Monday, June 30, 2008

Can We Talk Sense?

It is not even the first of July yet, and the election has reached a point where a sensible debate is impossible.

Today's evidence:

Obama rejects critique of McCain's service

WASHINGTON - Democrat Barack Obama rejected a retired general's suggestion that Republican John McCain's military experience didn't necessarily qualify him to be president, as GOP surrogates lined up to label the remarks indecent and disrespectful.

That's the headline and paragraph of an AP headline story today - the big political event of the day, in fact. The only problem is - there was no critique of McCain's service. In fact, in Wesley Clark's actual remarks - made on tape for in an interview for broadcast - he actually praised Senator McCain's service and counted him as one of his (Clark's) personal heroes.

So Obama rejected Clark for something Clark didn't say. Doing so, he contributes to the confusion.

Moreover, what Clark said was neither indecent nor disrespectful. Being shot down in a warplane, being wounded in combat, being a prisoner of war subject to what we are now calling "aggressive interrogation techniques," are not instant qualifications for being President of the United States. They aren't substitutes for executive experience, a working knowledge of government, a functional understanding of White House procedures, and the political skills that go with being president. Vice Admiral James Stockdale was one of the most highly decorated Naval officers in its history - and look at how much fun we had with him as a Vice-Presidential candidate!

If we are supposed to believe that anybody who has been on a battlefield is qualified to hold that office, I am wondering if that homeless veteran begging change on the Alvarado offramp can be McCain's running mate.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Larry Craig and My Cat, Protecting America

"Sarah, do you feel it isn't worth getting married anymore?"

"Waaahhh??" (She is brushing her teeth.)

"Getting married. You know. Now that THEY can get married?"


"The homosexuals! They can get married now! Do you think the institution has been shattered? Is it meaningless now?"



"Algernon, I couldn't hear anything you said!"

"Oh. Never mind."

* * *

Yes, there are a lot of happy people in California these days, savoring a moment of dignity and full participation in civil society. Homosexual couples are getting hitched and it is in fact a legal bond of matrimony.

So far, the promised social anarchy has not come about, but Schroeder the Cat is watching vigilantly through the windows for signs of civil unrest or moral breakdown. I must say, though, he seems preoccupied mainly with the squirrels.

* * *

Never fear, however, because the Federal Marriage Amendment is back!! It does just what you expect - defines marriage exclusively as the union between a man and a woman.

But the really funny part is the list of sponsors. Read it carefully. Any names pop up for you?

Surely you noticed David Vitter. Aaaaah, David Vitter!! Now here's a guy who demonstrates how to uphold marriage.

But look again - did you notice another, perhaps funnier champion of heterosexual marriage on there? Oh yes he is! Ladies and gentleman, Larry Craig is here to protect marriage against gay people - "which, by the way, in case you are wondering, I am not!"

Ladies and gentlemen, in case you forgot about Larry Craig and why he is the most rollicking funny Senator on the hill, enjoy The Ballad of Larry Craig.

Who Says Congressional Hearings Aren't Funny?

They can be quite entertaining.

Take, for instance, this delightful skit that played out yesterday.

The person giving testimony is John Yoo. He used to work for the Attorney General of the United States, and his job was to give the Bush Administration legal advice. Yoo is most famous for helping us redefine "torture" and get around the Geneva Conventions.

Here, he is being questioned by John Conyers of Michigan, who is Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Here's the game: Conyers tries to get Yoo to answer a straight question with a yes or no: Is there anything the President could NOT order to be done to a suspect in the interest of national defence? Are there any limits? Could he order someone to be buried alive?

Watch Yoo squirrel away from answering the question directly. It's very amusing. Of course, to find it amusing it helps if you can forget about the moral implications of torture, and suspend any aspirations of our country standing for justice and the rule of law, for being an example to the world of restraint and accountability, for adhering to our own Constitution - and, above all, not considering the fact that other nations might now feel even more free to torture our own soldiers.

So, forgetting all of that, have a giggle:

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Magnet For My Car?

