Thursday, January 29, 2009

More on the Appalling Death of Marvin Schur

That 93-year old man who froze to death in his home?

Bay City Electric Light & Power is no longer saying it's all the neighbors' fault.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Paine

My piece celebrating Thomas Paine ran in the Las Cruces Sun-News today. Read it here.
Happy birthday, Mr. Paine.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Mesilla Contemplates A Walk On The Wild Side

"We're a tourist town...they and visitors from Las Cruces come here to eat lunch every day and we're going to drive them away because they can't use their [cell phones]. We're taking a risk!"

That was a member of Mesilla board of trustees, reportedly interrupting the mayor's presentation about restricting cell phone use by motorists in order to say GO NOT THERE! Don't you see, the local farmers and business owners NEED to conduct business on the telephone while driving around. It's a recession! No one can afford offices anymore! This is the sweet land of liberty, Mr. Mayor! Keep your laws off of our Motorolas!

It is a fascinating thing to see him tout Mesilla as a tourist destination while simultaneously insisting that people want to spend their time there talking on the telephone. And the argument that the lunch business would be crippled if they make drivers use a headset is pretty interesting, too. "You know, Charlie, I was thinking we could go over to El Comedor for lunch -- but now I can't send text messages while I drive there, so let's just hit the McDonalds on Lohman."

Los Angeles enacted its restrictions on cell phones in cars last July, and apparently tourism has not fallen off dramatically -- and people still eat lunch there. Even so, is the risk just too much for Old Mesilla to take?

Stay tuned.

It's The Neighbors' Fault?

In Michigan, a 93-year old man fell behind on his electric bill. The electric company put a limiter on his meter, to restrict his power use. As it got cold and he needed more power to stay warm, his power was shut down entirely. He froze to death in his home.

A sad story, but here's the punchline. The electric company made an earnest public statement in response to the tragedy -- blaming the neighbors!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

My Drama/Dharma T-Shirt

For a class I am taking at Western New Mexico University, I had to design a t-shirt depicting "myself." Oh dear.

Since the intersection of my drama practice and dharma practice has often been a topic on this blog, I may as well share the design here as well.

We'll start with the front of the shirt:

Not an elegant design, I grant, but it communicates. This is a bodhisattva holding up the masks of comedy and tragedy. In the Buddhist religion, the bodhisattva represents to us a being compassionate awareness, resolved to remain in this world rather than escape into nirvana. She is often depicted with a thousand arms (or, as in this case, several pairs of arms) to remind us that the bodhisattva has many ways of functioning in the world, so as to help anyone. Each hand has an eye in it, as well. Among many other tools, the bodhisattva can use the arts of theatre.

Theatre education, as I teach it, need not be concerned with an interest in "show business." Theatre education for the young is an opportunity to role-play social skills, practice elementary language arts, broaden ones use of expressive arts, and as an adjunct to elementary physical education. For older students, theatre is a way of looking within, at the student's own persona, how they made it, and how it works. If we view persona as non-persona, it is possible to tell any story and play any part, because they are all you.

Here's the back of the shirt:

Friday, January 23, 2009

Illness Buddha

Master Ma was unwell. The Housemaster asked him, "How has your health been lately?"

Master Ma said, "Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha."

On Wednesday night I felt tired and went to bed much earlier than usual. A little after midnight, I woke up feeling very strange. My stomach was growling and it felt as if there were pockets of hot yellow acid here and there inside my chest. My supper had been light - brown rice and bhaji. Were these hunger pangs? I lay in bed listening to my body and pretty soon it became very clear what was happening, that everything was being thrown violently into reverse, and thus it began.

After prostrations in the bathroom, I spent the rest of the night awake, shivering through a slight fever and finding comfort in a peculiar position on the floor. For some reason, I was moved to set up a zafu on its side, and rest my face it. My hands went underneath and I tucked my knees under, in a sort of "doggy-down" position. When my stomach began to churn and heave again, I would assume this position and make figure-eights with my tailbone. It seemed to make sense at the time; and it appeared, in my state of mind, to be settling my stomach. Who knows?

