Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Two Shrines

This morning I ran an errand in Hollywood. Found a parking space on Vine and crossed it, and then I noticed the wreaths and the flowers. It had to be for James Brown.

There it was, right by his star in the sidewalk. It's on Vine, just north of Sunset Boulevard. It's next to a Borders book store. Two cheap easels with wreaths, ribbons thanking James, and a few candles and written messages. It rained overnight, and the display had gotten drenched.

The first thought was that it was surprisingly small, considering Brown's following. The second thought was this: we arrest people for sleeping on the sidewalk, on grounds that they are obstructing. This display takes up about as much space as a sleeping man.

Coming back from that errand, driving east on Los Feliz Boulevard, I saw an enormous shrine - three times as big as James's - by a tree in front of a gated house. A jogger had stopped to look over the items on display, as if it were a macabre yard sale. Curiosity got to me, so I parked and walked back to the big old tree that had become a memorial.

There were handwritten messages in English and Spanish. Poinsettias and ribbons. Sports jerseys. Baseballs arranged in a crucifix. Many, many candles and votives. Considerately, someone had posted a newspaper clipping cluing passers-by in to what this was about. From the deep gash in the tree's trunk, I had already guessed that a car accident had taken place.

The story is a sad one. A Nissan Maxima full of teenage boys, students at a nearby Catholic school, were driving the boulevard at high speed Wednesday night. The boy driving the car swerved in order to pass a car, lost control of the vehicle, and drove straight into this old tree. For some reason, the car caught fire and the boys were trapped inside. The neighbors emerged from their fortress-houses with buckets of water and garden hoses, but the fire was too hot. The story gets even worse than that: the father of one of the boys had been following them in another car, and he could do nothing but wait for the fire department to arrive while his son died in a vehicle fire right in front of him. Three boys died. One boy survived, and so did the tree.

The shrine included burnt and melted parts from the automobile.

For a moment, it felt as though there was nothing to do but read the tributes. Grieving friends and family members had built a colorful and solemn shrine here. The death of a pop star felt like a remote event, something in a storybook. This was a real event.

As I stood by the exhibit, a woman approached with two grandsons in tow. She spoke to them in Spanish. She had brought them here to see, to hear the story, look at the tree and the melted bumper, to catch the sadness that had been left behind. The boys took it in with big deer eyes.
Wise, wise woman.

And as I finish typing this story, the rain has begun to fall again.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Eve: A Moment Alone With The Whole Universe

All I wanted for Christmas was for someplace to be open on Christmas Eve. Thank you, Santa, for Figaro Cafe on Vermont Avenue.

It was looking like a rough Christmas Eve on my own in L.A. First, there was the bright idea of redeeming a gift card at Barnes & Noble in Glendale: nothing doing. All the shops closed at six.

Back in Los Feliz, it was looking very small-townish. Mexico City: closed. Skylight Books: closed. Grocery store: closed. Everything: closed. In such a diverse city, I wondered, could there be a lack of Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and other non-Christmasy employees and customers?

Then Figaro appeared, its awnings trimmed with little lights and lively conversations going on at their absurdly small sidewalk tables. Oooh la la, could I go for some coffee and some port while writing a couple of Christmas letters!

That's right: I wrote Christmas letters on Christmas Eve. Is there a problem? I don't welcome people to places before they have arrived, thank them for things they have not yet done, or resent people who have not yet hurt me. Because of this perversion, I write my Christmas cards and letters sometime around Christmas Eve. This works nicely, because at the same time I tender blessings for the year to come.

So Figaro was my host as I sat on Vermont Boulevard writing letters.

A theme emerged as I wrote Christmas cards for some Buddhist friends. Yes, you read that sentence correctly. What, you and I both wonder, would I write about?

Currently, I am conversing with Grayling's Life, Sex and Ideas, and arguing with the book a fair amount, especially with respect to religion. Unlike Grayling, I am willing to see something artistic and creative about the religious imagination, provided religion has not become an ideology. Grayling, it seems, makes no such distinction.

It is not my belief that a man literally sat under a tree for six years without scratching his nose or eating something or dying - yet the story is a moving one, and points to a truth that lives in my emotional and creative being. Does this make any sense? It is inspiring. Because it inspires, it is telling a truth that is not history but plays a role in it. I don't need to believe Siddhartha sat there for six years literally. There is no document anywhere of him making this claim himself!

Stephen Mitchell suggested that religions are elaborate languages for discussing the inexpressible. This is beautiful.

Anyway, so this Buddhist is sipping port and writing Christmas cards to his Buddhist pals. Does this sound like a joke? It is. I won't promise you a good punchline, but here's what I wrote about Christmas.

Christmas Eve is a space where friends and family appreciate one another as they are, coming together in appreciation for conversation, eating, sharing music and comparing an opinion or two about this world we've made.

Then Christmas comes and Buddhists, without believing Christianity literally or accepting Jesus as an exclusive and personal savior, can still appreciate the meaning of Christmas. The Holy Spirit is born as a person in the world of form, and submits to the suffering of the human realm like a mop, taking the grit into its body, for you and me. Do Buddhists not recognize and celebrate this?

On my personal altar, I not only put up a seated Buddha, but also a rosary with Jesus on the Cross. The seated Buddha moves me for its resolve, the faith it takes to say, "I am not going to get up from this place until the mystery is penetrated." The Crucifixion, for me personally, conveys the terrible gravity of the Bodhisattva vow. Compassion is not a bowl of strawberries - not among human beings.

(It reminds me of a time I witnessed somebody ask Zen Master Dae Kwang how long they should "try" Zen practice, and he shot back at them: "Try it until you die.")

So coming together - whether it's in time and space, or in the heart of a person writing letters to loved ones at a sidewalk cafe - we appreciate the flowering of you and me, forgive folly, and (perhaps) renew a vow we would do well to follow every day of the year.

Namu Kwan Se Um Bosal.

Merry Christmas.

Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for your life.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Soon My Eyes Will Close (Soul-Tuckered)

Been working on a song for ukulele, lyrics by Gus Kahn...

Though the days are long
Twilight sings a song
Of the happiness that used to be.
Soon my eyes will close
Soon I'll find repose
And in dreams you're always near to me.
I'll see you in my dreams...


I am bone weary, deep hearted, metallic taste in the mouth tired. World-tired. Soul tuckered.
When it's time to close my eyes and find repose (if not parinirvana ) , will I have the energy to pluck that song out on my ukulele - the loopiest sort of death poem ever?
On this cold night in Los Angeles, while my ginger tea nightcap brews on the stovetop, Shakespeare and Seung Sahn are having a dialogue. Listen in.

Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more; it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.


-Shakespeare (from MacBeth)

Coming empty-handed, going empty-handed -- that is human.
When you are born, where do you come from?
When you die, where do you go?
Life is like a floating cloud which appears.
Death is like a floating cloud which disappears.
The floating cloud itself originally does not exist.
Life and death, coming and going, are also like this.
But there is one thing which always remains clear.
It is pure and clear, not depending on life and death.
What is that one pure and clear thing?

-Seung Sahn

I would like to wrap this blanket around everyone lost in the cold.

Tender eyes that shine,
They will guide my way tonight.
I'll see you in my dreams...


ka-plunka dunka wunka chung...!

Bringing Santa To South L.A.

At a quarter to nine yesterday morning, as I was pulling in to APCH, the line had already started. We would not be giving away toys until 1:00 PM, and the line was already around the corner from 29th Street reaching down Central Avenue. Soon I was told that in the past people have camped out for a place in line.

After a staff breakfast, the entire place went to work. Toys were still being delivered after the toy giveaway began, so for the whole day we had people sorting toys into appropriate age groups. We put the merchandise into gift bags - perhaps 2,500 of them. The line soon extended several blocks. People were stamped on the wrist as they departed, to prevent repeat visits. A whole lot of happy children came and went. Children arriving with their parents were greeted inside by Juliana in a Santa Hat, who shouted back orders such as, "Boy! 8!" and "baby girl!" and runners worked their way around the dance room, now stuffed with bags of gifts, until - long after dark - there was nothing left to give the stragglers.

There was talk of handing out tickets for the remaining gifts, so that people who were just too late could at least go home instead of waiting in that line. Other heads were concerned about the real possibility of fighting for the tickets - there had been fights in the line during the day, a line that didn't shrink until nightfall.

The donations came from all kinds of sources. A wealthy investor went on a shopping spree, buying up a vanload of toys in addition to toys for every child who happened to be in the store that day. We also received shipments from warehouses with surplus they wanted to dump, or promotional items, some of which we discarded. Some people really think it's a great idea to give kids from South L.A. gun toys - or maybe they aren't thinking at all.

Another howler was the shipment of cricket bats from the BBC. Because Los Angeles is such a big cricket town, you know. Big hefty deadly weapons, these things. We disposed of them. Another screamer was the pallet's worth supply of Republican and Democrat presidential campaign souvenirs - going back to 2000. Yes, we had Gore/Lieberman donkeys and Bush/Cheney elephants, with clock radios in their chests that no longer worked. How good would we feel about giving out broken toys? How good would we feel about giving people mementos of a president who cared nothing for them and their problems? We moved these boxes into the back.