Despite that impressive speech by Senator Dodd (see previous entry), only 15 members of Democratically-led Senate - you know, the Democrats who won back the Congress in 2006 promising to defend the Constitution and civil liberties - only 15 Senators voted against cloture.

And their Presidential candidate was not among them.

This morning I got an email from the Obama campaign asking me to buy a magnet for my car. A magnet for my car! Great, I could cover up that body damage I can't afford to repair from where that big rig ran into me in 2006!

I wrote back to them suggesting I would rather put a magnet on my car saying NO TO THE FISA AMENDMENTS ACT or A CONSTITUTION WE CAN BELIEVE IN or THE AUDACITY OF CAPITULATION.

The way things are going, maybe a magnet for my car would be less appropriate than, perhaps, a decorative tapping device for my phone.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Senate Still Has A Couple of Americans

Pardon me for appropriating the "patriotism card" from the authoritarian right, but I really am proud of Senators like Chris Dodd (below) for leading the pushback on the disgusting FISA Amendments Act. Come on, Obama - or you, McCain, you've changed your mind about a lot of other things - get straight on this and filibuster the bill.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

George Carlin, 1937-2008

George Carlin felt like a friend of the family. His insights exposed a lot of our bullshit with laughter and affection. It's a big loss.

Encounter with a Peace Activist

This morning I was walking up the boulevard with our laundry. Two Trader Joe's tote bags stuffed full of dried linens were in my hands as I trudged up the hill. We are in a terrible heat wave and I was taking it nice and slow.

I approached an intersection and stopped at the curb to wait for the light, the bags of laundry on either side of me like well-behaved dogs. The quiet of the scene was ripped to shreds by the sound of a car's horn, which warbled Doppler-like as the vehicle sounding its horn was driving towards me. Looking to my left, I saw the car. It was a full block away, driving slightly but not outrageously fast, and the driver was leaning on the horn as the car approached the green light, and continued as it made its way through the intersection. I looked through the windshield and saw an elderly woman in dark glasses and a wide-brimmed sun hat, who was gesticulating madly at me. She indicated the light and shook a hand towards me, pantomiming, "Don't you dare even consider crossing against the light."

I opened my arms to pantomime, in response, "What on earth are you yelling about? I'm standing here on the curb waiting my turn." The car passed me and released its horn only when it had passed through the intersection and left me behind. I watched the car go and I noticed the bumper sticker:

War is not the answer.

Standing For Clear and Precise Language

In Zen, it is said that pointing to ultimate reality cannot be done with words. Language refracts reality, and opens up issues of translation, omission, and manipulation.

It is a powerful medium, and when used with care and honesty it's not a bad one. It is typically used carelessly, however; or worse, those with the skill use it to deceive, conceal reality, or evade responsibility. "Mistakes were made." "I'm 70 years young." "We will eliminate redundancies in our workforce."

This morning I read that British government workers have gotten a memo from the Local Government Association, which has authority over local bureaucracies, to avoid doublespeak and instead speak plainly and directly to people.

I would paste the story, but I have a heard a rumor that AP does not consider this fair use, so here's a link to it.

Specific recommendations included refraining from buzzwords and management-jargon. "Sustainable communities" could mean anything. "Revenue stream" can be summed up with the word income. Residents shall not be referred to as "customers" (as the word does not accurately describe their relationship to government) and vague use of the catchy "stakeholder" is also discouraged. To quote from the memo: "Why do we have to have 'coterminous stakeholder engagement' when we could just 'talk to people' instead?"


Saturday, June 21, 2008

...and the Eagle

"Now look at the right side of the dollar bill. Here's the eagle, the bird of Zeus. The eagle is the downcoming of the god into the field of time. The bird is the incarnation principle of the deity. This is the bald eagle, the American eagle. This is the American counterpart of the eagle of the highest god, Zeus.
"He comes down, descending into the world of the pairs of opposites, the field of action. One mode of action is war and the other is peace. So in one of his feet the eagle holds thirteen arrows - that's the principle of war. In the other he holds a laurel leaf with thirteen leaves - that is the principle of peaceful conversation. The eagle is looking in the direction of the laurel. That is the way these idealists who founded our country would wish us to be looking - diplomatic relationships and so forth. But thank God he's got the arrows in the other foot, in case this doesn't work."
--Joseph Campbell, from The Power of Myth (1988)

The Pyramid...

