Monday, December 28, 2009

Setting Creativity Up There With Math and Literacy

A very good (and entertaining) talk about public education, how it discounts creativity, and why we should reconsider.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

City of Rocks, December 26

I spill my magma, make a rocky pool;
Make cool towers when the lava cools,
Ain't that tuff enough?

(Ouch... apologies to the Fabulous Thunderbirds for that strained geological rock 'n' roll joke.)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Hans Rosling and the Ghosts of Christmas

Does it seem like a downer to embed a video about poverty and modern history on Christmas eve?

No no no. Professor Hans Rosling is a warm, funny man. Think of him as a combination of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet-To-Come.

Scrooge is us. With information, there are choices.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

When Reform Isn't Reform

[Comment posted to the Washington Monthly...]

The message lately has been, "Let's pass this bill, and improve on it." Reference is made to previous landmark legislation that was imperfect when it initially passed, such as Medicare and Social Security. Call this the "Foundation Argument" or something.

There needs to be a threshold, surely, for the "Foundation Argument" to be well-founded. Not just any bill will do. There must be a decent, well, foundation. Does the Senate bill provide that?

I no longer believe, at this point, that it will. There are good and helpful things in it but their merit is outweighed by the expansion, not contraction, of inequality. The main outrage, one of many, is that existence of the personal mandate without price controls, sufficient consumer protection, or accountability. If I am going to be legally forced to conduct business with private insurance companies, I demand regulations. I'm not getting that. I'm not getting a Medicare buy-in option, either. I'm not getting a non-profit alternative. And I will not even have the option of taking the money I spend on premiums, putting it into an interest bearing account every week, and using that as a health reserve.

In other words, I come out more deeply subjugated to the insurance industry, instead of less.

For this and other reasons, I reject the foundation argument. I agree with Howard Dean: stick a fork in this. It isn't reform.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Obama's Niebuhrian Doctrine?

Many thanks to Jane over at Acts of Hope for pointing this out:

Here is an interesting piece about President Obama's Nobel speech and its "Niebuhrian" overtones.

(The reference is to theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who may indeed be a much larger influence on the new President than, say, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.)

Finish What Job?

Professor Michael Zweig of SUNY Stony Brook analyzes...

Why Are We In Afghanistan? Full Version from Why Afghanistan? on Vimeo.

Friday, December 11, 2009

An Alert from the Clear View Project

I share the following as a supporter of the Clear View Project, an international Buddhist peace project that supports and attempts to help Buddhist monks who are held as political prisoners in Burma. Regardless of religious vocation, no human being should be treated this way, and the small act of sending a letter saying so is worth the time.

With that, I give the floor to the good folks from Clear View.


Medical treatment needed immediately three male Prisoners of Conscience, U Gambira, Min Ko Naing and Zaw Htet Ko Ko are in need of immediate medical treatment. The three men have all been denied adequate medical treatment. In the absence of regular contact between political prisoners and their families, and of independent monitoring of prisoners' welfare, individuals are even more vulnerable to harsh prison conditions which amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The International Committee of the Red Cross has not been able to visit prisons in Myanmar since the end of 2005.

Buddhist monk and protest leader,
U Gambira, a founding member of the All Burma Monks Alliance (ABMA), has contracted malaria. It is not known whether he is currently receiving any medical attention for malaria. U Gambira is in poor health generally and also suffers from asthma. He has previously been denied access to medical treatment in prison and has been subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment. U Gambira is currently serving a 63 year sentence for his role in leading major anti-government demonstrations in Myanmar in August - September 2007.

Veteran pro-democracy leader,
Min Ko Naing is suffering from high blood pressure (hypertension), an eye condition, numbness in his hands, and gout. He is being held in a small, dark cell and the conditions are said to be affecting his eye condition. Initial requests for treatment were denied and he has still not received adequate medical treatment. Min Ko Naing was sentenced on 11 November 2008, to 65 years' imprisonment for his role in starting the large anti-government protests in 2007.

Zaw Htet Ko Ko, 88 Generation Students group activist, has been suffering from stomach pain and has lost a significant amount of weight. He has received some medical treatment for his problem, but it is not clear whether the treatment is sufficient or appropriate. He also has high blood pressure. Zaw Htet Ko Ko is serving 11 years in prison, with hard labor, for his involvement in the 2007 peaceful anti-government protests.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 14 JANUARY 2010 to officials below.
Postage to Burma & Thailand from the US is $.98

  • Minister for Home Affairs Maung Oo
Ministry of Home Affairs
Office No. 10
Naypyitaw, Union of Myanmar
Fax: +95 67 412 439
Salutation: Dear Minister

  • Minister of Information Brigadier-General Kyaw Hsan
Ministry of Information Bldg. (7),
Naypyitaw, Union of Myanmar
Salutation: Dear Minister

  • Minister of Foreign Affairs Nyan Win
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Naypyitaw, Union of Myanmar
Salutation: Dear Minister

  • Ambassador to the United States
Embassy of the Union of Myanmar
2300 S. St. NW
Washington, DC 2008
Fax : (202) 332-4351
Dear Ambassador

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country:

  • Scot Marciel
Deputy Assistant Secretary,
Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
U.S. Embassy Bangkok
120/22 Wireless Road
Bangkok, Thailand 10330

Dear Minister,

I am writing to express my concern for the treatment of the political prisoners in your jails. I am concerned that they are not being given proper medical care, nutrition, and humane treatment.

The lack of medical treatment and poor conditions in Myanmar's prisons has severely harmed the health of many prisoners, of whom a significant number have serious medical conditions that remain untreated.

At this time, I am especially concerned about three prisoners who are very ill - - U Gambira, Min Ko Naing and Zaw Htet Ko Ko.

I ask you to give them and all prisoners immediate, proper medical treatment.

I call on you to release the three men immediately and unconditionally, once they have received the urgent medical treatment that they require.

Further, I call on the Burmese government to ensure that all detainees are treated humanely, with full respect for their human rights, and ensure that no one is subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Thank you for your prompt attention to the welfare of these and all political prisoners. The world is watching Burma.

In Peace,

May there be no deception of one another.
May loving kindness envelop the world and may there be peace on earth.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Blood In The Wok

Tonight, while chopping vegetables for a stir fry, my hand lost its grip on the knife and I sliced my finger. It was a pretty good nick across the surface of my left middle finger, a broad cut that gushed impressively and will probably develop a large scab. Sarah ran for cotton and gauze and here I am, alive and well with at least 9.75 fingers.

Watching my feelings and reactions after the emergency, I noticed the familiar "poor me" feeling and the allure of dread. Did I wash it sufficiently? Is the cut worse than I thought? Should I have it looked at over at Mimbres? Can I afford the hundred dollars? The pace and the level of panic around these voices responded to the pace of my breath and the level of pain in my finger. It was worst in the first twenty minutes, when my finger hurt like hell and I lay on the floor of the living room with a glass of water, having felt faint. Faint! My familiar response to minor injury and pain, and low level illnesses like colds and minor flu, I have always attributed in part to growing up such an urban boy, when the majority of my survival skills were knowing how to access experts to blow on my boo-boos. Poor me. Poor me. I ripped my toenail, all is not well in the universe. Time to revise my will!

