Friday, February 26, 2010

Trivial Boop Boop De Boop

A lot of heavy or thinky posts lately. Here's something light. It's one of those funny Facebook things, where you answer questions about yourself.



1. What time did you get up this morning?
5:00

2. How do you like your steak?
Soy

3. What was the last film you saw at the cinema?
The last Indy Jones movie, in 2008. Disappointed, too.

4. What is your favorite TV show?
Don't watch it.

5. If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be?
I fantasize about a bungalow on Block Island.

6. What did you have for breakfast?
Coffee

7. What is your favorite cuisine?
Home cooking -- and really, retreat-style food is still my favorite. Soups and rice, stir fries, the occasional pizza. When I go out, I get french fries.

8. What foods do you dislike?
Not crazy about eggplant, brussels sprouts.

9. Favorite Place to Eat?
Kyol Che

10. Favorite dressing?
Dry

11.What kind of vehicle do you drive?
A beat-up 2002 Honda Civic

12. What are your favorite clothes?
Loose

13. Where would you visit if you had the chance?
Firenze

14. Cup 1/2 empty or 1/2 full?
My glass of wine is 3/4 full. Wait -- now a little bit less.

15. Where would you want to retire?
Retirement! I'd stand a better chance of seeing a unicorn.

16. Favorite time of day?
When my son sees me and smiles

17. Where were you born?
Fort Sill, Oklahoma

18. What is your favorite sport to watch?
Political debates

19. Who do you think will not tag you back?
Don't know.

20. Person you expect to tag you back first?
Also don't know.

21. Who are you most curious about their responses to this?
Everyone I tag.

22. Bird watcher?
Not much, but I could watch hummingbirds for hours.

23. Are you a morning person or a night person?
Present.

24. Pets?
No

25. Any new and exciting news that you'd like to share?
Nope

26. What did you want to be when you were little?
Loved -- and I was

27. What is your best childhood memory?
Being around grownups who played instruments and sang all kinds of songs in living rooms, hotel corridors, or wherever they were

28. Are you a cat or dog person?
I get on with both

29. Are you married?
Yes

30. Always wear your seat belt?
Yes, unless I forget, which isn't often

31. Been in a car accident?
Minor ones

32. Any pet peeves?
I said NO PETS!

33. Favorite Pizza Toppings?
Fake-aroni, cheese, sauce with wine, maybe king oyster mushrooms

34. Favorite Flower?
*sniff*

35. Favorite ice cream?
Coffee

36. Favorite fast food restaurant?
Sonic has good fries

38. From whom did you get your last email?
Spam from Plaxo

39. Which store would you choose to max out your credit card?
Dharmacrafts

40. Do anything spontaneous lately?
Not including this?

41. Like your job?
Fine

42. Broccoli?
You bet!

43. What was your favorite vacation?
I don't

44. Last person you went out to dinner with?
my wife

45. What are you listening to right now?
A baby monitor hissing

46. What is your favorite color?
all of them

47. How many tattoos do you have?
None

48. How many are you tagging for this quiz?
Supposed to be 25, right?

49. What time did you finish this quiz?
8:51 PM mountain time

50. Coffee Drinker?
Morning, noon, and night.

Domestic Partnerships in New Mexico, Post Mortem


[A letter sent today]


Senator John Arthur Smith

Box 998

Deming, NM 88030


RE: SB 12 and Domestic Partnerships, Post Mortem


Dear Senator,


According to the official roll call of the New Mexico Senate dated today, SB 12 on Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities failed to pass by a vote of 17 to 25 against. It shows that you voted against the legislation.


Rather than leap to unflattering personal conclusions, as a writer to the Deming Headlight has already done, I thought I would enquire as to your thoughts about this bill and why you did not support it.


In principle, I believe we need to embrace the concept that any two adults, even if they are of the same sex, should be permitted in our United States to enter into a formal commitment to each other with all of the legal protections, benefits, and obligations of marriage. In fact, I would call it marriage.


There has never been a credible argument presented, by anyone, why my friends Brian and Stephen should not be married, or why that would be a harmful thing for society. If anything, society benefits. What often shows up, upon examination, is a simple discomfort with the idea of two men or two women marrying each other. If you have something more compelling, I would like to hear it.


It’s time for our nation to mature, get past this baseless discomfort, and move on to greater challenges. Perhaps SB 12 had flaws as legislation – I would enjoy hearing about them. Perhaps you would support an improved version of the bill?


I await your thoughts with interest.


Sincerely,

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fatherin'

It was a small thing, just a moment between us, but it was new. Every day there is something new.

Gabriel had been driving his mama crazy all day, and he needed some new scenery, so I took him out to the winery. He loves to stomp around in the grass over there.

Stomp stomp stomp, stomp stomp stomp. I followed him around while he explored the field in front of the tasting room, down the walkway, knock on the wine barrels, and head into the driveway and parking area. Millions of little rocks! How cool is that?

He got curious about the patio and made an approach, but the step was steeper than what he was used to. Steps are still kind of new, and the step up to the patio was a little high for him, so he gave up. He turned around, looking disappointed.

"You want to go up there?" I asked. "Go on and step up. You can do that." I'm not used to seeing him give up on things.

He turned back around and looked at the step. (He understands everything we say to him.) Made his approach again but did not like that step one bit. "Go on. Step up." He raised his foot. "Give me your hand, I'll help." He extended his hand and I took it. His legs are strong enough, but he doesn't quite have his balance yet, especially with high steps. He got up the step and walked around the patio with delight. "There, you can do it!"

Smiled. Proud of himself.

I've watched him try new things and accomplish them, but this was the first time I got to prod him and watch him do something he thought he couldn't do.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Utility of Force


Ando Arike has a sobering piece in this month's Harper's, "The Soft Kill Solution," regarding a sort of non-lethal arms race: the development of weapons that sicken and repel, but do not kill. Guns that shoot electro-magnetic radiation to heat the skin of their targets, sound cannons, chemical weapons that incapacitate you, foams, sprays, weapons similar to tazers, and lasers to blind or stun you.

Notably, they are designed for use against unarmed civilians. Good, in that it gives soldiers an alternative to lethal assaults on crowds of protesters. Bad, insofar as it can give political repression a media-friendly face. Potentially ominous, insofar as it indicates preparation for non-military targets -- such as, perhaps, an angry civil population rising up in response to what is happening to us right now, with respect to ecological strain and economic injustice.

[It] speaks to rising anxieties about crowd control at a time when global capitalism begins to run up against long-predicted limits to growth. Each year, some 76 million people join our current 6.7 billion in a world of looming resource scarcities, ecological collapse, and glaring inequalities of wealth; and elites are preparing to defend their power and profits. In this new era of triage, as democratic institutions and social safety nets are increasingly considered dispensable luxuries, the task of governance will be to lower the political and economic expectations of the masses without inciting full-fledged revolt. Non-lethal weapons promise to enhance what military theorists call "the political utility of force," allowing dissent to be suppressed inconspicuously.


I will return to this in subsequent posts, as the article fleshes out some important points. There truly is a crisis emerging as population growth and ecological balance intersect with the way human beings metabolize their environment. There is the possibility of waking up to these realities and changing the way we use our resources, produce things, and distribute them. There is another possibility, as well, a scenario we might call "the fortress," where those with the means wall themselves up and protect what they have, and shoot arrows through the loops and crenels of their battlements at the have-nots.

Transformation or fortress? The human being is capable of either.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Case of Nick George [UPDATED]

[For updated commentary, scroll below the video.]

When I was this man's age, I was studying Arabic in college, just like him. That was in the early 1990's. At that time, things seemed pretty bad politically -- but I never dreamed of being arrested at an airport merely because I studied the Arabic language.

In 2002, an investigator at the Orlando airport discovered a music CD in my luggage by a Nubian musician. On the cover was a photograph of the artist wearing a traditional turban. He questioned me, with studied casualness, about the origin of the artist and my interest in the music. Except for a little extra attention, I got on my plane without incident. I never thought it would turn out otherwise.

What reportedly happened to Nick George is a shock and an outrage. Our security does not depend on this kind of repressive behavior. Pending a fair hearing so as to hear both sides of this tale, the TSA must answer to this man and to the American people.




UPDATE 2/22/10

There are details about this case that the ACLU video does not disclose.

Mr. George also had a small pair of speakers in his luggage, and these were examined as one would expect. When the flashcards were examined and Mr. George was questioned about the events of 9/11, he exhibited "fear reflexes," in the words of TSA. A check of his passport showed that Mr. George has traveled to several middle eastern countries as part of his college studies.