"We need myths that will identify the individual not with his local group but with the planet. A model for that is the United States. Here were thirteen different little colony nations that decided to act in the mutual interest, without disregarding the individual interests of any one of them.

"...That's what the Great Seal is all about. I carry a copy of the Great Seal in my pocket in the form of a dollar bill. Here is the statement of the ideals that brought about the formation of the United States. Look at the pyramid on the left. A pyramid has four sides. These are the four points of the compass. There is somebody at this point, there's somebody at that point, and there's somebody at this point. When you're down on the lower levels of the pyramid, you will be either on one side or the other. But when you get up to the top, the points all come together, and there the eye of God opens.

"This is the first nation of the world that was ever established on the basis of reason instead of simply warfare. These were eighteenth-century deists, these gentlemen...They did not think the mind of man was cut off from God. The mind of man, cleansed of secondary and merely temporal concerns, beholds with the radiance of a cleansed mirror a reflection of the rational mind of God. Reason puts you in touch with God. Consequently, for these men, there is no special revelation anywhere, and none is needed, because the mind of man cleared of its fallbilities is sufficiently capable of the knowledge of God. All people in the world are thus capable of reason.

"All men are capable of reason. That is the fundamental principle of democracy. Because everybody's mind is capable of true knowledge, you don't have to hace a special authority, or a special revelation telling you that this is the way things should be."

* * *

"If you look behind that pyramid, you see a desert. If you look before it, you see plants growing. The desert, the tumult in Europe, wars and wars and wars - we have pulled ourselves out of it and created a state in the name of reason, not in the name of power, and out of that will come the flowerings of the new life. That's the sense of that part of the pyramid...If you're going to govern properly, you've got to govern from the apex of the triangle, in the sense of the world eye at the top.

"Now, when I was a boy, we were given George Washington's farewell address and told to outline the whole thing, every single statement in relation to every other one. So I remember it absolutely. Washington said, 'As a result of our revolution, we have disengaged ourselves from involvement in the chaos of Europe.' His last word was that we not engage in foreign alliances. Well, we held on to his words until the First World War. And then we canceled the Declaration of Independence and rejoined the British conquest of the planet. And so we are now on one side of the pyramid....We are politically, historically, now a member of one side of an argument. We do not represent that principle of the eye up there. And all of our concerns have to do with economics and politics and not with the voice and sound of reason."

--Joseph Campbell, in The Power of Myth (1988)

Friday, June 20, 2008

So Much For Obama

Change we can believe in?

Barack Obama has announced his support of the outrageous FISA Amendments Act of 2008. He goes along with the dishonest claim that this bill represented any meaningful "compromise." The "compromise" is represents is an unnecessary compromise of the 4th Amendment of the Constitution.

Most outrageous of all is this bit of spin by Obama: "the President’s illegal program of warrantless surveillance will be over." Not exactly. The illegal warrantless surveillance that was conducted covertly for a time, until the Fed got caught, will now be legal and blessed by Democratic Party. In other words, the crime has been codified and blessed.

Indeed, the law would go further than offering immunity to media companies that colluded with the government to break the law. The law, as I ranted below, gives the executive branch the power to compel private actors to break the law, and then give them immunity from lawsuits. That means that if you ever found out your rights were violated by this authority, there is no redress for you.

Obama has endorsed a coverup of Presidential crimes, and an assault on the Constitution. Moreover, he is helping peddle the false claim that the Democrats won meaningful "compromises."

I might have known. He's a pretty little speechmaker, there's no denying it. But his votes in the Senate played much closer to the pathological Democratic Party line than his rhetoric suggests, and now this sellout on an issue where our nation's political character is on the line, to say nothing of its ramifications on HIS presidential powers if he wins the election.