And the sun went down and we kept on handing out toys. Some teamsters came out and volunteered their time - all of them employees of UPS and used to all of this, the only difference being today they could do it in jeans and Santa hats. The company provided boxed lunches from Subway and everyone left bone-tired.

At the end, we put together bags for stragglers - assembled with the stuff that was left: laniards, keychains, strange little books, JEOPARDY sweatshirts, Lakers teddy bears, and funny wigs (it was some Superbowl souvenir).

In the end, we even broke out the donkeys and elephants. We figured that as long as we distributed them in pairs, it was fair; and enterprising parents could always cut off the politicians and be left with a decent dolly for their baby.

And after I left, there was one more Christmas errand.

From time to time throughout 2006, a certain friend kept mentioning a desire to pick up guitar. A few weeks ago, I contrived to bring him with me to a music store - the conceit was that I was "Christmas shopping," and in a sneaky way that is actually true: I wanted to see what he did in the music store. Sure enough, he was nosing about the guitars and trying them out.

Being in no position to buy someone a guitar, a few mutual friends together, one of whom found a good deal for a beautiful classical guitar, and Sarah is going to give him lessons. Last night, we presented him with his gift (he leaves town this morning) and Sarah taught him his first two chords. His reaction was delightful.

It is fun to be an elf.

Pinky Boot Camp

The Theatre Dojo held the last of its 2-day introductory workshops in North Hollywood last week, and a bunch of wonderful participants appeared who took part in our experiment and were generous with criticism and praise.

On Saturday, I had scheduled a class on meditation and movement for actors. Rooted in traditional Zen sitting, the idea would be to incorporate movement and improvisation without altering focus, so as to allow creative inspiration to move us without censorship. It is my fantasy to develop a performance piece (and generate a text) using this process. This would be, however, only an introduction.

On Saturday morning, calls and emails started coming in: one cancellation after another. It happens. Sick. Holidays. Sick of the holidays. One by one, including my fellow Dojo instructors, people let me know they would not be coming. One participant was left.

There was a temptation to cancel. It was a rainy day in Los Angeles, the rare kind of wonderful rainy day I like to savor with a brisk walk outdoors, perhaps through Griffith Park or even by the ocean, wrapped up in a scarf and my cherished brown cap, with a stop at a pub for a hot toddy.

It is a familiar situation and a familiar temptation for anyone who has managed a Zen retreat or a Zen group. There are times when you don't get turnout, and you are faced with the decision: I committed the time, do I go through and sit anyway? Interesting to watch desire and vow wrestle one another - two wrestlers to whom we ourselves give birth.

In the end, I went through with it: drove down to Theatre Row in Hollywood, found a good parking space, and K. had shown up right on time. It wasn't the day I expected, as I had planned for a group workshop, but we had a lovely day practicing together: sitting, breathing, moving about, opening a door to let the space infiltrate us and dance us around. It was a great day.

On the subject of teaching, Sunday's uke lesson at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica was a delight, as always. Sometimes the half-hour becomes more like an hour, with Steve and me plunking away and giggling a lot. The new thing is to exercise my pinky: I'm going through "Pinky Boot Camp," with repetitive exercises to strengthen that little piggie.

There is more - but the coffee is hot and the oatmeal is cooked and it's time to follow my situation. More later, friends.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Ratnasambhava Nagila (A Blogprovisation)

The guy is yellow, but I don't think it's jaundice.

He's playing a ukulele. Fine looking instrument, too: mother-of-pearl inlay, koa wood, beautiful nylon strings.

Beautiful, yellow skin built on an imposing frame. This guy should be an African king. Maybe it's because he looks so regal sitting on that horse. In the middle of L.A., yet.

"You must be looking for me," I say to him. "Who are you?"

"Who's asking?"

"Shit, you are looking for me."

"Got a question for you, friend." He says this calmly, never looking at me, plunking away on the ukulele. He's better than Brudda Iz. He continues. "I am wondering: what is the last thing you care about?"

"That's it? You stole that animal from the LAPD so you could come here and ask me that?" I step forward. My head feels like it has a saw bit buried in it and my chest is belching smoke into my eyes. I get like this when I'm grumpy; maybe I'm grumpy because I get like this. I don't know. Are you a doctor? No? Then shut up. See what I mean? Grumpy.

"Are you talking to yourself?" he asks.

"I'm narrating, Your Majesty," I tell the guy. "It's a blog. Never mind - long explanation. Oh, and I don't think we've been introduced. Please, don't stand up."

"My name is Ratnasambhava."

"Ratta-whooda?"

"I don't expect you to remember it."

"Good."

"What is the last thing you really care about, friend?"

"Uh. I ... care about a lot of things. Did you have something in mind?"

He laughed. I can't help thinking of that guy in the old 7-Up commercials - oh boy, long time ago. He's got that laugh. Do you know what I'm talking about? He laughs THAT laugh and says, "I want to show you something. You've got time."

"What--?"

He has picked me up. "It's in here. In you go."

And I am falling through space, having been dropped between the C and E string. Down I go into the hole in his ukulele.

* * *

You are a sweet song with one note out of tune. It doesn't sound messy so much as sorrowful. What is sorrow? It is the flap left where something has healed. The difference is just enough to pull that note out of position and give it that quality. It is beautiful. It is you.

And you - nothing sounds like you.

And you.

As soon as you try to write something about this song, people's bodies explode into thousand of little written musical notes that flee. Individual notes wiggle away. The sixteenth notes have found out how to flap like wings together and fly away.

Far above my head, my turmeric-hued captor is having a delightful time strumming away, and down here the uke is loud as thunder. There is a tapping sound behind me and turning I see the flapper girl tapping away. When she starts singing I realize I've heard the tune before and yet this is the first time:

I was a fool to think you loved me
I was a fool to think you cared
Everybody I meet in town hands me a frown
They think that I turned you down
But you know as well as I know
Who's causing all the pain
I was a fool
But if you want me back
I'll be a fool once again. *

* * *

"Cute song," he said, on his horse, gazing into my eyes as if he were beaming the sunlight into them directly.

"Am I supposed to say something illuminating here?" This is stupid. I hate this shit. I don't take this Buddhist shit literally.

"Don't worry, friend," he says to me, having read my mind. "We don't take you literally, either."

If you're going to read my mind, can I dispense with typing all these quotes?

Sure.

Fine. Anything else?

Oh, there will be more. The fun part hasn't even begun. Don't worry, it's all good.

It's all good?? It's all good?? A Buddha appears to me and he talks like a goddamn Southern Californian?

This has always been my teaching. It's all good. Always. The dark matter is goodness; the string in string theory is goodness; everything is worth it, and you aren't so bad yourself -- so cool it.

Cool what? Hey. Hey! Where are you going?

And who's going to pick up all these quotation marks I spilled?

""""" " """ """" "
""""" """" " " " """""""" """ " " """"""" """
"""""""" """ """""
""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""" """"""""""""" " """"""""""""""""""""""""


* "I Was A Fool" words and music by Manny Romanz,

Sunday, December 17, 2006

My Head Will Split Open

A cracked rendition of the story of Kwan Seum Bosal, who had a thousand heads and a thousand arms.

Word has it that Kwan Seum Bosal is the offspring of Ami Ta Bul, the Buddha of Boundless Radiance. She was born from a ray of light that shone from his right eye. Don't ask. The Buddhas all have their own unique things, and in the legends even the Buddhas themselves don't completely understand what's going on. That's one aspect of Buddhist lore that I have always loved: the heavens will rain flower petals and the Buddhas think, "WTF??"

Anyway, Kwan Seum Bosal is said to have attained complete awakening of her being, and her unity with the entire world, through the gate of hearing. Even her name is a reminder about deep listening:

Kwan = perceive
Se = world
Um = sound

She became known as the bodhisattva who hears the cries of the world. So she said to papa: "Nothing I hear is inside me or outside me, I am completely involved here, and rather than dissolve into the jacuzzi jets of Nirvana, I will stay here until every last being is at peace."
And she made an interesting vow: "If I do not accomplish my vow to save all beings from their suffering, my head will split open like a coconut."

So she went to work and there is a long, long story about her trying to clean up the various hells and deal with human suffering, and how the suffering kind of piled in around the sides no matter how she dug, until she felt overwhelmed (and perhaps rather sick of people, to boot), and then she QUIT.

Well.

Papa Buddha, Ami Ta Bul, had something to say about that.

He remembered that vow about the coconut, and he immediately administered tough love on his offspring. KA-POW! He hit Kwan Seum Bosal on the head and her head split open.

Kwan Seum Bosal said, "Great. Now I have a splitting headache."

Ami Ta Bul said, "I can take care of that for you. You can pass into Nirvana and not feel the pain anymore. Is that enough?"

"No, it's not enough," said the offspring. "The headache is a wake-up call. My head isn't feeling good, but the world-pain is worse. I must go back to work."

Papa said this was fine. Then he hit his offspring on the head a few more times. (Maybe you parents understand this impulse.) Every time he hit, a brand new head appeared until there were a thousand heads, a thousand sets of eyes. Second from the top was the head of the frightening Lord of Death - because some people need the reminder. And at the very top, Ami Ta Bul put his own head just to keep an eye on things.