It is not often that I experience illness this intense. I get a cold or two during the year and complain bitterly to myself about how unfair it is. A bad flu puts things in a different perspective. It is humbling to be unable to move. Puts our daily complaints and desires in a different light. A piece of toast sure tastes delicious and precious after a day when you can't even keep water down, a day spent on the couch, dozing and waking, looking at the ceiling, watching the sun come up and go down, hearing the neighborhood go around and around, doing lying-down Zen and trying the "Yaksa Yorae Bul" chant (that's the medicine Buddha) to stay alert during discomfort or boredom.

As Zen Master Wu Bong said, "For Zen students being sick is only another opportunity to pursue clarity, and as such it is no different from any other kind of Zen practice. In fact 'sickness practicing' is extremely valuable, because even for practicing people it often takes the threat of the loss of their body, or its ability to function well, before they can significantly slow down their desire mind."

Yesterday and oh look, another day, have been a kind of retreat. Even on regular meditation retreats, there are ways to divert one's attention. A bad flu or other illness has a way of holding you in place. Everything is set aside. What is it you were wanting? Do not be afraid of life or death.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Take "Transition" Across The Floor...

At Torres Elementary, classes were interrupted for a few moments yesterday, the students were divided between the gym and the library, and televisions were arranged so that everyone in the school could watch the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

I wondered what the kindergarteners would get out of it, but they may remember the day later.

As the term of George W. Bush ended at 12 noon eastern time, I was sitting among fifth and fourth graders, listening to a piece of music I found less stirring than the end of the era itself. George W. Bush was no longer president, and Richard Cheney was no longer co-president. An administration accomplished only in incompetence and disdain for the law was finally out of office. What I felt about this was relief: please, just go.

There is an uncertain cease-fire in Gaza as Israel's soldiers have left the strip and Hamas is holding rallies. Victory rallies, of all things. The lunatics.

In an uncertain time, in my county where there is 10% unemployment, where parents are struggling, the children were led back to their classrooms to learn history and social studies and prepare for the current round of standardized tests. They also get some time with me, and this week we are doing expressive movement. By the end of class, they are crossing the floor "reflecting" adjectives I throw at them like creative challenges: fast, slow, sharp, smooth, tangled, buttery. Then they reflect different kinds of music, not thinking, just putting the sound into their bodies and seeing what expresses itself.

Expressing the inexpressible, doing things that are impossible. Might as well start the practice early.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Fender Ukuleles

Not to diminish the significance of MLK Day, but...

Today, Fender's ukuleles hit the stores.

Poetry Out Loud

The NEA and the Poetry Foundation have got our children reading and reciting great poetry all over the country.

This year's contest is underway, as each state gets ready to select their representative for the national event. Deming had its city-wide competition on Saturday night, and your humble correspondent served as one of the judges. Three winners got cash, and the grand prize winner got cash as well as the trip to Santa Fe to compete for the state competition.

The judges made me the award presenter, which I was only too happy to do. I know these kids from the monthly open-mike night, and it was a treat to call their names and hear them applauded.

(Algernon gives the winner, Megan Schaeffer, her envelope. Runners-up Grace and Justin are in the background.)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

For You and Me

Pete Seeger, 89 years old, singing our true national anthem, "This Land Is Your Land," as part of the inaugural celebrations. Bruce Springsteen is playing and singing along with him. Can you spot George Lucas in the crowd, singing and dancing? Nice.

And they sang the radical verses, too. Love them.

The Ground We Stand On

It is our sad feeling here at the Burning House that we are going to whitewash the outgoing administration's use of torture. Nothing will be done, and a precedent will be established for a future Administration that commits war crimes.

The new Attorney General, Eric Holder, concurred in his confirmation hearing that waterboarding is illegal torture. He strongly rejected the contrived "ticking bomb" scenario used to put a heroic face on torture. Unfortunately, he also revealed the rationale the Obama Administration will use to sweep war crimes under the rug: "We don't want to criminalize policy differences that might exist between [the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration]."