But that's not all. The final point is put best by, again, Glenn Greenwald: "Telling Americans that we have to give up basic constitutional rights -- and allow rampant lawbreaking -- if we want to save ourselves from 'the grave threats we face' sounds awfully familiar."

It certainly does sound familiar. Not like "change" at all.

Now I'm clear: I don't believe him. He's got a great act but he is no reformer, except in style.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Are You Raising Him Vegetarian?

We will not be indoctrinating Gabriel into any ideologies around food.

Sarah eats meat, as a matter of fact. She also enjoys the dinners I cook: vegetable soups, curried lentils, stir fries, chili, and she enjoys tofu the way I cook it. The dish she asks for more often than anything is a spicy Asian-style dish with soba noodles and green beans.

It is a blessing to live in a country where so many good, nutritious foods are available to us. Spoiled, we are. Even with the food industry being what it is, even with the devastation to family farms and the perversion wrought by giganto-agri corporations, by God I can get my hands on beans, delicious greens, sweet fruits, potatoes that taste like butter, nuts, and brown rice, of course. For food, we are the luckiest nation, and never more so than in these port cities where I have lived. In Los Angeles, we can reach into the bread basket of any nation on earth.

If eating meat were crucial for my health, I would say a prayer and eat the meat; as it is, I bow to lentils, carrots, herbs, and broccoli. So far, no special interest group has taken up the cause of vegetable rights - surely, eating vegetables is the cruelest thing of all. Vegetables are living beings, too, and they can't even run away or call for help!

"Everything is somebody else's lunch." That is Zen Master Dae Kwang's picturesque phrase. To sustain your life, you must consume other life. There is no way around this. There may still be a few literal-minded Jains walking the earth somewhere in mincing steps, sweeping the ground in front of them and wearing dust masks to avoid taking the lives of small creatures. Perhaps there are, but even these strenuous measures are ineffective. With every step they take, every time their foot comes to rest on the ground, they are taking life.

This truth should put us in our place. Vegetarians are no more innocent of killing because their prey doesn't have a face. To live conscientiously is to acknowledge that our life comes at the cost of other life; how to show appreciation and repay the debt is the individual's unique assignment.

When I identify myself as a vegetarian, it is usually to fend off generous servings of meat at restaurants or the homes of family and friends. It is a statement of preference. My preference is to eat low on the food chain, for a number of reasons.

Vegetarianism is not a merit badge. It is not a mark of enlightenment. What we eat is the harvest of the land and of labor (usually, someone else's labor). What we eat, let us eat with gratitude; eat foods that give pleasure and health; and eat foods that make the best use of our shared resources. We forget, in the comfort of our climate-controlled buildings, that we are all on a long camping trip together.

We will feed Gabriel good food, prepared with love in our home, and keep the test-tube weirdo foods to a happy minimum. We won't be sneaking "healthy" things into his treats. Early on, he'll be used to meat, and he will also be used to complete meals that don't have meat. We will say our graces and eat mindfully. When he's old enough, he'll know where his foods come from - and he will learn to cook.

If the lad loves himself and loves life, he'll make good decisions about what to ingest.

I Vass Only Followink Orders!

This in from Glenn Greenwald:

"In the U.S. now, thanks to the Democratic Congress, we'll have a new law based on the premise that the President has the power to order private actors to break the law, and when he issues such an order, the private actors will be protected from liability of any kind on the ground that the Leader told them to do it -- the very theory that the Nuremberg Trial rejected."

Read about it here. This ought to be the main headline in evey major newspaper. It is a huge event in terms of due process and the rule of law. And as much as some people demonize the Republicans, the Republican-led Congress was able to block this travesty - and the Democrats just waved it on through. Weak, weak, weak.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Office Desiderata

Written on an index card when asked to write, in 30 seconds, why we continued to come to work:

Part of the wheel of liberation is "right livelihood." Right livelihood means earning a living by helping others. This means little things: pulling chairs, pushing papers, sharpening pencils, giving directions. This means big things: breaking delusion and despair, dispelling a lie or some oppression, giving all suffering people courage and joy.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Raiders of a Lost Art

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), an adventure movie inspired by the movie serials my dad went to see in theatres as a kid, appeared in theatres when I was ten years old. It was nominated for a bunch of Academy Awards, including Best Picture, because it was a beautifully-made movie with an excellent script by Lawrence Kasdan. It inspired well-known sequels that never rose to its level of quality, and a TV show I never watched. Notably, Kasdan did not work on any of them.