The "Poor Me" syndrome applies to larger hurts and disappointments as well as the routine burns and lacerations that come with work done with the hands.

Later this evening, in Erazim Kohak's wonderful The Embers and The Stars, I came across this passage:

There is, in fact, a great deal more rather than less mundane pain in living close to the land. There are the perennial cuts and bruises of the day's work, the hands and the ankles mangled in working with wood and stone, the raw, chapped hands of the winter, the blackflies and mosquitos of the summer, the joints aching with dampness in the spring and fall. Nor is relief nearer. In the logging season, it would take a major disaster to bring work to a standstill for a trip to the hospital. Many of the injuries which keep urban emergency rooms busy warrant no more than a kerchief pressed to the wound and a wave of the hand. It is not that pain hurts less here. It does not, nor do wounds reopen by the strain of continued work heal more quickly. The pain simply matters less. There is so much more that matters. When humans no longer think of themselves as the measure of all things, their pain is no longer a cosmic catastrophe. It becomes part of a greater whole.

And tears soak into the ground, and blood runs into the wok.

My friend Matt asked Zen Master Seung Sahn once about all the war, hunger, and suffering in the world, and whether there was any way to bring the universe back into balance. Kunsunim shot back at him: "What makes you think this is out of balance?"

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Human Coal

Physicians for Social Responsibility has issued a report entitled Coal's Assault on Human Health. It makes for very interesting reading. Please, read it. At least the summary at the beginning.

Nearly half of the electricity we use in the United States is produced by burning coal. We burned 1.026 billion tons of it in 2006. For years, human beings have been researching the adverse health effects from pollution produced by coal and its various pollutants. We even have statistics for the number of deaths and illnesses linked to coal pollution per TerraWatt hour of energy produced.

That's an interesting way to think about things. According to these statistics, for instance, we might attribute 50,000 deaths per year in the U.S. might be attributed to coal. It is one thing to quote some unimaginable quantity of coal being consumed each year; but to measure energy use in terms of a body count, throwing 50,000 human lives into the furnace just in our country, it might inspire us to give a little more respect to two principles:

1. being mindful of our energy usage, and avoiding wasteful consumption of energy.

2. demanding a more urgent approach to energy policy, one that funds research and development of other ways to produce (and store) electricity.

Lip service aside, we really need to be further along than we are on transitioning energy technology. Our power plants are spewing too much sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. Cleaner and renewable sources need to be developed and brought on-line so that we can phase out coal plants.

As I say to my elementary school students, so I say to our policymakers: "You can do this; it is a choice."

Election Day in Honduras

This news report includes footage of the Honduran government beating up its citizens on election day and arresting dissidents. In a sham election on Sunday, and with the approval of the United States, a "humanist" right-wing president was elected from the ranks of people who supported the coup.

The legitimate and elected president of Honduras remains a virtual prisoner in the Brazilian embassy.

I've been writing to American news media asking why they are not covering these events.

Monday, November 30, 2009

On Tenderness and Icons

It is sometimes very moving to observe my son exploring objects. He treats things not only with interest, but with tenderness. It goes deeper than simply hugging his cute stuffed animals, the way he buries his face into them.

The tenderness toward objects starts with his fascination over all the sensory information he gets from things. He compares the relative weights of different objects. He is exploring textures, shapes, soft versus hard, and the sounds things can make. His brand new sensory gates are wide open and everything, literally, is teaching him. The intersection of his body with material objects is very clear to see. We stop noticing this later on in our development, as we impose filters on our experience; many of us achieve a tragic sort of adulthood where we hardly notice or feel anything. Gabriel’s experience of himself and his environment is so vibrant right now, I sometimes feel as though I’ve been asleep for years.

Different objects, for periods of time, are selected for extra time and attention by Gabriel. A plastic toy screw. A stone. One of mama’s slippers. He cherishes these objects, often pulling them out and examining them all over again in loving detail.

Today, in class, I felt something in my back pocket and pulled it out to discover that I was holding a red plastic ring that is one of Gabriel’s favored objects lately. In an instant, I was overcome with the same tenderness Gabriel shows to things.

What’s important to remember is that the objects change. A red plastic ring is not magically charged with this affection for life; Gabriel himself will have moved on to another object as soon as this evening. An adult mistake is to think the ring is what is special, but that’s not it. "It" has to do with the transmission of this tenderness for life – it just happens that a plastic ring may serve as a reminder. So might a wedding band. Or a ribbon. Or some small gift from a loved one. It doesn’t matter.

Moreover, it’s not about a person, either. The person is no more special than the stuffed donkey or the favorite stone. We’re here for a while and soon return to dust. While we are here, though, a person may also serve as a reminder.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Hail Stones and the Sangha Gem

This morning, it was gray and chilly.

By 11:30, half an hour before practice, it was raining and I figured that no one was likely to show up. My Sunday regulars come by foot and in inclement weather it would not be a surprise if they stayed home.

At 11:45, the hail started coming down. I was in the garage, getting the place ready for practice all the same. The hail stones hitting the tin roof made a roaring sound. Nah, they wouldn't come; I'd be practicing alone today, for sure.

Wrong. Just as I lit up the altar, here came John. The hail had let up but the rain was still coming down. We rolled down the garage door to give the space heater a chance at warming us up. A few minutes into our chanting, Howard showed up, rolled up the door, came right in and grabbed a chanting book.

With the door down, the only light in the place was from oil lamps and a single bulb -- we were almost chanting by candle light.

It was a little chilly, perhaps, but no worse than Diamond Hill Zen Monastery when the furnace goes out. We did our practice, and then went into the house for ginger tea.

It was kind of moving that these guys came out. They both sit on their own every day, so it's not as if they needed to come here to practice zazen. But they came out, despite the bad weather -- for me.

That's sangha.

[Photo: the garage that is the home of Deming Zen Group.]

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Between Occultism and Farce

Or, "Encounters with Mythology and Technology."

Perhaps my favorite scholar is Joscelyn Godwin, a musicologist who has written fascinating books about music, renaissance art, and the occult. If we ever had a really bookish President, Godwin might be awarded a citizens' medal for translating the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili into English.

In the second chapter of Godwin's Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde (1987), he relates certain occult studies of fairies or, more formally, 'elementals,' who are "beings made from the subtle essences of the elements, rather than from the physical matter that constitutes our own bodies."

It's a beautiful mythology in that it posits that every particle of matter in our universe possesses a divine spark, that consciousness permeates everything. From this belief in elementals, as defined above, there arises notion that as human beings manipulate our environment (forging tools from metal, for instance), elemental beings get captured and held there in bondage. Anthroposophists describe a cycle of life in which elementals are continually being imprisoned in and freed from matter, as matter changes.

