struck by the number of fancy SUVs that were tooling
around Beverly Hills and Bel Air. Some of them were parked outside homes as big as Saudi
palaces.

I drove past the Shrine Auditorium on Oscar night. I saw a huge parking lot full of long, white
limos. Their engines were running, so air conditioners could keep the stars cool when they emerged
for trips to parties across town.

If Hollywood elites want us to drive smaller cars, shouldn’t they start by changing their own
consumptive lifestyles? And couldn’t the privileged class save energy by flying less, driving Hondas
to the Academy Awards show, and draining the water from their heated swimming pools?

Mike VanBuren is an award-winning environmental writer living near Richland, Michigan.

‘Greener’ Cars Won’t Save Us From Sprawl

Many feel that cars powered by fuel cells will save us from a future of pollution and rising oil prices. But Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator James Howard Kunstler says there’s more to think about… he says it’s time to reconsider not just WHAT we drive but HOW we live:

Transcript

Many feel that cars powered by fuel cells will save us from a future of pollution and rising oil
prices. But Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator James Howard Kunstler says there’s
more to think about and that it’s time to reconsider not just what we drive but how we live:


For quite a while now it’s been fashionable among the environmentally-minded to decry the
ownership of SUVs. This says a lot about what’s wrong with the conventional thinking of the
progressive / green crowd.


Would the everyday environment in America be any better if it were full of compact cars instead
of giant gas-guzzling Chevy Denalis and Ford Expeditions? I don’t think it would make a bit of
difference, really. We’d still be a car-dependent society stuck in a national automobile slum. The
problem with America is not big cars, it’s the fact that cars of all sizes have such an
overwhelming presence in our lives, and that driving is virtually mandatory for the ordinary
business of daily life.


Many in the anti-SUV crowd assume that we will solve our car problem with new technology,
like hydrogen fuel cells. Or that low-emission, environmentally-friendly hybrid cars will help to
usher in a sustainable way of life in America.


In fact, cleaner-running, higher mileage cars would do nothing to mitigate the degraded public
realm of a nation that has become a strip mall from sea to shining sea. They would not lessen
commuting distances or times. They would not reduce the number of car trips per day per
household. If anything, they would only promote the idea that we should continue living this way
– that suburban sprawl is normal and desirable, instead of what it is: the most destructive
development pattern the world has ever seen, and a living arrangement with poor prospects for
the future.


Why do we believe that better-running cars will save us? Because environmentalists are stuck in
a culture of quantification, just like their corporate bean-counter adversaries. It’s easy to count up
the number of carbon dioxide molecules in a cubic foot of air, and reduce the whole car issue to
good air or bad air. But air pollution or miles-per-gallon are hardly the only problems with car
dependency. The degradation of the everyday environment in general and of public space in
particular is at least as important, and is not subject to statistical analysis. It’s a question of
quality, not numbers.


In the age of austerity and global strife that is coming down the pike at us, we are going to need
walkable neighborhoods, towns and villages and public transit systems that are a pleasure to use.
Many of us pay premium prices to vacation in European cities precisely because they offer this
way of living, with great railroad and streetcar systems. Europeans still have cars, but they’re not
sentenced to own one per family member or spend two or three hours every day in them. It
would be nice to have these options here in the USA.


In the meantime, I really don’t care whether Americans drive Humvees or Toyota Priuses. Both
big and small cars are cluttering up our everyday world and wasting our lives.


James Howard Kunstler is the author of ‘The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition’ and
other books. He comes to us by way of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.

The Scent of Peace

Struggle is the very essence of nature. As long as humans have lived, there has been war, and today there is no single issue looming larger in the American psyche than the matter of war with Iraq. After the “expert” opinions, national surveys, and grainy surveillance photos, ultimately – Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Julia King believes – the heart must respond. Here, she lets hers speak:

Transcript

Struggle is the very essence of nature. As long as humans have lived, there has been war. And
today there is no single issue looming larger in the American psyche than the matter of war with
Iraq. After the “expert” opinions, national surveys, and grainy surveillance photos, ultimately –
Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Julia King believes – the heart must respond. Here, she lets hers
speak:


I am a woman who wants peace. It was stitched into the fabric of my soul some 400,000 years
ago when first we walked the planet. It was written in the stars and in the rolling oceans and in
the crickets’ song and on the soft, sweet-smelling skin of my daughter’s cheek. It’s not a whim,
this longing, this weight in my bones; it’s of design.


Women know these truths, not because we are better or smarter, but because we are different
from men, especially men who would launch horror into the lives of mothers and sons,
grandfathers and daughters, friends and strangers.


Yes, women have been loud and angry and strong; we have dominated and bullied, we have
fought and attacked, but we have not made war. Because we have grown humans in our bodies
and labored to help them into the world and then cradled them at our breasts to nourish them, we
take personally their orchestrated, surgical destruction.


I know, some will shout “stereotype!” They’ll say it’s not that simple – and they’ll be right: it
isn’t. “Margaret Thatcher,” they’ll say. But I won’t be convinced. And that’s okay – every
certainty is an imperfect expression of the human condition.


One can persuade the mind of almost anything. But women have learned to listen just as
carefully to a different kind of honesty – to joy, to pain.