Any one of these items, and certainly all three, would attract the curiosity of a security professional at an airport. What we expect of a professional is to apply good common sense. The speakers clearly turned out to be just a pair of speakers; Mr. George's international travel is explained by the documented fact that he is an exchange student.

His flash cards were commercially produced, printed flash cards that might be found on the person of anyone studying Arabic seriously. Some of the vocabulary words included references to crime and war, which police regarded as suspicious. Where is the common sense? For the last decade, one of the central current events has been international military conflict in the middle east over the issue of terrorism. A person studying for fluency in a foreign language would certainly require the vocabulary to discuss those events. On the other hand, a committed terrorist would not require a flash card reminding him of the Arabic word for "terrorism."

Common sense, ladies and gentlemen.

As for "fear reflexes," there is no indication that Mr. George attempted to flee. Did he stammer? Break out in a sweat? Avoid eye contact? I do all of these things when I am nervous. Mr. George is a 22 year old man who likely exhibited normal nervous responses when he felt he was an object of suspicion. No detail revealed yet suggests otherwise.

As I related above, I've had airport security personnel take an interest in me. It has happened more than once. My baggage has included middle-eastern music and books about the middle east, as well as other political literature, including some that might be taken as "radical." Had my investigator at the Orlando airport (referred to above) produced that Hamza el Din C.D. from my bag and immediately started questioning me about the events of 9/11, I likely would have become nervous as well.

Fortunately, my investigator exhibited common sense. He took a look, saw that I was not a danger, and passed me on. That's what a professional does.

Mr. George was certainly worth a second look by the TSA. They have a job to do, and it would have been their business to check out his bag, inspect the speakers, and ask him a couple of questions. Common sense would have shown them that this kid is who he said he was, a legitimate student of the Arabic language and culture, with no evidence of involvement in any criminal or suspicious activity. And they would have waved him through.

Unfortunately, as many a traveler has suspected when they endure a trip through an airport, common sense does not always prevail with the TSA. Nonetheless, absent a lawsuit, the TSA wins the argument by dint of its authority over us.

An Unimaginable Republican


I've been sort of grazing through this history of the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression by Nancy Rose, and was startled by a reference to a U.S. Senator from New Mexico.

At the time that Franklin Delano Roosevelt assumed the presidency, New Mexico was represented by Republican Senator Bronson Cutting. When Roosevelt bailed out the banks, Cutting was "sick at heart" -- because FDR missed an opportunity to nationalize the banks.

For a moment, my mind ground to a halt at the concept of a Republican in national office advocating this position. Indeed, he lamented that this was Roosevelt's "greatest mistake." As a matter of fact, Senator Cutting emerged as one of the Roosevelt's staunchest critics -- from the left, in particular on banking and monetary policy.

What party would such a man call home today?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Credit Theft

Last night I learned something interesting.

I learned that credit thieves are becoming ever more sophisticated. Thieves can now run a special strip through an ATM or credit card swipe device, and record your credit card information. They can send this data instantly to a mobile device and use the data to make a brand-new ATM card with their own names on it -- or whatever name they use on their fake identification.

They can use this card to make purchases right up until the account gets blocked and the card won't work anymore.

I learned this last night because this is happening to me. Someone in Ohio has been using my debit card information. They ate at McDonald's and gassed up their car, and then proceeded to a K-Mart to buy quite a lot of merchandise.

By sheer luck, I recently opened a new bank account, so I will be all right. My first bank account, however, has been depleted, with overdraft fees and other penalties applied (presumably they will be reversed once the investigation is complete). The last check I wrote on that account has bounced as a result, and it will take a week or two to straighten everything out.

What do I have to say about that? I take a deep, deep breath in, and I release it all in one long exhale as I extend my tongue and let out a long, loud raspberry: Pffffffpppppffffpffffftttt!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Anapanasati and Trampolines


We really must fix or replace our camera. So many beautiful or memorable pictures I have not been able to show you, dear reader; so it goes.

On Saturday, the Mrs. and I were headed up to the town of Truth or Consequences to pick up my car, and somewhere off the road I spied a trampoline that had been set to rest on a hillside, and I remarked on the bravery and coordination it would take to leap on a trampoline set at such an angle. It was a striking image and a tempting symbol of the difficult balancing acts with which life presents us.