It gets more interesting, with regard to music. There is a body of 'fairy lore' associating elementals with music and the powers of music. It is even said by some that when a composer organizes music, his or her Ego is summoning elementals into a state of enchantment. When the music is performed, the influence of these elementals is conveyed to air and water spirits who convey the music to a listener. When the music reaches the inner ear of the listener, the spirits are freed from enchantment.

The encounter of this theory with modern technology is delightful and fascinating:

The inevitable question, which could not have arisen before Edison's phonograph (1877), is, What happens when the tones are reproduced mechanically via a record or tape? Rudolf Steiner, speaking in 1923 shortly before his death, had condemned the gramophone as a source of music. Of course the gramophone of that time could only produce a travesty of live music, but according to his follower Ernst Hagemann the rejection was more than aesthetic. In an extraordinary passage on the borderline between occultism and farce, Hagemann solemnly described his own research with various clairvoyantly gifted people in order to find out what happens to the elementals' function when music is mechanically reproduced. Not every detail was satsifactorily explained, but the concensus of several clairvoyants working independently was as follows.

On applying their second sight to the surfaces of gramophone records, they found them thronged with elemental forms - all dead. Looking through a magnifying glass, they could see even more of them! These, they said, are the lifeless replicas of the elementals who were constellated in the air, entered the microphone, and were 'shadowed' upon the record matrix during the original live performance. In order to carry over these dead copies into the physical world via the reproducing device, one needs the cooperation of other, living elementals - tiny Gnomes, to be precise - whom the clairvoyants were able to perceive in the diamond or sapphire stylus. (One recalls that gemstones are traditionally associated with these earthy spirits.) Through the Gnomes' agency, the very same kinds of elementals - presumably Sylphs and Undines - could be seen emerging from the loudspeakers as had originally been captured in the recording process.

Friday, November 27, 2009

An Interview with the Burning House

[You Have Five Minutes will be broadcast on KUNM and on its website on Sunday at 6:00 PM mountain time. The program features several short plays, including two by your humble correspondent. On Friday, I sat down for this interview with myself, and found myself a rather boring conversationalist. But I hope you listen to the plays anyway.]

Two of your plays are part of this broadcast on KUNM this Sunday. Do you think anyone will actually listen?

I suspect more people enjoy radio than you realize. Drama, music, and news. Radio drama is fun to write, because you can do anything and you don't have to worry about your budget. It's fun to listen to because you don't have to wait for scenery changes -- you fill it in yourself with your imagination. Listening to radio is a creative act, and we are designed to be creative.

Do you have special plans for a listening party or anything on Sunday?

If I had known that "You Have Five Minutes" would be broadcast on November 29, I would have been tempted to write something in honor of the sham elections in Honduras, which are going ahead as scheduled on Sunday.

Before we get to your silly little plays, why are you so interested in Honduras? Why do you keep bringing it up?

It amazes me that there is so little coverage of this even in so-called left-leaning media. Because the entire hemisphere is calling this a coup d'etat. A coterie of upper-class citizens and politicians who have political issues with their President suddenly flew him out of the country at gunpoint this summer, and then started suppressing independent news media and cracking down on citizen dissent. While we were getting all misty-eyed at cell phone videos from Iran, this was going on in our own hemisphere and Obama had nothing to say about it. It now appears we were tacitly supporting it.

Why would we do that?

Oh I don't know, maybe because we're afraid of socialism catching on. President Zelaya veered to the left, and associated Honduras with the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas. It's not hard to guess why Honduran capitalists wanted him out -- it's a legitimate political conflict. That does not make the process legitimate. The suppression of free speech and peaceful assembly in Honduras continued well into the period that would be needed for legitimate electoral politics. This election is a show, just as much as my plays. It's theatre. These are not legitimate elections.

Are your two plays political at all?

One play is a farce on a political theme, and the other is a traditional science-fiction vignette.

The first one is called Simulated Drowning, which was the Bush administration's euphemism for a torture technique known as waterboarding. The phrase is Orwellian, because there is nothing simulated about the drowning. You could call it "controlled drowning," I suppose.

You wrote a comedy about torture?

Not at all. I wanted to make fun of the way Americans talked about torture in the news media, and how I imagined that played out in living rooms among ordinary Joes. The play is about two goofballs who have had a little too much beer and start arguing about waterboarding, the way we debated it over the last year -- "is it torture?" and that whole quadrille.

It's perfectly safe to listen: no one gets tortured, and I don't make torture the object of humor. It's really about the fumbling way some of us Americans talk about important issues. I am concerned that media personalities are training us to talk about politics in senseless ways.

All right then. What about this other play?

It's a science-fiction story. I read an article about the automobile industry's research into artificial intelligence and future generations of talking cars. The idea for this story appeared. Technology, human nature, the concept of compassion. It also gave me a chance to put a Zen Buddhist character into a drama who is not a stereotype -- he's not a kung-fu master or an Asian wizard or anything special, just a guy.

Thanks for this scintillating conversation.

Up yours, too.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Different View on Taxation

Taxes as "together action."

The Thanksgiving Question

Nathan did a fine job with his post today.

Along with the second G, there is the "Gratitude Question." Everyone from famous media figures to guests at my in-laws' are prompted to testify, at some point today, about something they are grateful for.

I am grateful for the guy who showed up to practice last night. We still practice in my garage, which is not heated. It was a chilly night last night. This guy came out with hat and gloves, ready to sit, no problem. He could have sat at home -- he does, every day. But he came for me.

That's sangha. I am ever grateful for sangha, and for the vow we share.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Carl Kasell's Final Newscast!?

I still have not gotten over NPR's virtual dismissal of Bob Edwards back in 2004.

Now this! Carl Kasell, another unmistakable voice on NPR, will give his last newscast on December 30.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fall Hits Hemlock

Fall has fallen on Deming. This is our block, covered with leaves. Luna County is a nice place for enjoying autumn. We get the tactile sensations of changing colors, crunching footsteps, and the smells of earth getting ready for winter, yet it is warm outside, so you can enjoy the sunshine as you throw your boy into piles of leaves. By the time the chill hits your bones, it's well into the night and there is no reason to turn down a cup of hot chocolate before bed.

Unemployment here is so heavy, one frequently sees people going door to door looking for yard work or other odd jobs. We have a 17-year old neighbor who recently had a baby -- by the way, teenage pregnancies are also very high in our county -- and she is need of cash. Her daughter's father is, um, not around. She asked my wife if she could rake up our leaves for a few dollars. We said yes, and so she came over with a friend of hers and the two did a rapid and thorough job. (We plan to leave gifts of baby wipes and Mylicon at her doorstep, too.)

Deming remains a windy city (another reason, perhaps, that in its early days as a railroad village, it was given the nickname "New Chicago"), and no doubt there will soon be more work to do. Not today, however. There are deadlines, there are pressures, and more leaves a-falling, and the sorrows are weighing rather heavy, lately; but let's take a moment today for something more important.

Like, for instance, fastening clothespins onto my son.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Imprecatory Fashion

An imprecation is a curse.

Imprecatory prayer is a plea for God to strike down an evil person or people.

A typical case from the Bible has David, as related in Psalm 35, righteously calling for God's vengeance when he, David, was surrounded by enemies. Not to glorify David, mind you, but to glorify God Himself via some good, righteous, holy ass-whooping.

There is lately an American fashion in imprecatory prayer against the current President of the United States. We see people wearing t-shirts or slapping bumper stickers on their cars saying, "Pray For Obama -- Psalm 109:8."

That's pretty cute. Read the Psalm. "May his days be few, may another take the place of his leadership. May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow." (109:8-9)

In other words, calling on God to assassinate a politician they personally do not like. No doubt, they have not for one second considered the parallel to Islamist-inspired acts of terrorism, or acts of Christianist terrorism such as the murder of physicians who perform legal abortion procedures.

This calls for social confrontation and rejection. Notes on windshields of cars that bear such messages. Addressing the issue when someone shows up wearing the t-shirt. A person visiting my home in such a t-shirt, for instance, would be required to change or cover it up -- and I would be prepared to explain why.

I would have responded similarly if I had ever run into someone bearing signs like this during the Bush Administration:

No, no, no. Violence and imprecation are not cures; they are part of the disease.

Whichever side you are on, I ask you to think on this. What sort of country are we making? Are we Iraq, where political and religious divisions led to routine violence on a daily basis in the aftermath of our 2003 invasion? Or are we a democratic republic that honors the results of elections and, if so inclined, prays for our elected leaders to be guided by wisdom and compassion?

By my lights, the dispassionate answer to that question appears to be: neither, but some tortured thing lying in between.

What is your choice, and what will you do to walk that talk?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Not Just Any Bill

A health reform bill passed the House, and the Senate leader is shopping a Senate bill.

My too-busy-to-blog thought on it is simple: passing a bill is not a triumph if it increases inequality.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fear of Trials

Excellent post by Steve Benen:

When one cuts through the nonsense and poll-tested soundbites, the right's opposition to fair trials comes down to fear -- fear that our principles are aren't worth honoring, fear that our rule of law is somehow flawed, fear that radical thugs have acquired supernatural powers. It's just blinding, irrational fear.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

It Never Hurts To Ask

On Wednesday, I had business on the campus of Western New Mexico University up in Silver City. After a meeting with my academic advisor, I was to take a piece of paper to the registrar's office on the other end of campus. The directions I was given to take me to this place were on par with a lot of information I get at Western, which is to say that I soon found myself good and lost.

It was odd, and not unpleasant. A rare weekday off, and a beautiful kind of New Mexico fall day, with sunshine, colorful leaves, and warm air -- not a bad time to be lost and wandering. I ran into undergraduates who, curiously, told me they had never even heard of a registrar's office. One wonders if undergraduates are required to take classes. Could it be possible they are allowed to come here, live in dorms, and just make love and drink wine day after day? Sounds nice. I think I tried to get that major myself when I was in college; without much success. I knew where my registrar's office was, all right, because I spent a lot of unpleasant time there.


Wandering around the Western campus last Wednesday, I met a puppy. His name, I overheard, was Socks. Socks was a delightful puppy, with all paws and head and floppy ears, sniffing the feets and slobbering and all those puppy things. We made our acquaintance, the owner called Socks to come along, and we went our separate ways.

After a long meander through various buildings, I was walking back across campus toward the Fine Arts building, and thinking about aborting this mission. The owner of Socks was chatting up a comely co-ed, and Socks was sniffing various things. Our paths crossed again, and Socks was jubilant, all paws and head and slobbering and sniffing the feet.

Since I was pretty much desperate, I said to Socks: "Hey, boy! Do you know where the registrar's office is?"

Suddenly, Socks took off, crimson red leash dragging behind him, down a hill and across a long flat field toward a little building on another side of campus. Arf arf, he indicated the building, and then his owner (who, I presumed, had not succeeded in winning the maiden's phone number) called for Socks to return.

Could it be? I ventured into the building. And wouldn't you know? Sure enough. The registrar's office.

Sometimes it is okay to give the ridiculous a try.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Two of Algernon's Plays To Be Broadcast

KUNM FM, Albuquerque public radio, will air the program You Have Five Minutes at 6:00 PM (Mountain time) on November 29. You can also hear it on-line at the station's website.

Two of the plays, Simulated Drowning and The Heart Has No Location, were written by your humble correspondent.

Many thanks to producer Lance Axt for the opportunity, and the info on the broadcast.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pops and the Spankers

Pretty dismal mood tonight.

Gave up everything, sat, and then looked for ukulele videos on line. Found a nice one I hadn't seen: Pops Bayless singing and playing with the Asylum Street Spankers at a reunion concert. Thanks for the fun.

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Weeping Cashier

Had to make a run to the Peppers supermarket last night. I needed a gift for my "secret pal."

At school, we have "secret pals." We leave each other little gifts and cards during the year. I was looking for my secret pal's favorite beverage. They did not have it for sale, so I picked up a few other items we needed: olive oil, some chips, that kinda thing.

The cashier rang up my purchase without saying a word. I noticed that she was weeping through the entire transaction.

Don't know.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Casting my Neti

Today, Dr. Stuetzer up in Silver City recommended I try a neti pot.

He had to explain to me what that was, and then bustled me to the Silver City Food Co-op to see if they had one in stock. I followed him in, hoping they would be "temporarily out" of them. Somehow the idea of flushing my nostrils with warm saline solution was intimidating.

(Personal sidebar: I'm a big baby about medical stuff, even though I am CPR/First Aid trained. In an emergency, I can cope; and I witnessed my son's birth without feeling queasy. And yet: can't put contact lenses in my eyes; have a hard time with blood, cuts, scrapes, etc.; can't look in the mirror when the dentist works on me, have to look away when getting a shot or blood drawn -- I even fainted once. The idea of flushing my nose grossed me out although, years ago, I got into the habit of washing my eyes in warm water and that never bothered me. So who knows?)

The neti pots were in stock, so I bought one and made my first attempt at using it tonight. The device is a simple thing, yet something about the neti pot felt a bit intimidating as I held it in my grasp for the first time.

The directions are simple enough: mix 1/4 tsp. of non-iodized salt into a cup of lukewarm water, stir well. The way it is supposed to work is by tipping your head at just the right angle, making a seal between the pot's spout and your raised nostril, so water flows easily through your nasal passage and out through the lower nostril into a sink or basin.