Do not misunderstand these words: feeling is not the subjugation of intellect. Women are smart;
we are knowledgeable; we deal in fact and information. We simply understand that love, that
loss, that death, that anguish is also information – that it is not incidental that the sound of
children’s laughter warms, or that a husbands’ touch comforts, or that the frailty of a parent
saddens. These are factors to be added to every equation. And only once in a very blue moon do
they add up to war.


Women know early in life the joy of friendship, the richness of human connectedness. We grasp,
as if by magic, the evanescence of life. It is why we worry, why we cry, why we celebrate so
fiercely the things, the people we know to be important. There has never been a new mother who
didn’t lose herself in her baby’s eyes… and who wasn’t also terrified at the prospect of one so
small and delicate holding so much in that tiny, beating heart.


“What if…?” Mothers have whispered for all these thousands of years, “What if something were
to happen…?”

War ignores all of these things. But they’re true. Go look at the stars; watch the ocean; hear the
crickets. Smell the soft skin of your son’s cheek. Peace is true.


And I am a woman who wants peace. It’s not a whim; it’s of design.


Host Tag: Julia King lives and writes in Goshen, Indiana. She comes to us by way of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.

Protesters Are Everyday People

It would appear that political protest is becoming a major part of international trade negotiations. In less than two years, thousands of protesters have been mobilized for trade talks in Quebec City, Seattle and Washington D.C. While much attention has been focused on the relatively small number of protesters who would be considered to be extreme in their views, Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Suzanne Elston says that the majority of the activists are ordinary people doing extraordinary things:

Transcript

It would appear that political protest is becoming a major part of international trade negotiations. In less than two years, thousands of protesters have been mobilized for trade talks in Quebec City, Seattle and Washington D.C. While much attention has been focused on the relatively small number of protesters who would be considered to be extreme in their views, Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Suzanne Elston says that the majority of the activists are ordinary people doing extraordinary things.


A couple of years ago I was shocked to discover that I had a file with the Canadian Intelligence agency. At first I thought it was funny. I mean I’m such a threat to national security. I think I’ve had one speeding ticket in 20 years, I’ve never been arrested and the most radical thing I thought I’d ever done was get a second hole pierced in one ear.


Apparently, my government thought differently. I’d been working with a local group trying to make public safety an issue at a nearby nuclear power plant. Our group consisted of a retired nurse, a couple of housewives, an autoworker, a schoolteacher and a biologist. Hardly the makings of a subversive group of terrorists, but we were being watched, nonetheless.


The problem wasn’t what we were doing; it was what we were asking the government to do. Our nuclear industry was still shrouded in the secrecy that had given birth to the nuclear weapons program a half a century earlier. We were dangerous because we wanted to change that.
We wanted them to create a transparent process around nuclear health and safety issues. Among other things, we wanted them to let the public know when there was a spill at the plant or when workers weren’t doing their jobs properly.


What’s ironic about all this is today the very ideas that had us labeled as radicals worth watching are now a regular part of public policy. We didn’t change our ideas, everybody else just caught up.


And now a whole new generation of activists is being watched because they want an open and honest process around free-trade issues. Like us, the majority of them are law- abiding, tax-paying citizens who simply want their voices heard. They want to make sure in the move toward globalization things like environmental protection and human rights aren’t ignored. They’re protesting out of frustration because they’re being shut out of the process.


Look at the people that I know who went to Quebec City. One colleague is a university professor and yet another is a respected author who works on cancer prevention. But perhaps the best example is my friend Denise. She’s the mother of four boys and has been teaching at a religious high school for 20 years. In her spare time she sings in her church choir and leads a youth group. Denise was tear-gassed as she sat in a prayer circle with a bunch of other women for no apparent reason. Talk to anyone who was in Seattle or Quebec or Washington and you’ll hear similar stories.


These are not radical terrorists who are threatening to dismantle society as we know it, but that’s exactly how they’re treated whenever they gather to try and influence the process – and with good reason. They pose a much more serious threat to the status quo than any bomb wielding terrorist. And that’s because they are right and righteousness is a terrifying thing.


Social activists are frequently persecuted by the very system that they seek to improve. Look at the civil rights movement. People were harassed, beaten, jailed and even killed. Why? Because they upheld an ideal of social justice that transcended the status quo.


This same process has happened over and over again throughout history. The anti-war protests during the 60s, Tianammen Square a decade ago. Every time people had a vision that frightened the powers of the day.


And so now this latest generation of social revolutionaries is trying to slow the push toward globalization. They’re concerned that the environment, local cultures and developing nations will suffer. But rather than being applauded for their courage and vision, they are being stalked by government agencies like common criminals. Sound familiar?


The good news is that in time, like so many times before, their ideas will gain momentum until they reach a critical mass. Eventually the powers that be will get it, and the system will change, and we will wonder (or even forget) what all the fuss was about.

Commentary – The Grass Is Always Greener

With warm weather comes America’s annual lawn competition.
Homeowners spend time and money in an effort to achieve a thick, green
carpet of grass, sometimes hiring professionals to apply herbicides,
pesticides, and fertilizers to their yards. Great Lakes Radio
Consortium
commentator, Julia King, is opting out of what she considers an
unhealthy
practice. For this, she hopes to be rewarded: