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.