The sample photograph in the pot's instructions shows a woman gaily flushing her proboscis but did not illustrate well how to achieve the desired angle. If you are off just a bit, the water does not pass through easily. If your head is too far back, you have trouble breathing through your mouth while doing the procedure; cock it the wrong way, and it comes down your throat.

Although the sensation of warm water in my nose was not unpleasant, I just about threw my back trying to find the right angle...

So I did what modern and hip people do, and took my question to the internet, that magic 8-ball of a fact-finder. Google led me to some YouTube videos that demonstrated use of the neti pot, some sillier than others.

Even so, it took quite a bit of contorting to feel like I was doing it halfway correctly...

It will probably take a few tries to master the technique. In the meantime, I now know to be ready to blow my nose in abundance once I am through.

A Note Regarding Honduras

[Similar email message sent to the State Department and the White House. It took less than five minutes.]

Dear ______,

Our policy regarding the coup in Honduras simply does not make sense. I have one suggestion to make as a way to move forward.

As things currently stand, the people of Honduras have no right to peaceful assembly without arbitrary arrest. Several human rights organizations have documented deaths, torture, arbitrary detentions, and repression of news media. Indeed, I have to wonder why our government is being silent on this abuse of civil rights.

Even if the Micheletti regime halted this crackdown, there would still be less than three weeks before elections are scheduled to take place. Their normal election cycle is three months.

Under these conditions, there cannot be free elections in Honduras in November of 2009.

My suggestion, therefore, is to insist that President Zelaya be restored to power, and for elections to be scheduled three months from the date of his return and a return to a free society in Honduras. This would permit some semblance of a normal electoral process.

Failing that, we should not recognize the results of such an election.

It seems, however, that our government is preparing itself to stand behind a fraudulent process on November 29, going against the deliberate and rational opinion of other nations in our hemisphere. They are calling this what it is: a coup d'etat, plain and simple.

The honest truth is that under this new regime, civil liberties and democracy have been suspended. Will you call for their restoration in explicit terms?

Friday, November 06, 2009

Suffering in Tegucigalpa

From time to time, there was a note to myself sitting on the desk to write a follow-up post on Honduras, since we took an interest in this back in the summer. That's when the President of Honduras, Mel Zelaya, was arrested by the military one morning, hustled onto a military plane in his pajamas, and flown out of the country.

It's been a dramatic time in that country. People took to the streets in large numbers demanding that their elected President be restored and, if he was suspected of any crimes, let him be tried in some accountable process. The new government leadership responded by cracking down violently on protesters: beating them, killing them, and making a number of people disappear. At the time, our nation's eyes were still on the unrest in Iran. The Honduran protests did not get much attention in our news media. They continue, undaunted, as the government has consolidated its power and restricted news organizations in that country.

The other nations in our hemisphere have lined up against the coup, insisting that Zelaya be restored to power for the remainder of his term. New elections take place later this month and a new president would take office in January. It seems a reasonable position. The regime said, in effect, no dice. Zelaya had to sneak back into his own country, and take refuge in the Brazilian embassy, calling for negotiations.

The U.S. was slippery. We claimed to be eliminating aid to the country while we in fact continued to pump money into the coup state. We negotiated a weak deal with the Micheletti regime which they have now publically flouted. We might be the lone nation in the hemisphere to recognize elections conducted by the coup regime, whereas the other nations are taking a more principled stance.

This is a very interesting story bearing on democracy in our own hemisphere, with the U.S. taking a stance against most of the states of central and south America with respect to the legitimacy of the Honduran government. I suspect, although I do not have time this morning to make my case, this has much to do with Zelaya's decision to make Honduras part of the Bolivarian Alternative (ALBA) -- something that the U.S., perhaps, does not welcome.

Mostly, I keep returning to it because my heart is sick for the protest movements in Honduras and the repression there. As with Iran, the violence being inflicted on people demanding honest democratic government is brazen, right out in the open, and has been going on since the early summer. The Iranian people took a step back for a while, but the Hondurans have not. Every day they have turned out, demanding justice, some reasonable process for dealing with the political dispute in government, and a legitimate political order. For this, they have been shot, beaten, arrested, every day.

When we see Zelaya on the news, he looks like a funny uncle with his bushy moustache and cowboy hat. The images on the streets of Tegucigalpa are much more urgent, and the failure of U.S. leadership as a defender of democracy and justice reeks of cynical mendacity.

Also, I am embarrassed that I have not used this little space to air the story myself and give it the treatment it deserves. These folks have some good updates and commentary, if you want to keep up. Thanks to Mark Weisbrot for his work on this.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Flag Folding Ceremony in Public Schools

Yesterday we rehearsed an all-school Veterans Day assembly, which will include among many other things the ceremony of folding the U.S. flag.

It is a lovely ceremony in concept, in which the flag of our country is folded with meticulous attention to detail, and each fold has a dedication that is said aloud. The origins of this ceremony and its text come from the armed forces, and must date after 1954 since there is a quote from the pledge of allegiance that includes the reference to God added during the Eisenhower Adminstration.

I had not witnessed the ceremony or heard its text, and I began to feel uncomfortable with the specific religious content.

The fourth fold represents our weaker nature, for as American citizens trusting in God, it is to Him we turn in times of peace as well as in times of war for His divine guidance.

This a theological teaching belonging to one religious tradition. But there is more than this, with references to "the eternal life" and to "the one who entered in to the valley of the shadow of death." With the final two folds, it is implied that this is a country for the Hebrew or the Christian citizen:

The eleventh fold, in the eyes of a Hebrew citizen, represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon, and glorifies, in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The twelfth fold, in the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in their eyes, God the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost.

The rest of us, I suppose, are just visitors? A different class of citizen? The language belongs to the school of thought that the United States is primarily a Christian nation that tolerates citizens who are different.

Something should be said. Our children are impressionable, and this kind of messaging is precisely why the teaching of religion in public schools is not permitted. We are not here to teach children that in order to feel like they really belong to this country, they have to believe in the God of the Old Testament or any God. The flag folding ceremony is a sly way to get in some religious instruction. I should say something yet I do not feel comfortable, to be frank. For fear over my job I might well keep silent and thus fail, myself, to uphold our Constitution.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Smashing The Mirror

Harold Pinter's Nobel lecture of 2005 (he had won the prize for literature) is worth reading in full.

His subject was "Art, Truth, and Politics." As well, he could easily have been talking about the borderland between dharma practice and politics:

When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimetre and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror - for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.

I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

Replace the word "writer" in the above with "dharma student," and you get the idea.