Then Kwan Seum Bosal sprouted arms. A thousand arms, each equipped to hold different things. In the center of each palm was an eye - hence the "thousand hands and eyes" sutra chanted at Zen Center every day.

It is 8:00 am as I write this and I have somewhere to be so this story must end abruptly, but of course it hasn't ended. The headache continues to stream like a shaft of light from Amitabha's eye, giving birth to the one who awakens to our condition, hears the cries of the world, and automatically reaches out: "How can I help...?"

That's you, and I hope you have a nice day.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Peter Boyle

Who could forget that rendition of "Puttin' On The Ritz?" When Gene Wilder's Dr. Frankenstein donned top hat and tails to present his singing and dancing monster, singing the verses while the monster chimed in with that wailing voice of his. "Pudda on da riiiiiiiiiiiitz!!!!"

Lately, he was better known for a role he played on a sitcom I never watched. (I was told that everybody loves Raymond but I never checked it out.) Now the morning news tells us Peter Boyle has departed.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Hermit / Bodhisattva Coin

Being like most people, I imagine it is very easy for me to become intoxicated by my own opinions and convictions, not noticing that they are conditioned responses to the truth. Therefore, I conclude that I might not be the best judge as to whether my cynicism is realism. This is why I do not completely embrace the life of a hermit. A true hermit should become empty. I think there is a still danger I would become full - of myself.

* * *

To me, vow and direction are very much part of Zen practice, and I see our participation in a democratic society as a vow. We choose our lawmakers and our Chief Executive, and if we do not participate, that is also a choice (a choice that helps lead us to entrenched incumbency, the two-party monopoly, and leaders like George W. Bush). So we get what we are choosing. We are responsible.

We can impeach Bush or not; we can blame Bush for the damage his policies have done, or not; yet either way we are responsible. The bodhisattva way is about taking responsibility for the entire world.

* * *

Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to save them all.

Preposterous.

Yet, when there's a fire, there is fetching water.

When a certain little girl visits me in my office, there is the question: "Have you got any homework to do?"

When it seems like voting is meaningless, and probably is: voting happens.

"I can't go on; I'll go on." (Becket)

Infinite vow.

Try again. Try again. Reach.

Kwan Seum Bosal, Kwan Seum Bosal, Kwan Seum Bosal.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Return of the South Central Farmers

I recently put down a circle and drew roughly a six-mile radius around APCH, where I work in South L.A., and it illustrated very clearly how Los Angeles is several cities. The six-mile circle encompassed Hollywood and Silverlake; downtown L.A., a center of international finance; the rough places, like Compton and Huntington Park and Southgate, parks, hospitals, universities. Several different L.A.'s are represented in the "six miles."

There is also an organic farming community. For years, they had been permitted to use some land in the middle of the city for a community garden, and there were some decent vegetables being grown in the city. They lost their land to a developer - you may have read about the actress Darryl Hannah being arrested during the protests last year - but the farmers are back, as this story relates (with a considerable amount of editorializing):

-------------------------This story was written by Leslie Radford for Indymedia:

It was bittersweet, turning right on 41st Place off Alameda. The South Central Farmers were celebrating the opening of their community center. There they were, the Farmers bringing fresh organic vegetables into South Central, where Whole Foods, Wild Oats, and Trader Joe's dare not tread.

The Farmers had lined the tables at the tianguis with chard, radishes, pomegranates, almonds, squash, and grapes. Grapes not too sweet, grapes that tasted like a crisp, slightly fruity wine. Four dollars could be swapped for two plastic bags of fresh produce, all from small farmers in the local food shed.

The center itself is four freshly painted rooms, lined with art and photos and reminders of the fight to save the Farm, waiting for more art, music, computers, and eventually a storefront. It is here that the Farmers and their supporters will meet to assess the community's needs and how best to meet them, where they will continue their efforts to engage and educate the community.

And they will use the center, just yards from the now-bulldozed Farm, to pressure local officials to take "a principled stance," as Tezozomac, one of the Farm leaders, put it. With pride, he added, "We delivered what we promised: we said we'd raise the money to save the Farm, and we did. We promised to deliver healthy food to the community, and we are. We'll be here every month."

The Los Angeles City Council approved the sale of the land--abandoned by the City and cultivated by local Mexican and Central American Farmers for years--to a local developer for $6M. The developer, Ralph Horowitz, promptly raised the price to $16M. In spite of an international outcry, hundreds attending nightly vigils, pleas from celebrities and ordinary residents, the Annenberg Foundation and other sources' offer to buy the Farm, and a standoff with sheriffs that ended in protestors being plucked from trees and jackhammered out of concrete-filled barrels, Horowitz ultimately refused to sell the land to the Farmers.

A band of musicians played, sang, and danced in the street, while children romped in one of those big, blow-up balloon houses. Perhaps four hundred people were coming and going, streaming by with bags of groceries. Friends from the Farm struggle smiled and hugged. New Farm supporters were introduced to old. One newcomer, Irene, had helped facilitate a small grant between the Farmer and the Community Research in Cancer Network, a project of UCLA Public Health Cancer Prevention and Control Research Network. The money produced DVDs for South Central residents on healthy eating. Irene had spent her day helping children make gift cards printed with fruits and vegetables.

She cited a Community Health Councils initiative to bring quality food to South Central. Although the CHC was working to use existing local outlets--she mentioned Vallarta Market--she feared that the City would end up subsidizing large chains and, as always in Los Angeles, developers would suck up the subsidies. A Farmer chimed in, "Vallarta has three types of potatoes, all tasteless sugar. Here today we have twelve types of fresh, healthy potatoes."

Some of the original Farmers have relocated to a community garden at Avalon and Stanford, last month inaugurated by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for the third time. Both the L.A. Garden Council and Councilmember Jan Perry have opened the same garden in past months. The Stanford Avalon gardeners, where sixty of the three hundred and fifty original South Central Farmers now labor, have chosen to use chemical fertilizers on their fields. High tension electrical lines, suspected of causing cancer, leukemia, and brain cancer, cut a swath across the land, but the L.A. Garden Council notes that the electrical towers and their electromagnetic fields guarantee that "the land is not threatened by development over the long term."

Villaraigosa's "grand opening" ride on a tractor was heralded by mainstream media in an obvious ploy to distract his largely Chicano and Westside base from his disastrous handling of the South Central Farm.

Meanwhile, according to The Planning Report, Perry is enticing developers with "300 acres of industrial land in South Los Angeles," noting "there is no shortage of opportunity"--except for the South Central Farmers and healthy food.

One of the struggle's organizers stepped up. Dele went to the political core: "Villaraigosa's boulevard to higher office is plowed straight through the South Central Farm." His jaw was clenched, his eyes sparked. "And Jan Perry won't do anything that doesn't satisfy the real estate interests."

Before the Farmers began reclaiming the fourteen acres at 41st in Alameda back in 1992, it had been an informal dump and drug hangout. Today, in the custodianship of Horowitz, uncultivated nopales and corn stalks struggle against the intrusion of countless of styrofoam cups, yards of broken glass, car bumpers, abandoned sofas, and dozens of discarded tires. It's easy to imagine dealers and customers once again scurrying in and out of the holes in the fence, crouching in the shadow of the bulldozer or sliding under the black walnuts that had nestled tree-sitters in their limbs just four months ago.

It's difficult not to despair. The Annenberg Foundation has boxed up the trees for Mr. Horowitz who, by city statute, has to preserve or replace them. The sister walnut trees are still in the ground, but a shallow circular trench marks where their roots will be cut.

Villaraigosa has offered to find the trees a temporary sanctuary in Griffith Park. There's an odd irony there. The city has just completed a $93M renovation to Griffith Observatory--nearly six times Horowitz's asking price for the Farm--and admission now requires reservations and three fees to get into the observatory there: for parking, for a shuttle, and for the observatory show.

Villaraigosa and the city council couldn't find a dime to save the Farm, and now, if the low-income Farmers want to visit their trees, it's unlikely they'll be taking their children to Griffith Park's chief attraction.

I asked a middle-aged Farm supporter why he had come out today. He said, "Eighty percent of the youth volunteers have not given up on the land. This is their Oaxaca. And now they're fighting for Oaxaca and Atenco. They're fighting police oppression. And they're still fighting for the Farm. I'm here for the kids--they keep me fighting. We're getting hundreds of calls from young people across the county today. They want to know what they can do."

On one side of the sidewalk was a neighborhood dump where a Farm has once flourished. Trees are yanked from the earth, their roots imprisoned in wooden cages. On the other, hundreds of Farmers, shoppers, supporters selling fresh produce where no Whole Foods will go, with Azteca dancers, bouncing children, and a bright art-laden community center. It is an act of will, a leap of faith, a commitment to the power of the people to believe the Farmers can win.

Aqui estamos y no nos vamos.

[end story]

Eyes of the Moon

This Letter to the Moon appeared in The Blue Doodle on October 21. To see the latest letter to the moon and tons of other good writing, go visit the Blue Doodle!

-----------------------

Dear Mr. Moon,

We are writing to check on your progress, six months after undergoing revolutionary ALL-LASER LASIK surgery at our clinic.

