Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Critique Is Not An Attack

An email to the New York Times Washington bureau, and reporter Patrick Healy.

The piece I am responding to is a short blog entry at the New York Times website. Click here to read it, won't take long.

To Mr. Healy or whom it may concern,

The quality of our political writing matters.

There is a tendency to cover political campaigns or debated issues as if they were sporting events, which lends some excitement and drama but can also do a disservice to the nature of debate. I thought of this when reading this blog entry by Mr. Healy.

Starting with the headline: "Bernie Sanders Attacks Hillary Clinton Directly on Trade Deal." Of course, I understand that writers rarely write the headlines. But whether this is a note for Patrick Healy or for the editor, the headline is absurdly misleading. On the substance, all candidate Sanders did was say that candidate Clinton should take a clear position on TPP. That isn't an attack, and here is my point.

There is a tendency for lots of people to lose any distinction between an argument and an attack. If I say "My opponent hates America," that is an attack. If I say, "My opponent's position on Issue X is misguided, and instead we need to consider my policy," that is a political debate. Sure, candidates can muddy that line, but the line exists and political writers have to emphasize that line.

One reason there is less civic engagement is that people are loathe even to engage in political discussion. The negative impression people have of political argument is based on the behavior of our national politicians and media figures. The press has an important role to play not only in reporting the facts and telling a compelling story about political campaigns - but in demonstrating constructive discourse.

Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Prosecutorial Discretion

This morning, 14 indictments or so were handed down in connection with some corruption in professional soccer. ("Soccer" is what we in the United States call football, or calcio.)

Instantly, I created this meme and set it loose on social media. So quickly, in fact, that I failed to notice a typo. (Very hard to correct at this point, but the point is made.)

Friday, May 15, 2015


So, Buddhist Peace Fellowship and a contingent of American Buddhists went to the White House. They met with some Obama officials and took this photo on the White House lawn. One of the concerns they brought up, I guess, is militarism. (Militarism means more than just having a way to defend your country, by the way. Militarism is about extending military power, projecting it elsewhere, and creating an industry around it. So talking about militarism is not talking about 'self-defense.')

One zen teacher and author, Brad Warner, posted the image on Facebook saying he wasn't too sure about the message but did not elaborate. The comments were fascinating to read. Some outright defenses of imperialism - including the sentiment that empires might be necessary for order, that peace can only come at the price of war, and some very blurry sophistry about how the whole universe is inherently violent, suggesting that the violence of microbes or volcanoes might be indistinguishable from human violence or violent institutions. Nothing mean-spirited, mind you, just a lack of meaningful distinctions and political analysis. ‪#‎ShitBuddhistsSay‬ ? Except I don't know if the commenters consider themselves Buddhists.

In one zen center where I spent several years, there were people who actively discouraged reading/thinking/discussing politics or history or economics because, the caveat went, it would ensnare you in the realm of opinions and ideas, leading to arguments where you defend those ideas, and thus you become personally attached and depart from your practice. A wise caveat in itself.
But you have to use discriminatory thinking for operations as simple as crossing a street. And seeing the world clearly, penetrating false consciousness, is a correct function of thinking. A monk once told me he was not part of the material world and its affairs. So I got up and got his mail out of the mailroom. He had an IRA statement (investment in the economy, meaning investment in production and distribution of goods), he had a bill for his automobile insurance, he had a medical bill, and other things tying him very much to worldly affairs. He also had a cell phone. This is false consciousness. I heard a lot of strange opinions in that community including defenses of monarchy (much like the defense of imperialism).

Having some political analysis is part of seeing the world clearly. Understanding your own biases and assumptions is part of that, too.

The violence of microbes is grossly different than the violence of a thief. The violence of a hunting animal is different than the violence of an angry or frightened human being. The violence of a volcano or other natural event is grossly different than the forced expulsion of human beings. Erasing that distinction is reckless. Justice can be dismissed as a mere concept to which we can become attached - but the same could be said of "enlightenment" or "freedom" or any of the Buddhisty things we talk about. In one way or another, we end up selecting certain ideas as useful and correct in finding our direction.

Which ones we choose (and which ones we ignore) says a lot about our own consciousness.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Ask A Trucker: Preparation, Safety, and Accountability

My cousin Christopher Glover, who drives trucks for a living, continues his public service of answering your questions about trucks, the men and women who drive them, and how we share the road.

This is a roundup of comments left on this blog and on Facebook.

Quid from Tampa, Florida asks, "How much sleep do you get"?

The federal motor carrier safety association (FMCSA) and the federal department of transportation (DOT) have established a strict set of guidelines that all commercial drivers must adhere to. They dictate how long we can drive, how long we can be in an "on duty" status, when we must take a break, and how long we must rest.

All commercial drivers must fill out a daily log to show what they were doing in a 24 hour period.  As the law reads we are allowed to be in an on duty status for no more than 14 hours in that 24 hour period.  Out of those 14 hours, no more than 11 of them may be used for driving, leaving us three hours for loading, unloading, and getting fuel.  As implemented last year we must now also take a mandatory 30 minute break within the first eight hours of coming on duty.  The remaining ten hours of the day are for us to sleep, shower, eat, and relax.  We also must complete a 34 hour restart every week  meaning we must be in an "off duty" status for 34consecutive hours with two time periods of 1 a.m. To 5 a.m.  Basically what that means in regards to our restart is if I get back in to my home shop at 12:15 a.m. Saturday , then I can leave out again at 10:15 a.m. On Sunday.  But say I get home at 1:15 a.m. Saturday then I cannot leave out again until 5 a.m. Monday.

Anyone who has driven for a long period of time eventually becomes drowsy.  Some things that I do to help me stay awake are to open my window in the winter and let the cold air circulate around me (its amazing how awake you get in -30).  I'll also start singing along to the radio to keep my mind moving.  Of course this only works so well and if I find I'm really getting tired, then I'll pull into a rest area or truck stop and lay down and sleep.  No load on earth pays enough to risk my life or the lives of the other motorists.

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Danny from Las Cruces, New Mexico asks, "Why doesn't everyone drive as carefully as truckers"?

Let me begin this one by saying that some of the best drivers I've seen are truck drivers, and also some of the worst drivers I've seen are truck drivers.  I can also easily say the same for regular motorists.

Driving a tractor trailer brings with it an added responsibility .  When I'm driving down the road fully loaded I am thoroughly aware of my surroundings. I am always checking my mirrors, looking out both windows , and constantly keeping one eye out the windshield watching and anticipating what the other drivers are going to do.  As a commercial driver I am under constant scrutiny from several federal administrations to ensure that I am operating my vehicle in the safest possible manner.  We are required to complete a daily pre-trip inspection of our vehicle.   We check tires for proper inflation and tread depth, we check all components of the steering controls, we check that all fluids are at proper operating levels, we check that all lights are working as they should, we check that all drive line components are tight and properly aligned , and we check and double check that our load is secured so we won't lose it going down the road.  I'm curious to find out how many regular motorists crawl underneath their cars and check break wear every morning before they leave for work?

So the quick and dirty answer to your question Danny is quite simply:  regular motorists do not have the same responsibility as commercial drivers.  Yes, I understand that we all share the road and need to work together to ensure that everyone gets home safe to their loved ones, but in my experience far too many drivers on both sides adopt a "me first" attitude and I have seen the tragic results far too often.  We ALL need to slow down. Our families would much rather have us home 10 minutes late than not at all.

[Image at top: Chris snapped this picture of his truck after an accident last August. It happens.]