Pinter describes an event he witnessed at a U.S. embassy in the 1980's, at a time when our federal government was providing assistance to a violent insurgency in Nicaragua:

The United States Congress was about to decide whether to give more money to the Contras in their campaign against the state of Nicaragua. I was a member of a delegation speaking on behalf of Nicaragua but the most important member of this delegation was a Father John Metcalf. The leader of the US body was Raymond Seitz (then number two to the ambassador, later ambassador himself). Father Metcalf said: 'Sir, I am in charge of a parish in the north of Nicaragua. My parishioners built a school, a health centre, a cultural centre. We have lived in peace. A few months ago a Contra force attacked the parish. They destroyed everything: the school, the health centre, the cultural centre. They raped nurses and teachers, slaughtered doctors, in the most brutal manner. They behaved like savages. Please demand that the US government withdraw its support from this shocking terrorist activity.'

Raymond Seitz had a very good reputation as a rational, responsible and highly sophisticated man. He was greatly respected in diplomatic circles. He listened, paused and then spoke with some gravity. 'Father,' he said, 'let me tell you something. In war, innocent people always suffer.' There was a frozen silence. We stared at him. He did not flinch.

Innocent people, indeed, always suffer.

Finally somebody said: 'But in this case "innocent people" were the victims of a gruesome atrocity subsidised by your government, one among many. If Congress allows the Contras more money further atrocities of this kind will take place. Is this not the case? Is your government not therefore guilty of supporting acts of murder and destruction upon the citizens of a sovereign state?'

Seitz was imperturbable. 'I don't agree that the facts as presented support your assertions,' he said.

As we were leaving the Embassy a US aide told me that he enjoyed my plays. I did not reply.

Some time this week, the United States Congress may hear a resolution to kill a United Nations report on what happened between Israel and Gaza in the winter of 2008 and 2009. Some call it "Operation Cast Lead," and some call it a massacre. The facts do not exonerate the Hamas government, or Israel. What is clear is that a great many helpless and innocent people were killed.

The U.N. Human Rights Council investigated and has issued a report on its findings. This is not holy scripture, but it deserves to be read and discussed. For political reasons, however, there is a House resolution "Calling on the President and the Secretary of State to oppose unequivocally any endorsement or further consideration of the 'Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict' in multilateral fora."

In other words, tearing up the report and refusing to discuss it. In war, innocent people always suffer.

I have been in touch with my Congressman, and I have asked him to vote "NO" on H. Res. 867. Perhaps you will, too. It's one small gesture. Voting "no" is not an endorsement of the report's findings; but it is an endorsement for reading, listening, thinking about the violence of governments, and the suffering of innocents.

Because I think the late Harold Pinter was correct: seeing the real truth of our lives and our societies, including certainly the use of our armies, is mandatory.

[Photo: "In war, innocent people always suffer." Here is one of many children massacred in Operation Cast Lead. Behold, behold.]

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hello, U.K. and All Our Other Readers, Too

Over the past week, I've been paying attention to this blog's statistics. (I usually don't.)

The first thing that surprised me: people actually are reading this blog.

The second thing that surprised me: a lot of those people are in the U.K. On some days, there are more readers from the U.K. than from the U.S. and Canada combined.

Content-wise, the politically oriented posts seem to generate more interest than dharma-related posts, although my son Gabriel is also a popular attraction. Videos of him, however, are not as popular as photographs and stories about him.

So hello to you! However you have found us, thank you for dropping in and please feel free to drop a line, adore my son, and contribute your ideas.

Friday, October 30, 2009

How One Tires

The first flat was bad news. I parked and as I left the car, I heard the hissing sound and lo, the tire was low. In the parking lot of the church, no less.

Some time after affixing the donut to my wheel, I discovered the second flat.

So I rolled into a gas station, fixing to fill that other flat up with air in hopes it would get me to the tire shop.

Put fifty cents in the air machine.

The air machine was broken.

How was your day?

Calling Things What They Are

My wife woke up at 3:59 AM wondering if the house was locked up. At 4:00 AM, I was stumbling around the house verifying that our compound was secure. After that, I never got back to sleep, so I did some reading.

Over the last several weeks, an old friend from high school who found me on Facebook has somehow engaged me in an exercise over "trickle-down" economics, the philosophy that if you ease the tax burden on the wealthiest citizens (the ones who own companies or are in a position to invest), enough economic activity will be stimulated to pay for the lost revenue and bring prosperity to the lower orders by increased production and jobs.

Offering me proof of this religion, he threw reports by the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute at me -- a lot of disproven claims and theories that have been debunked by CBO reports and surveys of job growth/stagnation, construction, retail figures, etc. An impatient feeling had been creeping into my consciousness as I dutifully read these things he wanted me to read, and after inquiring into the source of this impatience it's because I feel, in a way, this is all scratching the left foot when the right foot is itching.

There is a very simple political relationship at the center of this, and all this economic flummery is just so much stage smoke, attempting to legitimize our social order with a patina of pseudo-science.

It isn't science, it's politics. A very simple political disposition, really: the social order favors those who have power. Let's call it what it is, and do what we need to do.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On Name-Calling by Matthew Hoh

"I'm not some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in love."

Those words were spoken by Matthew Hoh, a highly respected officer in the Foreign Service who recently resigned over the war in Afghanistan. Even while explaining his concerns about the strategic purpose of our presence in Afghanistan, a critical analysis serious enough to catch the attention of the White House and the Pentagon, who prevailed on him not to go.

It's a strange comment, distancing himself from ordinary citizens who question this and other wars, and smearing people who agree with him on an important issue. For fear of being stereotyped himself, he gladly airs a stereotype about other Americans.

I don't know what a "peacenik" is, it seems to be an epithet designed to associate pacifists and war critics as radicals. Pot-smoking hippies? Well, there may be some, but from what I've seen, the majority of people who have asked serious questions about our wars are more like Hoh: serious and concerned citizens who think for themselves.

Monday, October 26, 2009

More Sit-Ins: Patients, Not Profits

A new wave over the next few days. Here are the cities:

Albuquerque, Atlanta, Augusta (GA), Baltimore (MD), Columbus (OH), Detroit, Glendale (CA), Louisville (KY), Newark (NJ), New York City, Philadelphia (PA), Portland (OR), Rochester (NY), San Diego (CA), San Francisco (CA), Seattle, Sunrise (FL), Virginia Beach (VA), Warwick (RI) -- proud of my home state!

I can help put you in contact with local organizers if you wish.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Billionares For Wealth Care Strike Again, Brilliantly

Rachel Maddow gleefully reporting on a brilliant prank by the Billionaires For Wealth Care.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Franken on Bankruptcies

Unions Have Inner Demons, Too

...any movement of the poor is a fragile thing; it will be beset by demons from without and within. The external enemies are well-known, constant irritants and often overwhelmingly powerful. Those inside the union are more subtle, yet nearly as destructive: leaders have big and conflicting egos, gender and racial tensions are hard to overcome, people have honest differences about goals and strategies, and it is enormously difficult to create the selfless bureaucracy that alone will ensure the movement's continuity.