Policy differences?

No. No. No. No. No.

Crimes. Violations of domestic law (i.e. our own), and international law. These are not "policy differences." Why is this man talking like George Bush's lawyer? Policy differences??

As Jonathan Turley says in the clip below: if our laws mean anything, we must apply them. Let the investigations be fair, and if crimes can be proven, hold the culprits accountable. The crimes that have been committed in our name are not "policy differences" -- they are a blow to the moral ground we stand on as a union. We need an orderly enquiry and, where appropriate, rigorous legal trials.

What kind of sick comfort are the Democrats seeking for themselves?

Like Turley says, if we just sweep it under the rug, these will not remain the crimes of George W. Bush and Richard Cheney. They will become our crimes. Perhaps they already are.

Friday, January 16, 2009

230 Future Terrorists Neutralized - Huzzah! Huzzah!

A friend of mine, a rabbi in Los Angeles, sent me an email picture of a spoof newspaper. The premise was, what if the New York Times had covered the Holocaust? Needless to say, every headline was absurdly slanted against Jewish people, respectfully quoting Nazi spokesmen while casting doubt on the events and the concerns of the victims. As satire goes, it was expertly produced. Coming from my friend, I felt very sad.

Is this some kind of warning shot across the bow, that there is something inherently anti-Semitic about feeling any reservation about Israel's actions and their aftermath?

The previous entry of this blog was a video of commentary by Bill Moyers about the conflict in Gaza in which he criticized not Israel or her need to defend herself against terrorism, but he asked the intelligent question: what retribution will follow? It is the humane and crucial question we must ask. When 65% of those killed in Gaza are civilians, when out of 700 casualties 230 are children, how does a human being not ask questions?

And yet the Anti-Defamation League has equated these questions with bigotry, and accused Bill Moyers of anti-Semitism for that clip I shared with you.

What is more sobering still, however, is something Israeli President Shimon Peres said on Wednesday of this week. "Israel's aim, he said, was to provide a strong blow to the people of Gaza so that they would lose their appetite for shooting at Israel."

My God, he said it. He even dispensed with the complaint that Hamas hides behind a "human shield." He even dispensed with the notion that this was being done to eliminate Hamas. No, President Shimon Peres actually considers every Palestinian citizen guilty of "shooting at Israel," makes no distinction between them and terrorists, and condemns them collectively to death.

Can Peres really be speaking for Israel, our friend and ally, while he essentially accuses his own government of terrorism? Because when you target innocent people (did I mention 230 of the 700 dead are CHILDREN) in order to make a point to their leadership, we call it terrorism.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Friday, January 09, 2009

Hey, It Was Worth A Shot...

...and no jokes about "money shots," you pervs.

After two representatives from the porno industry requested a federal bailout from Congress (why should the banks and the automobiles get all the billions?), MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann and Village Voice columnist Michael Musto had a some fun with it. I enjoyed, perhaps you will, too.

I am so grateful for anyone who helps me laugh at current events.

Historical Stupidity

A letter to Senator Bingaman...

RE: Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza

Dear Senator,

On New Year’s Eve, I wrote you a letter with some thoughts about the middle-eastern conflict. Having read the resolution passed by the United States Senate yesterday, I must write once more. I do not know how you voted on this yourself, but it passed easily in the Senate and a similar resolution will surely pass the House, and thus Congress will endorse, uncritically, Israel’s military actions in Gaza.

Sir, it is of course true that Israel not only has a right, but an obligation to defend her people against terrorist attacks. It is not my intention to preach pacifism for Israel while others visit violence and terror on her. Yet I feel that uncritically supporting our friend in her own aggression, and profiting from the arms used in her war, puts the United States and Israel on precarious moral ground.

700 dead on one side in eleven days, and on the other only 10 or 11. This is not a war, this is a massacre. The stated mission is to eliminate Hamas, yet who is dying? These are innocent people who have been living under an occupation longer than my own lifetime, whose livelihoods and whose children suffer from a blockade, whose infrastructure has been targeted by bombs in the name of eliminating Hamas, who now are collectively massacred. This is not a war. Any war has civilian casualties, of course, but in Gaza civilians are the target.