One of the Buddha's basic prescriptions for us was mindful breathing, a conscious technique to bring awareness to the process of breathing in and out. In Pali, this was anapanasati. The techniques were expropriated from yoga. The technique was this simple: a silent repetition with the in-breath ("Now I am breathing in, a long breath") and on the exhale ("Now I am breathing out, a long breath"). At Providence Zen Center, I was originally taught to meditate this way, repeating "Clear mind, clear mind, clear mind" while breathing in, and "Don't know" while breathing out.

In the Sattipatthana Sutta this is elaborated in great detail, into a detailed and lengthy course of training. There is a danger that one's mind can objectify technique and start obsessing over it -- Am I doing this right? What about now? What about now? This is not mindfulness; this is losing one's mind in constant checking.

Technique should work like a vitamin; we should swallow it and let it do its thing. Practicing some technique until we can forget about it, but it's still working. I think of the way Zen Master Seung Sahn always returned to repeating his dharani when he wasn't speaking.

Returning to awareness requires a willingness to feel whatever we are feeling, to face whatever our situation is presenting to us. The breath is a powerful ally, and it's always sitting there, repeating itself until the day it stops. When irritation arises in my classroom, I can fall back on my breath and it catches me. When physical discomfort arises, I can fall back on the breath. When I feel sad, as I so often do, I fall back on the breath and it is there when nothing else seems stable.

It's the great trampoline, often sitting there at a peculiar angle owing to whatever situation I've got myself into; but it is there. I don't follow scripted repetitions for the in-breath and out-breath anymore (although I do repeat a dharani during the day); tasting the breath, feeling it in my nose, chest, and belly, even my toes, this is enough.

Coming home, falling down, falling back up.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

On the Independence of Central Banks


Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research is to be commended for his excellent op-ed about the independence of central banks (such as the United States Federal Reserve, chaired by Ben Bernanke).

I am in agreement that the necessity for "independence" among central banks is an elitist myth. They certainly are not apolitical: they are, by design, packed with finance executives and protected from democratic influence so that it will pursue the interests of the financial sector, indifferent to social needs. That is aggressively political.

Weisbrot's piece appeared in The Guardian and can be viewed here.



[Photo: The United States Federal Reserve]

Deming Mayoral Candidates


The city of Deming is holding elections for mayor and two seats on its city council in just a couple of weeks. The local paper hosted a forum for the candidates last week. Pictured above (the photo is by Bill Armendariz of the Headlight) are the four men running for mayor.

We have the incumbent mayor (bald man shown taking notes), a very young and green challenger (red tie), a local street preacher (bald man looking around the room), and a man who has been in and out of hospital with paranoid schizophrenia (green jacket).

The format easily works to the advantage of the incumbent. Questions were presented to all candidates, who had about a minute to answer. There were no follow-up questions and no exchanges between the candidates.

This format makes it difficult, but not impossible, for challengers to make a substantive case against the incumbent administration. Two of them had a go, but they did not seem well prepared or practiced. This is a skill. The incumbent, Mayor Andres Silva, who is also pastor of a charismatic church downtown and owns a few businesses, is highly skilled and used the format to maximal advantage. He was over-prepared for any policy criticism; he brought the most supporters into the room; he was warm, fluent, and exuded experience. Plus, he was protected from follow-ups that would challenge his statements.

The format can, with some skill and practice, be turned against an incumbent. It takes some practice to use a one-minute response to say why the city is on the wrong track, and why or how you will make the right difference. Doing so, however, you can get the mayor responding to critiques, forcing him to use his own one minute reply to defend his administration.

The challengers got no further than introducing themselves, really. The most serious contender, young Tyler Vendrely, had to overcome his youthful appearance and make a serious case for himself as mayor. Surprisingly, he didn't even mention relevant details about himself, like the fact he is a business owner, and president of an organization that promotes Deming to business owners, until the very end of the event. He is more than a kid in a suit, but did little to dispel the latter impression.

It's a safe wager the mayor will be re-elected.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Is "Green Capitalism" Just A Snooze Button?


A question that I return to frequently, as I ponder the ecological information that I glean from the Goddard Institute among others, is the prospect that we are still hitting the snooze button instead of waking up and doing what needs to be done on behalf of future generations -- starting as early as my son's generation.