Watching the sequels as they have come out have only reminded me of how great the original movie was. The sequels are entertaining, but highly campy. In the first movie, we are asked to suspend our disbelief just far enough - the near misses and spine-chilling stunts stay within a reasonable distance of reality. In Raiders, Indiana Jones is mortal - he even sustains a gunshot wound that requires treatment and care.

In all of the sequels - The Temple of Doom (1984), The Last Crusade (1989), and the brand-new Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (still in theatres, summer 2008) - that suspension of disbelief is exploded into the realm of camp. We are shown runaway rail cars that jump the tracks, hurl through the air, and land perfectly on another set of tracks; three people parachuting from an airplane using an inflated lifeboat that rights itself in time for their safe landing; a man surviving a nuclear blast by hiding in a lead-lined refrigerator. We do not thrill at such stunts so much as laugh at them.

The humor in Raiders emerges from well-written and well-portrayed characters: adventurer-professor Indiana Jones, his fiery true love Marion, the obsessive French archaeologist determined to wield power he doesn't understand, all played by high quality actors with intelligence and wit, supported by a well-written script. The third film, which introduces Indiana Jones's father (played memorably by Sean Connery), makes gestures back in this direction. Yet for the most part, the follow-up movies rely on campy humor, on getting us to laugh at more and more unbelievable escapes and stunts.

By the time this new movie, which follows a death-defying adventure of Indiana Jones as a senior citizen, reunites Indy with his true love Marion (not seen since Raiders) and they play a prickly game of catch-up, there is scarcely a sad echo of the quality and the wit of their characters in that very first film 27 years ago. Lawrence Kasdan, the writer who united them in their first movie, is long gone, and there is no time to explore their prickly romance. There are giant computer-animated ants and gigantic underground temples that move around and always bigger louder, more-unbelievable-than-ever THINGS going on. Run! Duck! Cover your ears!

Oh, I had fun; but I forgot most of the movie by the time we left the theatre and tossed our popcorn bucket in the trash. I don't remember the last time I watched Raiders but I can still describe it scene by scene and recite most of the dialogue - just as I could at the age of ten.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day Speech by Barack Obama

This speech convinced me that Barack Obama is too good for the Democratic Party.

It also convinced me that if people actually give him a listen he just might be the next President of the United States - and deserve the job. (All my criticism of him notwithstanding.)

Soen Yu

Courtesy of some friends in the european Kwan Um School of Zen, here is some instruction on Zen Master Seung Sahn's soen-yu exercises. These are the basic exercises on which we built the movement work we used in the "Theatre Dojo" project.

Very easy to do, very beneficial - freely offered to all beings...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Live at Dharma Zen Center...

This Sunday, I will be at Dharma Zen Center answering questions at a public dharma talk. Come on out and bring your father (or your child) on Father's Day.

Dharma talks at the Zen Center are very beginner-friendly and open to all. A member of the Zen Center community gives a short introductory talk about their practice, and then there is an open question and answer period that opens up a spontaneous and lively discussion of this practice and its benefits.

At 10:00 AM there is chanting followed by a period of sitting. If you arrive late, aim for about 10:30 and find a seat upstairs after the meditation period is over. That's no problem. But the chanting and sitting are quite enjoyable as well.

The event is donation-only and highly recommended. You will see first-time visitors and along with 30-year practitioners. Come on down.

The Zen Center is located at 1025 S. Cloverdale Avenue, near the corner of Olympic and Cloverdale, in the Miracle Mile area of town. Call (323) 934-0330 for more information.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

It Needed To Be Done

It comes too late to be more than symbolic. It should have been done a while ago. But I'll take the belated effort, at least so something is on the record.

And it's a shame it took the House eccentric to do it.