Even as this fawning resolution was being drafted, the International Red Cross was trying to get medicine and food supplies in to the suffering innocents, and found themselves in harm’s way. Israel, which allowed them in and knew their coordinates, continued its barrage all the same, endangering humanitarian workers they knew were there. To call this irresponsible is an understatement. Now the Red Cross has pulled out its aid.

What we know about the situation there is bad enough. There is much we do not know, because Israel is not allowing journalists in, despite an order by her own Supreme Court.

Indeed, Israel has an obligation to defend herself against rocket attacks and other violence, and let no one question that. Does this mean, however, that we must approve any action Israel takes? Must we, as we did with this non-binding resolution, behave like cheerleaders at the scene of a lopsided massacre? Do we not understand that this is an escalation of a conflict which only exposes Israel’s people to more violence and terror? I am appalled not only by this resolution’s bloodlust but its historical stupidity.

Please assure me this did not have your vote. Thank you for your consideration.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Who Are The Shministim?

Indeed, who are they? None of the "12th graders" I knew were this brave -- including me.

The letter they are talking about is here.

Their blog is in Hebrew, so I can't read it but it's here.

Nerds For Paine

Sarah came in and handed me a glass of beer. (She almost never drinks a whole one herself, so she pours me a glass.)

And she called me out on my dorkiness. "I find it funny," she said, "That you added Thomas Paine's birthday to our calendar."

Yes, I did do that. I added Benjamin Franklin's, too. Other historical birthdays this month include FDR and Alexander Hamilton, but I didn't bother adding theirs.

Thomas Paine's birthday is on January 29 and during our holiday break I wrote an op-ed essay about Paine, his birthday, and the inauguration of our 44th President. It is going to appear in the Las Cruces Sun-News some time around his birthday -- they informed me of this today. When it appears, we'll link to it here, just to revel in my nerditude.


Another reason to celebrate today is what appears to be a very heartening Obama appointment, someone who has been an outspoken and blunt critic of excessive Presidential power and domestic surveillance, and will now work for the Office of Legal Counsel. Paine, who was on fire about tyranny invading our republic, would approve.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Hot Buttered Rum

That's what we're serving at Casa D'Ammassa tonight, along with our hot black bean chili. (There is rum in that, too.)

Hot buttered rum? What concoction is this, and why drink such a thing?

In a mug, put in a little butter, a little sugar, and three teaspoons of rum. Pour boiling water on top, and stir in whatever combination of cinnamon, cloves, or nutmeg you like.

A little treat we are giving ourselves tonight.

Because vacation is over.

Because people keep remarking on how cold it is, yet it feels warm to me.

Because it might snow this week.

Because in America these days, the police might label you a terrorist because you think we should build bike lanes.

Or just because. Here's your mug.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year's Eve at Silver City Zen Center

Driving from Deming to Silver City on New Year's Eve, I felt so secure and protected! There were police all over the road, pulling people over on their way to New Year's Eve parties. I kept cruise control set on whatever the posted speed limit was and rolled unobtrusively into Silver City and found the Zen Center.

At 10:00 PM, I did Korean-style kido chanting in the zendo, something the sangha had never heard before. After completing the Kwan Seum Bosal chant we sat, walked outside with firecrackers blowing up around us, sat some more while a bell rang the traditional 108 times, and then there was a brief ceremony outdoors. On slips of paper we wrote things we might wish to jettison with 2008, and burned them in a fire that lit up Jizo's face on a makeshift altar set up for the night.

Finally, we lit candles and offered prayers or statements of intention for 2009. Paul verbalized something most of us had thought as fireworks blew up in the sky, resounding across the hillsides, that he wondered if this was similar to how the skies over Gaza sounded tonight.

Indoors, we enjoyed a champagne toast, and Paul had prepared a traditional Japanese noodle soup. We crammed ourselves into the tiny living room of his house and spent the first hour of the new year in lively conversation with laughter and appreciation of good company.