One of the larger snooze buttons employed by the so-called "first world," the nations with the most military and economic strength, and their delegations charged with shaping global policy, is a fantasy that has been called "the greening of capitalism."

There are nice ideas to be found in this framework. Businesses could recycle more, reduce packaging, reduce chemicals, ship on rail rather truck wherever possible, and more. Oh yes, and we can build new profitable industries to develop a 'green' infrastructure, too. Those are nice ideas, when we consider them apart from the market pressures at work. Add the market pressures back in to the scenario, and the behavior changes.

Let technology and the market solve the problem, we are told. Yet will technological solutions, even when found, be implemented by the largest corporations, even when the established system provides them with a competitive edge? Will pressure by consumers induce meaningful changes, structural changes in our established methods of production and habits of consumption? Or will it simply inspire new P.R. initiatives, showing us how "green" the companies are while they conduct business exactly as usual?

I have my doubts. I'm not knocking the businesses that sincerely want to move in that direction, but given how fast nature is moving -- how fast our habitat is changing -- these may be mincing increments that address too little, too slowly.

My suspicion is we need to be preparing for changing how we live -- how we produce food and goods, how we transport them, and how we consume.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Samsara Politics


Or, Reality Be Damned.

Steve Benen, blogging at the Washington Monthly, has an interesting post this morning about political perceptions.

National Review published a couple of items recently about President Obama having cut taxes for 95% of working families. This is, in reality, what happened, but the conservative magazine was incredulous. "If the taxes of 95 percent of Americans actully [sic] had been cut, surely somebody other than Obama would have noticed," one NR writer put it.

It was a curious argument. It doesn't matter what President Obama did -- in this case, approval of a tax cut -- it matters what people perceive, even if the perceptions are patently false.

Benen points out that the first Tea Party protests, protests that were allegedly in response to taxation, emerged last March, just after a large package of tax cuts was signed into law.

my challenge to them would be to go look at their most recent paystub, and then dig up their paystub from, say, December 2008, before Obama took office. The math isn't that hard -- did their tax rate go up, down, or stay the same? Opinions and perceptions are nice, but arithmetic can be stubborn.

Desire is more stubborn, still. It is also a wily con artist, often working with its partner, delusion: It can persuade highly intelligent people to ignore facts as incontrovertible as an oncoming train. Ignore your pay stub, ignore that pain in your chest, ignore climate science, and ignore anything you hear in the media unless it is spoken by Rush Limbaugh or Keith Olbermann (your choice).

We do not have a rational politics, a fact-based, policy-oriented political culture. There are serious policymakers, of course, but few people listen to them. What we have is an intensely emotional politics where people choose what they want to believe.

For instance, the rational case for a single-payer health care system is compelling, but most people don't want to accept that, and the profiteers who own our lawmakers play on those fears in a highly organized manner. They call it socialism, they start repeating the false notion that government is incapable of doing anything right (citing, as an example, having to stand in line at the post office or something equally irrelevant).

Rational people are driven to fits by this. How can opponents get away with lies such as the "death panel" claim (the evil government is going to order your grandmother euthanized!)? How is it that people are still claiming the President has no birth certificate? They get away with it because a lot of people want to believe it, and to hell with reality. If you dare suggest that maybe some of these people are just afraid of a black President, watch out.

Most people do not examine how their mind works, or how their perceptions are influenced by desire and other emotions. If we examine this in ourselves, we can also see how it operates in politics. Perceptions and feelings become more important than facts.

The consequence of this is similar to ignoring a serious medical symptom. One of our neighbors here in the city of Deming recently suffered an eight-hour heart attack, ignoring or discounting her symptoms for more than half of that time. As a result, the damage to her heart may be terminal.

So it is with the state of our union, and even with our very habitat. We lie to ourselves just as much as politicans. Partisan think tanks and citizen groups believe there is still time to play around with facts and numbers, even as Americans die or struggle to survive under poverty, injustice, and pollution; as glaciers melt, and sea levels and temperatures change; as production of oil peaks; and so on. We ignore our symptoms and go on acting on desires, the way we want our world to be.

Hope does not arrive in a politician. It arrives in awakening, or what Krishnamurti called "inner revolution."