Although ALL-LASER LASIK produces a smaller flap than conventional Lasik procedures, there is still a chance of experiencing glare for a period of time after the surgery. By now, however, we hope your lenses have healed and adjusted and that you are enjoying astonishingly clear vision.

May I say personally that it was an honor and a humbling experience to supervise this procedure for a patient of your stature. Having performed more than 11,000 Lasik operations, I had never imagined that I would perform the surgery for the Man In The Moon.

Frankly, I have lost some sleep over the past six months wondering what it is you needed to see more clearly. I try to contemplate your vantage, and I get lost. I have been taking classes in astronomy and installed a three-dimensional hologram map of the solar system in Bill's room. Oh, that's my kid. We sent him off to college last year. He doesn't mind about his bedroom becoming the Milky Way. He said to me, "And you thought my room was messy!" Ha ha! My point is, I guess you could say I am a little obsessed.

What is it that you see more clearly. Do you actually look down on us? Did you squint before having the surgery? What was it that made you squint? What was it that you wanted to see? Somehow, the notion of the Man In The Moon seeing things does not freak me out - I guess I always accepted that, and never thought about it.

What makes me uncomfortable is the idea that there might be things you want to see but can't.

This is my card. It has all my contact info. Please, you must have time, can you be in touch? I would like to move on from this question and I don't know how.

Yours Truly,

Dr. Garabendi

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Denouement 2006

Yesterday was the first day of a new job in South L.A. I can't tell you how it's going yet because I am a bit of a baby when it comes to change and it takes me some time to adjust to a different situation and new people.

What I kept noticing through the day is how much the employees genuinely like APCH. When people here say "Welcome" they mean "Congratulations."

The children are treated like family by everyone who is employed here, and the children like to walk around and visit. Two young girls walked into the bungalow where I work to visit staff members and do their homework. They make up songs to help themselves memorize things. I will be hearing this a lot.

* * *

NPR presented an investigative story yesterday about how the brass at Fort Carson in Colorado are failing to help combat veterans exhibiting PTSD and other emotional problems; in fact, they are punishing G.I.'s who seek psychological care. The story is here and it is very upsetting.

* * *

Right now, it is of little importance whether scholars at this or that university call George W. Bush "The Worst President Ever." What I would wish him to be called is "The Third U.S. President To Be Impeached." Or, perhaps, "The Second President To Resign Rather Than Face Impeachment."

We still have 776 days to accomplish one of these.

* * *

Jennifer was preparing to entertain guests, and when I dropped by the kitchen was an explosion of ingredients and implements. "I don't know what I'm doing," Jennifer reported. Then the request: "Please cook something, if you like."

Are you kidding? I love that. I gathered things and chopped and each time I was asked what I was making I told the truth: "Don't know." Call it Black Beans Mexiprov: onions and garlic, black beans, bell pepper, minced jalapeno, and chopped tomato. Squeezed half a lime into it, doused it with some very spicy cayenne, dribbled a little beer into it, added some cooked rice: voila. To my surprise, it was yummy.

* * *

It has been chilly in the mornings and Christmas decorations are up everywhere. At the end of a workday, it's dark outside. All of the seasonal reminders to shop, shop, shop are in place and flashing like harsh neon.

Bill O'Reilly is screaming and making stuff up about the "war on Christmas" again, in what feels already like a kooky American tradition. We all go shopping, and Bill O'Reilly accuses the retailers of demeaning the holiday and taking out its spiritual meaning! It's pure gold.
There is a ficus tree standing in front of me dressed in colorful lights and looking most festive; the windows are trimmed with blinking lights and the wall is crowned with a wintery wreath.
Today, there will be much to do at APCH and from time to time I will check the news to see what new damage the idiots are doing.

776 days.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Push Hands (unedited)

Watching Chris do "push hands" with one of his older students last night around 9:30 PM in Barnsdall Park, with fog rolling in over Silverlake - Chris was like a flag flapping in the wind.

Push hands is listening. Push hands is listening to something that isn't words or speech; it isn't emotional but it is personal, as tightness and blockages and habits inevitably are.

Koans are push hands. These are the questions with which a teacher hits you, that have no logical answer. What was your face before you were born? They create an impasse. You cannot speak and you must. What can you do? We tense up our minds to come up with an answer that will get us approval; or we go flabby and disengage from the relationship; another possibility is that, from a relaxed yet strong lower abdomen and the deepest center of our being, a clear answer appears and with a word or a gesture that koan is completed.

Koans can be an astonishing, non-invasive awakening practice. They can also be a rehearsal of dry cognitive understanding. A ritual. The bodies are uninvolved and clever Zen minds applaud one another while we drag our carcasses around, one moment draped in robes and in another moment decorated with blazers or swimsuits, out of touch with our physical selves, our wants and needs, our confusion or pain. The vow to attain the Buddha way and save all beings from distress may as well be the nutritional information on a box of cereal.

After years of practicing kongans, I still vanish when someone pushes me.

Scene work is push hands. The acting you never forget is when two beings who are completely present in themselves act on one another, playing their scene as if they were trying to find their scene partner's blind spot and knock them off balance to get what they want. Without this presence in the moment, a scene that has been rehearsed for several weeks very often feels like a scene that has been rehearsed for several weeks. If the actors are immediate, the scene has chi. It has been rehearsed, yet this moment has never happened before. This changes everything. The spectator's attention is brought to a different kind of attention. It's a moment that can transform you.

There is more, but I'm out of time.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Better Idea For Bush's Legacy

Note to Bush: You don't have to spend half a billion dollars on a presidential library.

Naturally, I thought of some mean and funny alternative suggestions. An enormous cemetery came to mind. When Iraq finally falls, you could take part of the failed state and declare it the George W. Bush Memorial Charnel Ground. Another idea was for you to go to New Orleans and build an enormous Aquarium and Water Treatment Facility.

Too subtle?

All right. Here is an earnest suggestion, no sarcasm or satire intended. I wish you would spend your post-presidential years traveling the country and talking about your house in Crawford, Texas.

That's right, your house. The house you and Laura had built. The house that is a scarcely-known model of environmentally harmonious design. I tell people about this and they are amazed. They ask me if this is the same George W. Bush we are talking about. I say, yes. Yes it is.

Here is an article about the house, written by Eric O'Keefe, and a short excerpt describing some of the house's design features:


http://www.cowboysindians.com/articles/archives/1202/bush.html


"The passive-solar house is built of honey-colored native limestone and positioned to absorb winter sunlight, warming the interior walkways and walls of the 4,000-square-foot residence. Geothermal heat pumps circulate water through pipes buried 300 feet deep in the ground. These waters pass through a heat exchange system that keeps the home warm in winter and cool in summer.

"A 25,000-gallon underground cistern collects rainwater gathered from roof urns; wastewater from sinks, toilets, and showers cascades into underground purifying tanks and is also funneled into the cistern. The water from the cistern is then used to irrigate the landscaping around the four-bedroom home. Laura Bush insisted on the use of indigenous grasses, shrubs, and flowers to complete the exterior treatment of the home.

"In addition to its minimal environmental impact, the look and layout of the new ranch house reflect one of the Bushes' paramount priorities: relaxation. A spacious 10-foot porch wraps completely around the residence and beckons the family outdoors."

George, you have one of the most ecologically-harmonious homes in the United States. Very few people know this about you. I could think of no better act for you, post-presidency, than to be an advocate for this kind of design - to proliferate the design and make it affordable for more Americans, and to earn a small measure of redemption for yourself and your disasterous presidency.

Please think about it.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Don't Use That Word

You know the one I mean, and if you really don't, you don't need to know.

I could promise you that I won't ever use the word, but I would have to say it. We could have a wonderful, frank discussion about the damage caused by the word - except that we can't. In fact, by promising to avoid using the word I cause it to appear in your mind without even having to mention it. Now what? How do we legislate?

Jesse Jackson, your ill-considered and intellectually stupid photo op contributes nothing to anything related to a solution or a way forward. Our country and all her people need a true light, not double-standards and redacted history.

How do you claim to claim to give your ancestors a present after you erase them?

Stupid. So miserably, righteously stupid. Go away.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Premiere of the Theatre Dojo

We completed our first "Intro Workshop" this weekend and we got some good critical feedback. Overall, the participants told us we were onto something very good. Our teaching styles melded nicely, and the areas of overlap were so broad it was very easy to hand the ball to one another. At the same time, the connections were new to our participants.

One man spoke of the grief with which he has been contending, as he realizes that the dream that brought him to Los Angeles - of a full-time acting career - is not going to work out for him. He appreciates the life he does have - he has a family and loves his work. Still, the heartache is there, and his story is a common one. Over the weekend, we considered acting as a broader vocation and, I don't mind saying, even as a ministry. We aren't presenting the world with yet another theatre company or acting school, but as a kind seminary using expressive arts and spiritual practice as a way of healing ourselves and then healing our community (whatever that means in the individual's situation). It's something new made out of things that are very old.

There are lots of photos from the weekend at http://www.myspace.com/theatredojo

Friday, November 17, 2006

Pathways


"In Japan there have always been strong links between religion, the arts and the traditional martial arts (Bujutsu). These links are not only spiritual, they also affect the practice. Religious exercises - those of Shintoism as well as those of Buddhism (mudras, mantras, purification rituals, meditation, etc.) - are similar to the exercises that are described as the 'path' of the martial arts. In each case, it is about finding an awareness of truth through physical rather than intellectual means. Traditionally, physical experience is given preference over a purely rational awareness as a means of gaining knowledge."

-Yoshi Oida

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Reading Tea Leaves In The Desert


This man and his work intrigue me.

He is Alon Tal, and that desert in the background is the Negev, the desert comprising 60-66% of Israel. Dr. Tal was born Albert Rosenthal and grew up in North Carolina. He is an award-winning environmental activist and teacher, and you can read more about him here.

Click the article because, you see, I am hoping he will prove me wrong about something.

It is my persistent feeling that if anything brings humankind together, it will not be an ideological revolution. It will, instead, be an ecological crisis that presents us with a stark choice: getting along or extinction.

My betting money is on extinction. At best: appalling wars and a severe reduction of the human population.

Dr. Alon Tal is a reminder of why I might be wrong.

It could even be that Israel, with its enormously impressive work “making the desert bloom” in the arid Negev, could emerge a world leader on a critical ecological issue; and it could be a water crisis that forces her neighbors to settle their present conflicts and embark together on the challenge of desertification, irrigation, and access to drinking water.

Fume Responsibly

Sometimes our passions move us to anger, and we do silly things. This is not to demonize anger. It can be a strong motivator, while it also acts as an intoxicant. It mixes badly with driving. It can lead to delusional ideas. We may say and do things we regret.

In Derry, New Hampshire, folks have been debating the sport of deer-hunting and weighing the ecological necessity versus the behavior of hunters. A member of the town’s Conservation Commission got so upset she got in her car and drove the residence of the Fish and Game Commissioner. She walked past the “No Trespassing” sign on his property and told Commissioner she wanted to show him something. That’s when she produced a deer’s head she had found in the woods. To make matters worse, she proceeded to talk. There is uncomfortable situation and no error of judgment that cannot be made worse by talking. Buffeted by her outrage over the negligence of some hunter, she made a reference to the handgun she carries and assured the Commissioner that she could hit anything she aimed at. The Commissioner took due note of that. The woman has since resigned her position and charges may be filed. (The story is here.)

Of course, when it comes to rage actions speak yet louder than words. Last week, the actress Denise Richards demonstrated the unintended consequences of rage when she flipped out on the set of a movie she is filming in Vancouver. She grabbed a laptop belonging to a paparazzo and flung it out the window. Of course, the computer hit somebody and Miss Richards had some explaining to do. She bagged an 80-year old woman in a wheelchair, and hunting season for them hasn’t started yet. If the police were angry, at least they didn’t bring her the woman’s head.

There’s a reason they call it losing your head, and I mean no offense to the deer.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Black Bean Soup

Screw restaurants. This is about food. It's about cooking. And home. It's about old chairs that wiggle, tables that have to be cleared for supper, beer and conversation.
You take some cumin and coriander and oregano and you toast them together. Should only take a couple of minutes. You'll know because it releases their fragrance.

You get your onions and garlic going in the canola oil. I salt my oil a little bit. Ready to eat already? Here, you can get going on those jalapenos. Gut them with a spoon and mince them up. Don't rub your eyes.

As the onions soften up the thyme is added, followed immediately by the other herbs. Stir that up and cook it together. There is no tomato paste, so I'm using some good canned marinara sauce we have sitting around; another option would be salsa. Cook, stir, smell. Ah.

Add this to a pot of cooked beans with the water still boiling. Add water if necessary. I'm using canned beans, so I simply add the beans to the sauce along with plenty of boiling water.
Simmer and enjoy the smell. Then a friend calls up and the invitation is tendered: get over here, there is soup afoot, and the soup has accomplices: beer and bread. Get over here.

Add cilantro if you like it. Remove it after the simmer, a little less than an hour. The beans should soften up and be hot through and through - if you're using canned, they won't need to cook so long.

Stir in those minced jalapenos. I used two and the soup wasn't very hot at all - strange, the peppers looked pretty good. After 15 minutes, blend some of the soup. I blended too much. It shouldn't be a drink. You want to have some beans to chew on.

Back in the soup pot on the stove. Tamari. Fresh ground pepper. You can serve with a dollop of sour cream but I don't. Put the bowls out, break the baguette with your hands, pour the beer, go over to that stove and get yourself some soup.

Let's talk politics and art. Sex. Pranks. Therapeutic models. Families. Laugh at the cat's antics and enjoy some food and be human together. It's chilly outside.

Where Ecology and National Security Meet

In 2003, the Department of Defense issued a very sobering report - more because of its very existence than its conclusions, although the conclusions make good Halloween reading material. The name of the report: "Abrupt Climate Change and its Implications for United States National Security."

Dig that. Here we have a President who publicly casts doubt on global warming, while his own Pentagon is quietly drafting contingency plans for the results of 'climate change' on the assumption our current trends will continue. Think that over one more time. It takes a while for the full effect of the lunacy to sink in.

For every 1.8 degrees (F) the earth's temperature goes up, the yield of rice, wheat, and corn go down 10%.

According to the Hubbert's Peak formula, which is used by oil companies themselves, we are approaching the window of time where we will reach peak oil production, and supplies of oil will diminish and be more difficult to obtain even while human dependence on oil increases, and the volume of our demand increases. Slowing down, even if the developed world comes to its senses TODAY and acts quickly, will take a long time and be painful.

Irreplaceable aquifers across the world are diminishing. In my lifetime and perhaps yours, we will see wars not over oil (which will be gone), but over access to water. Already, one in four people in the world do not have access to safe water.

The New York Times ran a report earlier this week about the state of the world's fisheries - gone, gone, gone. Or should we say en francais: "Fin." (Not quite but almost - unless we change our habits.)

According to the National Academy of the Sciences, it would require 1.2 planet earths to regenerate what human beings used in the year 1999; and that consumption is going up, up, up.

And that report by the Pentagon in 2003 was forecasting major national security issues arising from the possible affects of global warming. If, for instance, the circulatory system that warms the North Atlantic dissipates the implications include large populations having to move, touching off an immigration crisis in the midst of a militarized struggle for dwindling natural resources.

This is not some fringey liberal group; nor is it a Philip K. Dick novel. This is the Department of Defense.

They will speak of these things, but not our legislators and policymakers - at least not in a public and constructive manner, at a time when something can still be done about it.

I am not writing this as a doomsday prophecy. I am writing this because there is a very imminent, credible danger looming and if we ignore the problem until a disaster is on us (which would not be out of character for our species) there may be very painful and scary changes taking place in our social and economic arrangements.

I'm tired of environmental "truthiness." I'm tired of politicians who think it's enough to build a few bike paths and drive a hybrid car. It's time to examine the data and talk frankly about what they suggest.

Wars over oil? Puh. I'm looking ahead, baby. I'm looking to what the world could very well look like when my grandchildren - assuming I dare breed - are around. It's, um, sobering.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Directing

Am I directing this play? I am no longer sure. That is what I was asked to do by my friend and colleague. She is a very capable, trained, diligent actor and doesn't need much hand-holding. I watch, listen, reflect, pull her in new directions vocally and physically. Help her keep the frame around the story clear. We frame one room, then the next, then the next, and build a little house.

She has ideas, and they are good ones. My tendency is to say yes and incorporate, as you might throw a ball to a juggler in the midst of their routine, so they can include it with the other things in the air. I "direct" it - incorporate it and say, "Okay, this way." Occasionally I say no.
She says, "I am used to Ed and Peter who give me pages and pages of notes." On a twenty-minute piece? Yes, probably so. I've worked with those guys, too. They direct you down to their pinky; and they do it well enough, provided you have the ability and willingness to realize their vision.

Not me. I don't like directing that way. You're not here to realize my vision. You're here to tell the story your way, with everything you've got, and I'm here to assist you.
Especially with the material we are working with, this bit of agit-tainment, this rollicking satirical piece about politics, this rock and roll song of a play which we perform sitting on buckets wearing Chucky Taylors (me) or barefoot (her).

Then I notice that I'm not really in charge of rehearsal anyway, and have to struggle to get the floor back for - well, for giving her those notes she wanted. May I steer this boat?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Elevated Thoughts

At the Century City building where I sell my time, we go up and down the building in these clunky elevators. Using the stairs is not an option because they lock the doors to each floor. This has something to do with homeland security or whatever and I don't question it for fear I will be hooded and sent to the Salt Pit. Like an agreeable citizen, I just get on the electrically-powered elevators and ride them up and down, never sure whether it is okay to say hello to other people on the elevator. As you do.

Anyway, on the rear wall of each elevator a pink flier is taped advertising flu shots at a reduced price. Everyone in the building is invited to go and get themselves poked with some flu vaccine and those of who thinking of coming are requested, in boldface print, to "please wear appropriate clothing."

Thus an image is summoned of a medical clinic with velvet ropes and brass stantions, and a burly bouncer in a black blazer sizing up my ensemble and deciding whether I'm cool enough to purchase a $25.00 flu shot. This is L.A., after all.