--Michael D. Yates

Yates has shared a compelling recollection of Cesar Chavez and how his union became something very different and sinister than what its ideals expressed. Very interesting and insightful.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Correct Relationship and Labor

"If to produce cheap and excellent nail scissors, we have to reduce the workers to machines, we would do better to cut our fingernails with our teeth."

--Simon Rodriguez

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Green Party Missing Out on Farming and Rural Issues?

The Green Party has never exactly felt like home, and here is one more reason.

Looking over the national party's "Speakers Bureau," a list of speakers and topics available for events across the country, I startled at what was missing from the list of topics.

The Green Party can send someone to your event to speak on women's rights, non-violence and militarism, civil liberties and constitutional issues, labor, immigration, health care, and even foreign policy.

But agriculture? Nothing. The closest we get to agriculture is sustainable economic development (which, one would hope is clear by now, has to include agricultural reform).

If there is any mention of the food sovereignty movement anywhere on the Green Party website, I missed it. One would think the Green Party would find common cause with the IFDP (aka "Food First!") and be speaking on this important matter.

Indeed, there is a swath of rural outreach that the Green Party might be doing as an advocate for small food producers and local food systems. People who live in rural areas are often suffering the 'downstream' effects of commodity extraction, and here, too, the Green Party could be an important organizer of people.

My communications with the Party about this have been slow -- it is not a wealthy political party, so they have no full-time staffers. I got a reply from someone at national referring me to the New Mexico Green Party, but not responding to the substance of my comment.

Come on, Greens. Take a trip out of the cities, come into the country and meet folks. There is a lot of work to be done.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sitting Zen: Another Kind of Social Action

...and then there is the original social action, the practice of shamatha or stopping, returning to "no point of view," resting the intellectual activity that is concerned with history and policy and resuming the basic awareness practice of zen.

Tomorrow, at a ranch a few miles outside of town near the mountains, the Deming Zen Group holds its second meditation retreat. At the chapel pictured above, five of us will sit and walk and eat together in silence, letting go of the precious accumulations of our thinking and arriving at our only true home.

The preceding posts on public affairs are not exactly a separate activity from Zen. Dishes need to be done, children need to be taught how to behave, weeds need to be dealt with. Bills must be paid and votes must be cast. Our world is one that requires choices. Making good choices, in turn, requires clarity, intimacy, and a deep understanding of our responsibility for the wholeness of life.

In that sense, retreats are another kind of social action.

A Reader's Question on Health Care

Pam, a long-time reader of this blog, asks:

Just out of curiosity, Alg, what is the health care reform you endorse and how do you think we get to it from here? Also, how do we pay for it?

Herewith, a sketch of systemic health care and insurance reform I would whole-heartedly endorse, because I believe it is what we need to do.

Universal single-payer coverage similar to Medicare, with small co-pays at rates commensurate to income. Working people would contribute to its funding through payroll deductions (which most of us who have health care through work are paying anyway, to private insurance companies). Employers would also contribute, as they do now, but at tiered rates so as not to burden smaller businesses excessively or subsidize larger businesses excessively.

Funding from the general budget can also be made available, but only if there is extensive budget and tax reform to accommodate this new priority. A reallocation of public money from subsidizing the private sector through bloated private military contracts, bailouts, and judicious cuts in bloated military spending (and anticipating an objection: significant savings can be achieved without jeopardizing national security). These are areas through which our republic bleeds many billions of dollars per year, and should be reformed for the sake our country's economic system if not for its soul. As for tax reform, it is time for a progressive tax policy where people pay a share for public service that is commensurate with their means.

The challenges we face demand systemic changes.

What I am suggesting would largely kill off the health insurance industry as we know it, although there would likely still be niche markets for private enterprise. Aflac , for instance, has health-related policies that do not provide insurance coverage per se, but promise you payouts of cash in the event of cancer diagnosis, hospitalization, and other medical events. I haven't thought about it much, but I'm guessing these could thrive in a United States that provides its citizens with public health coverage.

Now, a question of my own:

Have you never asked how we pay for our present system?

We do, in fact, currently spend more on health care than any country in the world. Trillions of dollars, we spend. As of 2004, we were spending 16% of our GDP on health care. Many billions of dollars are spent just on executive salaries and bonuses for the insurance company cartel -- that is billions of dollars spent without applying a single bandaid, not one spoonful of hyperoxide, not even a magazine in the waiting room of your community's understaffed health clinic.

The money we spend on our present system, which literally kills people and drives them into bankruptcy, is more than enough to fund a decent single-payer system that covers every citizen.

And it is the right thing to do. Just as an aside.

There is already a bill languishing in the United States Senate. The House has a bill, too.

Other countries have achieved this in various ways. None of them has a perfect system; but they all have decent systems. To borrow a phrase from the current President, it can be a tragic mistake to make the perfect the enemy of the good. Ironically, President Obama frequently makes this mistake himself.

The flaws of these other health care systems are highlighted in order to scare U.S. citizens away from thinking about single-payer health care, but what they do not highlight is that these other health systems, while imperfect, are still cheaper and better than what we're stuck with.

Unfortunately, the best hope we have for health reform in a generation is this weird monstrosity of a public marketplace for private insurance companies to continue selling their premiums, force people by law to buy their premiums (thus giving them a bonanza of new customers), and it seems we aren't even going to get the option of a non-profit entity to compete with the privateers even though polls consistently show the public wants that option.

But it is not about what you or I want. It's not about what's best for you or your grandsons. We aren't what matters. We are expendable, Pam. That is the economic order in which we really live. You have been subsidizing, for quite some time, the luxuries of people who exert influence over your life yet care not one tiny whit about your welfare. And they work very hard at getting you to believe that this is the only way it can ever be. It's a lie.

And things will never be any different until a greater number of us are willing to treat it as a call to their country's defense, to be a pain in the ass, to write and call and sit-in and teach-in (or be taught-in) and organize and campaign and go to jail and maybe even get roughed up, but never give up.

These events always precede important social progress. It does not come from electing someone President and hoping the work will get done. It comes when people take over the streets and say NO in a voice that can no longer be ignored without embarrassment or insomnia.

"You have the bills! Reconcile them and get them to the President! Dare him to veto it!"

It always comes from the bottom up. And actually, that's probably how it should be, don't you think?

Obama and Duopoly

"I believe in a two-party system where ideas are tested and assumptions are challenged."

--Pres. Barack Obama on October 15

The problem is, that is not what a two-party system (duopoly) does. It preserves the status quo; it protects the basic assumptions on which that status quo rests.

Which might be okay if things were working well. The times, however, require a politics that allows us to re-examine some of the assumptions on which our social order rests.

Just to run off a quick list: it's time to retire the "trickle-down" economic fantasy and work on "bubble up" systems, putting more democracy into economic policy (we never voted, after all, on the murderous health care system that is currently lording over us, or on industrial agriculture getting to patent seeds, or any of a host of life-altering economic policy decisions), and it is time for serious conversations about the reality of petroleum prices, and how much of our daily lives and budgets are tied to it, because there will be lifestyle-changing events related to petroleum in my lifetime.