In light of material circumstances, awakening is a civic duty.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Fifth Graders and Macbeth


My fifth graders are reading Macbeth. They are ahead of schedule, in fact, having finished the second act on Monday morning. Violence, witches, evil -- what's not to like?

It is sometimes hard to get them to play, but if I do it, they'll do it. So yesterday I greeted them at 8:45 in an improvised "weird sister" costume, addressing them in the manner of the witches, bidding them enter my room as I played my drum.

Droopy 8:45 eyelids fluttered and they checked in with one another. Our teacher is insane.

Waking up a bit, they worked together in groups to act out scenes from Act I -- the scenes where we meet the witches and hear their prophecies for Macbeth and Banquo.

Still in my village idiot costume, I challenged them to discuss with each other the age-old question about Macbeth's moral choice: did he choose his actions, or was it simply prophecy fulfilling itself?

Very intelligent responses. A debate took place, in Spanglish, among one group. One boy mentioned Lady Macbeth and talked about the pressure she must be putting on him. (We hadn't even gotten to that conversation yet.)

They are an impressive group. On to Act III today. And I really should take this silly outfit off.

---

P.S. I'm starting to pronounce "Banquo" like the Spanish-speaking students do. "BAHN-kwo." We are a long way from Scotland.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

New Mexico May Move Its Money

Jim Rubenstein reports for the Credit Union Times:

The clash between banks and credit unions over public fund deposits took an unorthodox twist with community banks and CUs teaming up to pass, 65-0, a milestone bill in the New Mexico House.

The bill enables a possible switch of $2-5 billion of state funds into CUs and small banks.

If enacted, the municipal funds bill, in the works since last year and still subject to a Senate vote, would represent a setback to large national banks, like Bank of America and Wells Fargo, which have had a lock on such funds.

The altered view of New Mexico lawmakers in favoring local control of state funds, officials said, follows national mention of the New Mexico effort in the “Move Your Money” campaign of New York pundit Arianna Huffington in her online Huffington Post columns.

“I think Huffington gave this bill a little traction,” said Juan Fernandez, vice president of government affairs for the Credit Union Association of New Mexico, which has been cooperating with the New Mexico Bankers Association in pushing the bill. Though large banks are members of NMBA, its leadership has been dominated by small community banks, which like CUs seek the funds.

Sources said that despite the support for the bill, it still may face quiet opposition from the large bank lobby which may seek to stall or defeat the measure.

Food-bama


What a dreadful headline. A hasty title for a hasty post, mainly to share a link on food policy.

Jill Richardson posts at Fire Dog Lake about the Obama Administration's approach to food policy. It is an overview, brief, and worth reading and following the links.

She cites educational examples of Haiti (a bad outcome attributable to the dominant approach), Cuba (a positive example, and an area where we can learn lessons from Cuba if we could relax the Cold War attitude for a few hours -- we might also examine their successes in delivering medical care, by the way), and the very important report commissioned by the World Bank and the U.N.

What she does not mention is that this compelling report has been dismissed out of hand by our current Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, who is known as something of a shill for big ag.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Censored by Barbara's Buddhism Blog!

Wow. Gosh. I feel as though I've been ejected from the classroom.

How much of the "Buddhist blogosphere" is like this?

The first time I have ever left a comment on Barbara's Buddhism blog will be the last.

On her forum, there was recently a very interesting discussion: do Buddhists "pray" or not? Barbara O'Brien and one reader engaged in a debate on this question over a dozen comments that was quite beneficial, as I found it challenged my assumptions about the practice that I do (which includes chanting the name of Kwan Seum Bosal and Amita Bul).

Suddenly, Ms. O'Brien announced that the posts by her inquisitor, one Jeff Wilson, had become "anal and meaningless" and that she was cutting him off.

So I left a comment thanking Ms. O'Brien and Mr. Wilson for their dialogue, as I had found it engaging, expressing appreciation for the way they had disagreed and debated quite civilly; in a single sentence, I expressed regret that their interaction had to be cut off so abruptly, and with name-calling.

My comment was deleted, and apparently Mr. Wilson has been shown the door as well, at least on that particular thread.

This is an ironic style for someone who professes expertise on the path of Buddha, a teacher who was known for teaching dialectically and welcoming challenging questions. Moreover, it is rather a shame, as I read through a few of the blog posts and she's rather a good writer with some very sensible views on Buddhist teaching and practice, even where I did not share her opinion.