As the elevator slowly makes it progress, stopping at one floor after another, I have time to ponder what would constitute the inappropriate attire for a flu shot. A suit of armor? A Star Wars stormtrooper costume? Would it be possible to contrive a flu virus costume that didn't end up looking like a gigantic potholder?

Somewhere in the midst of my list, the elevator arrives and I must go wherever I am going.

Oh, speaking of elevators! It is time a few of us hosted an elevator party in one of those Santa Monica parking structures.

For the longest time I have been wanting to do that, and if I can wear a clown nose on Election Day surely I can move the ball on some of these other random acts of lunacy.

MANIFESTO: Get a cooler, get together a few friends, and ride the elevator at the Santa Monica parking structure for three hours. Welcome people to the elevator, offer them a Dr. Pepper or whatever, and bid them farewell. This is especially good if the party has the opportunity to welcome somebody back again. "Hey!!! You're back! What'd you do, go shopping? Hey, great! Yeah, we're still here."

Wanna come? Of course you do.

Monday, November 06, 2006

With Transformed Ears I Hear A Sneeze Coming

This weekend I put the finishing touches on a radio drama entitled Do You Hear What I Hear?, a comedy with a ridiculous premise: suppose the characters in a radio play understood that their world was created entirely by sound and language, and treated the conventions of storytelling as the laws of physics? Hilarity ensues as a fiendish plot to take over the audio ‘universe’ unfolds. Somebody better find it funny because writing this bastard was a freakin’ nightmare.

By the way, it is now the fashion to refer to it as "audio theatre" since radio drama has been declared dead, notwithstanding the popularity of A Prairie Home Companion. An old conservatory mate who went into audio theatre put me up to submitting a play for an annual competition at an audio theatre festival that takes place in Missouri; he went as far as to put up my entry fee. Writing a play for audio only was a novel experience and I am seeing the world with new ears.

What reveals itself to me is a lot of noise, but on Election Day Eve that is only to be expected. Was I expecting an orderly political conversation between elected representatives and the public? I am not supposed to believe that is possible. I am supposed to shrug off the very idea and consign it to the toy box with all my other childish things. Do not ask for things to be different. The adult thing is to pretend that this is the best we can do: attack ads, political campaigns based on nothing but fictitious claims and lies and smears, incumbents refusing to debate their opponents, and above all: never ever vote outside of the two-party monopoly.

I can't do it. I’m not that good an actor. We are better than that; a whole lot better. The people who wrote this Constitution believed at least in principle that the people deserve to be addressed by their leaders, to be asked for their vote and to engage in political debate in front of them.

Take New York for example, and the Senate race. A war hawk by the name of Hillary Rodham Clinton was challenged for the Democratic nomination for Senate by a fellow Democrat, a Democrat who is upset about the entire Iraq fiasco – like a growing majority of Americans. Clinton refused to debate her opponent, and thus denied voters of her own political party a chance to hear that discussion and participate in a meaningful primary. Predictably enough, Green candidate Howard Hawkins (a Marine who is also upset about Iraq) has not been permitted to debate against the Republican and Democrat candidates in that race. Republican John Spencer and Republican-Lite Hillary Clinton are supporters of the Baghdad Waterloo and Bush's seizure of tyrannical powers. Despite widespread controversy about this illegal war and Bush’s abuse of the Constitution across New York and the entire nation, New York voters don’t get a debate on these issues.

First, everybody should bookmark Factcheck.org and check it routinely, especially in an even-numbered year. Armed with information, we need to apply the unsparing wisdom some of us apply to our personal relationships, exemplified by writers like Greg Behrendt, and face the truth: the Democrats and the Republicans are just not that into us. Not only that, they aren’t that into democracy, either. Neither the parties nor the organizations funding them.

Would you let a boyfriend or girlfriend treat you like this? Discount your intelligence, lie to your face, abuse you and your children, sell out your birthright, deny you the right to question them in any meaningful way, and then return to you – like a sneaky lover who comes home at 2:00 am after a late business meeting with no phone call – telling you how wonderful you are and asking for your vote? Would you bullshit yourself into thinking no one better is going to come around and this is the best you can do? The hell you would.

So who is with me on wearing clown noses to the polls tomorrow?

* * *

Just today I learned where the term sabotage comes from. It delights me.

Historically, the Luddites have gotten a bad rap. The lie many of us are taught as children, if we hear about them at all, is that they were against machines or even industrialization itself, so they acted out by wrecking the factories where they worked.

http://erik.bruchez.name/roller/resources/ebruchez/Luddites.png

What they were actually doing was protesting unfair working conditions as well as the idea of mass-producing “Grow Or Die, Grow Forever, Grow Grow Grow Eat Eat Eat” capitalism. Machines weren’t the problem, it was the use of them to enclose everything that was once part of a commons.

Dutch unionists and French workers acted out by throwing wooden clog shoes, called sabots in French, into the gears of the machinery. Grind, grind, klunk, klunk, phooey. Voila – sabotage.

What is supposed to be working for whom around here? These machines and the economy they propel are to serve human needs and if they don’t do that, we should wreck them: ram that wooden shoe in there and fuck it all up.

Nah, we don’t do that. We don’t stick shoes in our machines around here. By and large, we don’t even say bad things about the machine.

* * *

An internationally known yoga teacher, one whose enterprise needs no publicity from this blog, has sought to patent his teaching method. His ‘intellectual property’ claim extends to sequences of ancient exercises that have always been held as common. You know, like yoga.

If his claims are ultimately upheld, similar patents could apply to meditation teachers, acting teachers, dance teachers, all of us holding and licensing sequences of exercises or theatre games.

It is likely to happen, I think, in a world that has permitted private ownership of genetic sequences and seeds. As long as we are unwilling to establish checks and balances on profit, it will be profit’s tendency to go on colonizing and finding new territory until every little process in nature is ‘enclosed’ and owned by somebody. It may even be that one day, as Thomas Merton predicted, rain becomes a commodity that is taxed or sold.

In the face of this, how uncomfortable are we willing to be?

Beneath the noise, I hear the planet breathing and its health is fine. She will take care of herself, this planet of ours. There is, however, a sneeze gathering pressure and that sneeze heralds our impending ecological fall from the garden. You see, Earth read Greg Behrendt’s book, too. As long as we are running around soiling our habitat and mowing down the forests and eating up millions of tiny systems that keep life in balance, Earth is going to conclude that we just aren’t that into her.

At which point, she will sneeze and move on.

* * *

And the Lord said, “Gesundheit, child!”

Sunday, November 05, 2006

WHO

The following Letter To The Moon appeared on The Blue Doodle in October.

----------------------------------------------
WHO



Dear Moon,

Who is that woman who keeps peering at me in the bathroom?

Can I not brush my teeth or do my hair without her bounding up to the window in there and peering at me? My time of life, you deserve some privacy. Her apartment is a mess. Maybe she should put her attention to that.

I could ask my son to go over there and help her. Give him something to do besides holding down my couch. He visits me all the time. He has the time. Hanging around my house, all he does is hide things. I ask him to help me with business affairs and his answers don't make any sense to me. Can I trust him? Why must I be alone with this man? Where is my daughter, and where is my son? They leave me here with this strange man.

Yes, he could go and help that woman and leave me to straighten up my apartment. It could use some work. The clock is dusty and the light in my room is going stale. These clothes here, they might be hers. Yes, I think they are. He should go help her, and leave me to straighten up. I've got the time. Sir, you go help that woman. Take these sweaters back to her. Tell her I have my own laundry to get on with.

My time of life, to be picking up after others. You know I went in there today to do up my hair - you know my son is supposed to be coming over - and sure enough, she came bounding right in to gawp at me. And I asked her straight out: "Who do you think you are?"

Not a damn word from her.

And this man, just holding down my couch. My son will look after him, if he ever comes.

Maybe it is time to leave, what do you think? It is dark outside, but I imagine I'll be all right if I choose one direction. I can just follow you, moon. Just go and see what comes of it. I have the time.

Must run now. Ta.

-Jan

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Explaining Instant Runoff Voting With Tacos, Soup, and Pizza

Coming over to my house for dinner? Terrific. You have three choices. I'll make a delicious vegetable soup, or I can lay out a taco bar, or I'll make pizza. Please tell me your first choice, second choice, and third choice.

If you only like one of these options, you can just vote for one if you want, no problem.

If you can do that, then you have just practiced Instant Runoff Voting. (And either way, you are going to eat very well.)

In the City of Oakland, California, there is a measure on the ballot – Measure O – that would establish Instant Runoff Voting for all local elections by 2008. It has earned endorsements from newspapers and several elected officials, including Congresswoman Barbara Lee.

IRV's attractions are that the winner reflects a true majority of votes, and saves the cost of runoff elections. Under the 'winner-take-all' system we are used to, whoever gets the most votes wins – even if they don't win more than 50% of the votes cast. In 2005, a candidate won a special election in Oakland with less than 30% of the vote. If one candidate does not win the plurality outright, the "runoff election" takes place then and there as the votes are counted.