There are many more for that list, but I think that's enough to make the point.

Our two-party dictatorship does not allow for testing those ideas or challenging any of our unconsidered assumptions about how to order our lives and communities. It can't even deliver some simple and sensible regulations of the private health insurance industry -- the corporations are, in fact, more powerful than our Congress. This is not our government; it is not accountable to us in any meaningful way. Vote out a Democrat, you'll either get a Republican or some other Democrat.

The duopoly is effective at one thing: preserving power for these two parties alone, and keeping other political parties that might test their ideas and challenge their way of conducting business -- the libertarians, the socialists, the greens -- out of power and sidelined in elections.

October 15 - Protests In The U.S. [CORRECTED]

[I wrote this on Thursday, but didn't post it until this morning. And I forgot to change the references to 'today.' Very sloppy, my apologies.]

People don't like being expendable.

Yesterday, October 15, was a day when a great many people in various places showed up, sitting in or marching because they are tired of being expendable.

In several U.S. cities, there were protests and civil disobedience at the offices of several large health insurance companies. I admit, with some shame, that I did not answer this call although there was a protest in Phoenix, only a few hours away from me. Logistically I could not free myself for it -- but I will try next time, as the insurance companies now exert power over our lives that can be called tyrannical, and they are wielding it tyrannically. It calls for people to stop hoping the Democratic Party will grow spines, and for an authentic grassroots movement to demand reform by pouring sand into the machinery of daily life.

In the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, there was also a national day of protest over government cuts that have eliminated 17,000 jobs and additional layoffs. There are additional complaints about social stratification and neglect or abuse of the poor. More on the cuts here. There are videos here.

People don't like being expendable.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On Calling the Police

A blood-curdling scream late at night. Then another. Horrific shrieking directly across the street. The young woman who lives there running about her apartment, telling someone to "Get out get out get out."

That's a no-brainer. Pick up the phone, make the call. The screaming went on for several minutes. She then said something about "coming at me with a hammer."

In minutes, three city police cars arrive. Surprisingly, the screaming continues -- she is now yelling and swearing at the policemen. Things go from terrible to worse. They decide to arrest her, she resists, ends up on the ground screaming as before, until she is put into a squad car and taken away. The woman whose life we thought we might be saving.

Sarah checked on Gabriel and then said, "We call the police a lot."

It's true.

For seven years, I lived in Los Angeles. For a few of those years, I worked in one of the most feared neighborhoods in America. Yet I can only recall phoning the LAPD twice:

  • Once, to report gunshots in Silverlake, only to be assured by the dispatcher that it was from a film shoot nearby and the gunfire wasn't real.

  • The other time, because I got held up at gunpoint. That seemed worth a call.

We have lived in Deming for a year and a half, and my wife or I have made the decision to call the police several times.

We've had to call animal control because of dogs that roam the streets loose and have charged at us; once coming all the way onto our porch.

We've had to make noise complaints about a neighbor who plays her S.U.V.'s stereo with the bass so loud our house shakes and the windows rattle. It's woken Gabriel up.

And then there is the atmosphere of violence and evident drug use going on across the street.

In Los Angeles, I didn't have a son. He is getting bigger, stronger, and loves to be outside.

So there is another decision to make, and my wife and I made it yesterday with the welfare of our son in mind: we are moving.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Gonna Have To Leave It There...

For your amusement, further evidence that Jon Stewart is no ordinary comedian, but a very keen observer and critic of the mainstream news media. His take-down of CNN fact-checking is hilarious.

CNN Leaves It There
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c

Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorRon Paul Interview

Sitting In On October 15th

Mobilization For Healthcare For All has announced simultaneous sit-ins on October 15th in the following cities:

New York, Washington DC, Palm Beach (FL), Boston, Cleveland, Portland (OR), Los Angeles, Reno, and Phoenix.

These start at different times on the 15th, some in the morning, some in the afternoon or evening.

Logistically, I cannot get myself to Phoenix on Thursday on such short notice, but I sat down and thought about ways to do it. Since the next opportunity may also come on short notice, I'll have to organize myself so that I can respond.

See the website for details and contacts; I can also help you get in touch with contacts in these cities if you prefer. Another way to support the effort is to make a small donation.

Monday, October 12, 2009

We Don't Negotiate With This

At a crucial point in the legislative process, the insurance industry is now issuing threats: pass reform, we jack up premiums.

The mask is dropping.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

On Dying and Reconciliation

Paul Lynch, JDPSN, a dharma friend, wrote a beautiful, personal teaching post about reconciliation and dying. On a lovely day you and I have both woken up once again with our lives, I commend his post to your attention.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ji Jang Bosal for Daido Roshi

Daido Loori Roshi

He was a dharma heir of Maezumi roshi and among the first generation of American Zen lineage holders. He founded the Mountains and Rivers Order in New York, built a wonderful practice facility in Mt. Tremper, and was also celebrated as a photographer. According to the Mountains and Rivers Order, Daido passed away yesterday.

Friday, October 09, 2009

What Is A Peace Prize For, Then? [UPDATED]

Far be it from me to rain on the parade when our President wins the Nobel Peace Prize, but.

Um. How can I put this...

Are you kidding?

We're still in Iraq, and we have escalated in Afghanistan.

When Nobel chairman Thorbjoern Jagland says that President Obama has created "a new climate in international politics," I am wondering about actual climate change and how little President Obama has extended himself to confront it.

It is true that Obama has shown more skill at diplomacy, and perhaps more respect for the art, than his predecesoor -- but this is not saying a whole lot. The Nobel peace prize? With little being done about militarism or the ecological crisis, a rational transition to sustainable energy sourcing, or even our own health insurance problem or the international food crisis.

Far from reducing the 1000 military bases we have around the world, it does not even appear he will be able to fulfill his own order to close Guantanamo Bay. Our trade in military arms is expanding. Do they really give Nobel peace prizes for expanding enterprise in arms trafficking and for escalating ongoing wars? The logic eludes me.

What about our private "contractors" abroad, who have engaged in the murder of foreign civilians? What about the antics at our embassy in Kabul? About which we have done nothing more than "review" the contracts of the companies responsible? (In the case of Blackwater, now known as Xe, the Obama Administration continues to issue billion-dollar contracts to the company.) The number of these contractors has also expanded -- armed and largely unaccountable mercenaries unleashed in other countries.

A Nobel peace prize?


This is not an occasion to slam President Obama, although that is of course what it has become for his political opponents. Rather it is one in a series of opportunities to ponder the nature of this prestigious award itself. It was given to Henry Kissinger in 1973, with the Viet Nam war roaring; it was given to Yassir Arafat, who did not prove to be much of an agent for peace.

President Obama is still new to his office and could advance real initiatives to move us toward peace. How much power he really has to do that, even if he has the will, remains to be seen.