Oh well. Who has time for all these blogs anyway? That's one off the list.

Tired of the Duopoly Yet? [UPDATED]


If, as the Los Angeles Times claims, Americans are deeply dissatisfied with both of the dominant political parties, my question is: are we ready to start supporting candidates from the other parties?

Are we willing to send a Libertarian to our state legislature? Or Congress? Someone who would likely caucus with Republicans but break with them on matters of principle, particularly with respect to budget and investment.

Or a Green? Maybe elect a Green to some local regulatory commissions? Or Congress?

Or a Socialist? Imagine an intelligent and policy-oriented socialist caucusing with Democrats in the House -- a new Bernie Sanders.

Or a Constitutionalist?

Americans like to grouse. Whether they will do anything remains to be seen. It is true that these two political parties are not serving the republic well, and I have been arguing for years to anyone who would listen that they need to lose their joint monopoly on power.

I'll believe Americans are truly dissatisfied when other parties attract more support.

Also, we do not have to content ourselves with the standing alternatives. The Greens are a frustrating party for those who believe in its principles. The same, perhaps, with the Socialist Party USA. These parties have their own internal divisions and battles. The Greens, I would argue, are not seriously preparing themselves to hold office at a national level, and rest instead on being a party of critique and protest. I would like to see more policy.

Anyway, the people can also form their own political parties: smaller, locally-focused political parties. This is a movement I would really like to see. For all our talk of democracy and representation, we Americans do not treat democracy like a participatory sport: we enact and re-enact the old habit of supporting nobility.

Having served on the platform committee of a new state party, I will testify to the value of creating a party and doing the work of defining its principles and its solutions to problems.

More parties, please, especially at the local level.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Stranded in Truth or Consequences

I didn't even clear the Chihuahuan Desert.

The town of Truth or Consequences is the seat of Sierra County, New Mexico. It was called Hot Springs until they renamed themselves after the radio quiz show in 1950. I had traveled about a hundred miles from Deming, past "T-or-C" (as it is called by New Mexicans) to Elephant Butte City, when the car began to struggle and slow down. Its acceleration had been sluggish in recent days, and I had vowed to take the car to Gigi, an honest mechanic in Deming, next weekend. (Payday.)

I pulled off the interstate hoping to struggle to a service station or at least a downhill road. No go. Literally. The car finally came to a stop and would go no further. By this time, I was on state road 181, a two lane road with no traffic or lights. There was a drizzle of rain falling, and with the mists falling on the heathland around me and the sense of total isolation, I felt as if I had just broken down in the first scene of Shakespeare's Macbeth.

Bubble bubble, engine trouble.
Deep blue lake and mountain rubble.

The kindly witches arranged a tow truck for me, after a brief misunderstanding where they waved their witchy fingers and --poof!-- an absurd and hideous apparition with a somewhat ingrown nail appeared in the road. "Oh!" said the first of the witches, "You wanted a tow truck! We were wondering."

Most luckily, I have a friend in town, and for the moment I am pleasantly stranded here, waiting for the diagnosis.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Going to Santa Fe

This blog will be silent for a couple of days, as I will be attending a winter conference for arts teachers, and a meeting of the state advisory council on the arts. In fact, I am presenting two workshops for the conference -- not sure how that's going to go, as I am sick (yet again) and lost my voice almost entirely yesterday.

You'll see posts here again by the end of the weekend or Monday.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Credit Unions, Too

A recent post on changing banks prompted some responses reminding me about credit unions. I will share a comment that was emailed to me, instead of being posted here, by reader Mr. B:

Being a member and having served as director this past year on the board of my local Credit Union, I've been getting quite an education on the wherefores and whys of the industry, and am happy to see this groundswell of interest in divorcing one's funds from large institutions. ...you failed to make one mention of "or your local Federal Credit Union", which said institutions are barely distinguishable from "banks" anywmore. CU's are the original small community institutions, heavily invested in the people and neighborhoods where they operate. By and large they are well capitalized and stable [in part because people like you and me are the directors].


Yep, you're right, and so is Adam. I just plain forgot to mention them, which is even more surprising as I recall my own previous experience as a customer of this credit union back in Rhode Island. It was wonderful.

Mea culpa.