Here's a chart that shows how the counting works:

http://www.oaklandirv.org/images/diagram.png

It also eliminates the 'spoiler issue' that prevents people from voting their principles and forces them, in election after election, to vote strategically for someone whom they don't support wholeheartedly. The most notorious example of this is the 2000 Presidential election. George W. Bush won Florida by a mere 537 votes. Darth Nader earned 97,488 votes. For this reason, Nader is frequently blamed for Bush's victory. (Curiously, nobody seems to blame Ross Perot for Clinton's victory over George H.W. Bush, and Perot pulled a LOT of conservative votes away from the GOP that year… )

With IRV, a Florida voter in 2000 could have chosen Nader as their first choice and Gore as their second choice. In counting the votes, the instant runoff would have eliminated Nader, and the ballots with Gore selected as #2 would have gone to Gore. Gore would have won the state of Florida , and he would have done so with the mandate of a true majority of votes cast there.

Still confused? Here's a fun interactive demo of how it would work.

And here are illustrated examples of different outcomes .

Sound complicated? Not for you. It's easy as choosing pizza, tacos, or soup for dinner.

Try it out here (warning: cute animal pictures!).

In Australia, they have been electing their House of Representatives this way for 80 years. IRV makes sense on every level. It's a money saver, it empowers voters to support their preferred candidates instead of voting 'strategically,' and it empowers the winning candidates with a true plurality of the votes cast. No split votes putting someone in office who got 27% of the vote.

IRV is in use or has been approved in cities in California, and Burlington, Vermont; and I hope it succeeds in Oakland and spreads.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Biting Back The Bluetooth

Here is how I cured a young intern of walking around with his Bluetooth phone clipped to his ear. ALL the time. You know what I'm talking about, right?

I'm over them, friends: These status-seeking people walking around like characters from Star Trek: The Next Franchise with their hands-free Bluetooth cell phones clipped ostentatiously to their ears even when they aren't engaged in some crisis that can't wait for them to arrive at home or at their office.

"This person is important," the little barrette-phones are telling us.

A new college-age intern recently joined our office for three days a week. At first, he would walk in boldly every day with that creepy blue thing stuck on his head. Without fail, I would say to him, "Hey! You got something in your ear!"

Ever so patiently, the young fella said, "Oh, it's my phone."

I would move no muscle in my face, except to narrow my eyes. "A phone? That's a telephone?? How is that a telephone?"

And I would make him explain it to me all over again. I did this every day.

He doesn't wear his telephone anymore.

This is a tiny step forward, but I have thought of a bolder move I will try soon, in line with my Red Nose Manifesto. Here are the instructions:



1. Take the handset from a regular sized telephone.


2. Remove cord


3. Strap to your head with some kind of cord: ribbon, twine, bungee cable, duct tape, or anything. (Bear in mind you will have to remove it later.)


4. Walk around downtown talking loudly into your phone. Extra points for going into businesses, museums, etc., and acting very put out when people ask you to cease talking on the phone.

Once I Was A Cool Moose

"Often derided as spoilers, third-party candidates and their movements hold an important place in American political history; Abraham Lincoln's Republican Party was just such an example when he became the 16th President of the US, presiding over the Civil War, and forever changing the national political landscape. In this year's polarized political atmosphere, the Green Party sees an opportunity to build a third-party movement in the state. With the Democratic Party poised to retake Congress, Democrats in Illinois have been met with scandal and sagging approval ratings. The state GOP, meanwhile, has remained fractured and divided, partially from the George Ryan scandal. Rich Whitney, a Downstate Illinois civil rights attorney running for Governor on the Green Party ticket, is hoping he can pull people together in a movement for positive change."

That is the introduction to an interview with Rich Whitney, the Green candidate for Governor of Illinois, who is polling double digits. The interview can be read here.

Rich Whitney is a long shot to win the election, but he could perform well enough to secure a ballot line for the Greens on the Illinois ballot. He does not take that predicament lightly, nor should he.

A little while ago, back in my home state of Rhode Island, I was involved in a weird, exciting, yet ultimately disappointing chapter in our state's politics. A lawyer from the bayside town of Warren ran for Governor - several times. He called himself the "Cool Moose" candidate and became a recognizable and entertaining figure because of his Jerry Garcia hair and crazy beard, his bear-like stature, and his reedy Rowdaaaaylun accent.

In 1994, Healey earned 9% of the vote and that was enough to establish his party on Rhode Island's ballot. Overnight, he went from being a protest candidate / novelty / pain in the ass to being the leader of Rhode Island's new and official third party, the Cool Moose Party.

Shortly after that election, I showed up at the first-ever convention of the Cool Moose Party and got myself involved in the platform committee. The whole event was a circus. We were at the campus of the University of Rhode Island out in southern Rhode Island, and everybody came out wanting to help define this new party. There were Greens, libertarians, wise-use activists, and liberals and conservatives having constructive conversations I can't imagine happening today. I vividly recall one guy running around in camouflage and a wool cap. The political reporter for the Providence Journal went straight for him, having always been very skeptical of Healey because of his hair, and seeking to portray the Cool Moose Party as a bunch of nuts.

What emerged was a political party that made a lot of sense for Rhode Island. I pushed and got myself into the platform committee - the youngest writer there, at age 24. Our platform (which you can still read here and I note they still haven't fixed the typos) called for government to stay out of social policy as much as practical, while regulating government ethics, the state lottery, and the banking industry (Rhode Island has a very painful history involving banks and credit unions), demanding that all legislation include a spending component (in short, it would have to include how to pay for the whatever action the law calls for), and...and...

Oh, you can read the document if you are interested. To sum up, what emerged was a socially libertarian, fiscally conservative party that wanted to empower local government more and make state government more transparent. It was uniquely Rhode Island, and our party had no aspirations of exanding beyond our borders. We wanted a statewide party that wasn't influenced by the pressures to which a national party is subject.

It was a good start. The problem was, we couldn't kill off our charismatic founder. Bob Healey was great. (And he's still around, currently running for Lieutenant Governor, vowing to work towards abolishing the office if he is elected, so as to save Rhode island the expense of this largely ceremonial office.)

After the '94 election, it was time to recruit Cool Moose candidates for other elections, to put up a slate of people and win more elections. We had to establish credibility as a political party independently of wildman Bob Healey.

This effort never got off the ground. We put up very few candidates and they didn't perform well. I was asked to run for office myself; I said no. The momentum slowed and the percentages dropped, and the Cool Moose Party fell off the ballot. The public perception was that our party did not flourish because it could not make the step from a protest party to a governing party.

The Green Party IS a governing party (with 223 office holders in 28 states and D.C.), yet it is not out of the woods. Rich Whitney sounds like a credible candidate for Illinois who understands what needs to take place if the Greens establish that ballot line for themselves. I wish him well.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Why I Will Vote For Forrest Hill

With Green candidates running for several statewide offices in California and the United States Senate, the most meaningful Green vote might be for the office of Secretary of State. This is the Chief Elections Officer, responsible for elections, corporate chartering, the Political Reform Division, the International Business Relations program, and the State Archives, among other duties.

This would be an excellent seat for a well-qualified Green who could use the opportunity to promote reforms such as instant runoff voting and proportional representation, just for starters. Faith in our democratic process is shockingly low, and power over federal and local governments is in a strangehold by, for, and of two dominant political parties who select candidates to please their major financial donors. This is a huge, obvious, screaming problem: money controls the selection of candidates, and the monopoly is further preserved by a winner-take-all electoral process.

It may be Halloween today, but the real dress-up day will be Election Day when some of us – sadly, very few of us – will go the polls in the guise of Citizens Of A Democracy, pretending to cast a meaningful vote.

Or we can cast a meaningful vote for a good, qualified, sober guy with good ideas for reform and a willingness to present them to voters, as if we were halfway intelligent adults with an educable interest in our government.

Enter Forrest Hill. His campaign website is here and here is his bio. Here is a short article he wrote about media spending.

Hill also understands the critical connection between electoral reform and our environmental survival. With our elections dominated by corporate interests, our progress toward building a sustainable society (not to mention a fair society) is delayed or blocked altogether. The scientific news about our ecosystem is not great for human beings – the consequences of our economic arrangements are going to become clear in my lifetime. I can truly say that if I have children, I do not know what they will inherit. This is a sobering predicament, and neither Democrats nor Republicans are talking about it. That's crazy.

This is why I am registered Green despite some of the party's antics, and this is why I am voting for Forrest Hill as Secretary of State. If Hill got so much as 10% of the vote, it would bring more attention to these issues.

Please read a little bit about them. Think about giving Hill your vote. Whatever you choose, please think on these things.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Jeff Is A Great American and So Is Dave

"Thank you, Mr. President. On Thursday of this week, you were speaking at a campaign event on behalf of Iowa's Republican candidate for Congress, Jeff Lamberti."

"That's right."

"You took the stage and said Mr. Lamberti would win the election, and that you and he share similar values regarding family and taxes, and marriage, and so on. The problem was, as was reported in numerous press stories, you repeatedly referred to Jeff Lamberti as 'Dave.' Would your endorsement have been more effective if you knew his name?"

"Well, to be fair, I did refer to him correctly as 'Jeff' 11 times in my comments. People say I'm inflexible, but look at that – you see, my tactics are always changing. Job of the President is a tough job."

"Were you confused about Lamberti's name?"

"No! And what you've got to understand is that the President acts on the best intelligence he can get! I was correct, based on my understanding that his name was Dave."

"Then why did you call him Jeff at other times?"

"Look, no one could have foreseen that this man would actually be named Jeff. We have a tough job up here."

"Do you think it's a metaphor for criticisms of your administration?"

"This Administration is always responding to new information and changes in our intelligence. You have to adapt quickly if you're going to change. And our message in this election is, 'It's a good time for change.'"

"Is that really your message?"

"Absolutely. Of course. Always has been, even before this election. Our Administration is changing its story all the time – you know, changing tactics, and the story follows the tactics. That's how you win. And we're going to win. And you don't win by sticking to your old story. So we adapt. This is the party that truly upholds change and so I say, if you want change, stick with the Republican party."

"Does Jeff share that point of view?"

"Absolutely. You bet. Dave is behind us all the way. We need more people like Dave as we confront evil."

"Jeff, sir."

"Yes, and Jeff, too."

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Come Again?

The following Letter To The Moon appeared on The Blue Doodle on October 7.
------------------------------------------------------------

Dear Moon,

Here we go again. We must part company once more, as I leave you to confront a cruel emperor.

I address you because to you, everything is a cycle. But who is there to call it a 'cycle?' Aristotle watched you turn around and around, and he made up the idea of time. Plato, on the other hand, watched you turn around and around – and saw that the motion IS time.

So there is a cycle, and there is not.

It is time for me to leave you for a while, to be reborn on the earth as a mortal. As happened before, a cruel emporer is pulling the entire world into suffering, and nothing can be done because no one down there knows how to talk to Compassion.

Compassion and me, we have a relationship. We talk. She has helped me with cruel emporers before. He wanted eternal life, that old Caesar, and he tore up half the planet trying to find it. So Compassion gave me an elixir to take to him. Caesar did not trust me, and made me taste it first to see if it was poison. I drank, and smiled. He drank. We both died. I don't know where he went, but I floated back up to join you: the moon, my home.

To where does Caesar return? I do not know that, but we see he is back again. We confront one another, kill one another, and after flying home we return to do it again.

I ask you moon, because you know cycles: if there was no cruel emperor, would there be any need for me?

Is this what time is?

No time for your reply, dear moon; it is time to go.

-Chang'e

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Theatre Dojo Begins

After lots of talk, the project is getting off the ground at last. I hope.

The idea began probably while I was still at Trinity Rep, having come through the Conservatory while living at Providence Zen Center. A training environment for actors in which their training included a disciplined approach incorporating zazen and intensive physical practice. To put it simply, I came to see acting as a martial art, and thought it should be taught that way.

Frankly, I would benefit from such a place myself; yet it doesn't exist. So, absurdly, I must build it and invite my betters to help me.

...and so two wonderful friends appeared: Chris Nelson, a writer and director who also teaches martial arts; and Jennifer Swain, an actor and director who is a yoga teacher as well (and is already teaching workshops for actors around Los Angeles).

Does anyone want to buy our peanuts? We'll see. We are introducing our approach in a 2-day introductory workshop November 18-19, for three hours each day. We have a studio at The Complex in Hollywood.

The idea is to invite a room full of good people more or less at cost, work together for the two days, and get lots of feedback about what is useful and true about the work.

We three are scared shitless, and also very excited.

Some Comments On Bob Casey's NPR Interview This Morning

As long as my party is going to be shut out of the debates and effectively barred from the United States Congress, I am forced to look to the Democrats for a sensible opposition to the Orcs who currently occupy two out of three branches and for a hope of sensible government should the Dems seize power. I keep feeling let down.

This morning, it was a Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, Bob Casey. Casey, running for the Senate against incumbent Senator Rick Santorum, was interviewed on NPR this morning on just one topic: Iraq. To my ear, Casey played right into one of the GOP's talking points. That talking point goes something like this: "Democrats are great at criticizing our policy, but they have no plan of their own."

Sure enough Casey redirected every single question to the Bush Administration's failures (we know, we know, we get it) without advancing or even hinting at a better plan. So Steve Innskeep kept asking this candidate for the United States Senate: what next? How do we get Iraq into a condition where it would be morally acceptable to get out? What leverage do we use to assist or goad the Iraqis into taking over their own security? Casey did suggest a few desirable benchmarks while resisting a calendar deadline; when asked, dates aside, what we do if benchmarks are not met, Casey reverted to historical criticism of Bush's policy. Innskeep tried again. And he tried a third time. Same non-answer every time.

The only suggestion Casey threw out there was: make the Saudis pressure the Sunnis. Innskeep didn't bother asking how we might execute that idea.

At every opportunity he had to suggest a different way forward - even in broad, theoretical terms; or to describe a direction and say frankly, "I don't know how we get there yet, but I know this is the way and I know we can get there" - Casey turned back to kicking Bush.

A little better than Rahm Emanuel, I'll admit. But that is faint praise.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Writin' Til My Fingers Bleed

If it seems like I have less active on these blogs - both my own, and in the comments on yours - you are right. Things have been busy.

Yesterday, I invited a dozen people over to a friend's apartment in Hollywood for a sit-down reading of a radio play I have been working on for a while, entitled Do You Hear What I Hear?, and have nearly finished. I wanted to invite many more people, but there just wasn't enough space.

I made one horrible mistake that bears repeating: I relied on Evite to get the word around, and one individual whom I really wanted to be there (having written the character with her voice in my head) somehow didn't get the lowdown. It really would have paid for me to follow up with direct email, or some other means to make sure she got the word. It really is my fault. I blew it.

It is both very stressful and immensely pleasurable to sit back and let actors read your play. It is also enormously useful to get their feedback, and also hear from people who did not read, but sat and listened to the whole thing. My friend Deb, I noticed, didn't even look at the actors reading. She sat back and shut her eyes or looked at the floor, knowing it would be a radio play.
The play will be submitted to an annual competition for radio plays next month.

If you ask about this bandaid on my finger, I am tempted to say I was hacking away at my play until my finger bled, but it would not be the truth. In fact, while taking a break from writing this weekend, I was chopping veggies for a soup that cannot be beat, and was chopping with a little extra brio. Ka-bam, I chopped right into my left index finger.

This little piggy bled for an hour.

I'm getting the hang of tying with nine fingers, but playing the ukulele is impossible. Damn it.

The first Theatre Dojo event will take place the weekend of November 18. We are going to present a one-time workshop and invite everyone we know to come, for a tiny pittance, to try out our class and give us feedback. The idea is to devise a system for training actors that incorporates sitting meditation, yogic practice for tuning the body, and a hidden form of Tai Chi that is interactive. This approach allows an exploration of several principles important for stage actors, that are often neglected in conventional American approaches. We want to present some of this to actors and hear what they think they could use from it.

More details coming soon. Would you like to come and play with us for three hours in Hollywood? I hope so.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Jousting In The Presidential Mosh Pit

Friends, I am up late. Spent hours stuck in traffic Friday and on such days I am soon done for: my mind can't resist projecting the traffic jam into a metaphor for my life and at the end of the week I am sufficiently tired that I sometimes believe the rubbish that goes through my head. End result: Friday nights tend to be sleepless.

So I am up late and what have I found in my midnight rambles but video archives on the British Prime Minister's website of his weekly sessions with parliament.

In this parliamentary tradition, the PM visits the House of Commons for a half-hour session of questions and answers. This used to be 15 minutes, but Tony Blair combined two 15-minute sessions into one half hour. During this session, any MP can ask the leader of the government a question on any topic. Watching the video is exciting. Something here is very much missing in my own politics: a sense that the leader of the government is completely accountable, and is expected to answer direct questions - competently - about his or her policies even in the face of catcalls and heckles.
If Tony Snow tried to give the kinds of answers he favors in front of the House of Commons, the lowliest backbencher would howl with laughter and drive Snow from the room. And well it would be.

Such a program could be the most nutritive and sweet-tasting British import since, well, tea.

Imagine a forum in which George W. Putsch might be asked a direct question by, perhaps, Barney Frank; or Barbara Lee; or Ron Paul; or Henry Hyde; in which the Current Occupant was obliged to respond. If we had such a program, it would be a sight more difficult for a worm like this to ascend to the office in the first place.

C-Span's ratings would skyrocket. It would be the highlight of my week.

I read a cool article about this very idea in the Washington Post, and the subject of the article made a good observation. Our President has the untouchability of royalty combined with the role of government head. Not so in the UK: while the Queen is off-limits in a public forum, the PM is up for grabs. Presidential appearances before the Congress are these staid, scripted shows at which no one would dare heckle. It would be seen as unseemly.

Yet, to me, it is unseemly not to. Especially in these times.

At least Blair is forced to defend his decision about Iraq before intelligent, skeptical legislators on a consistent basis; and is forced to pay a political price for that decision.

Click those links and check out some of the video footage. If American politics had more of this, well, sports-like excitement (in addition to intelligent debate), maybe voter apathy would be less of a problem.