Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Inside/Outside


   
  I just bought this painting. It’s called “Still Life with City Scape No. 2.” The artist is Aaron Morgan Brown, formerly of Wichita, Kansas. This is a fairly typical painting by him in that he likes to combine highly incongruous elements, such as placing an electric mixer next to a statue of Cupid (?) and an orange both beneath a Tiffany lamp. What I really like about this painting though is the way that he suggests the interpenetration of realms we normally keep separate. Most obvious is the way that the room has no wall and it appears that a car is about to  drive out of it while another car is about to come in. Little less obvious is painting of the bird, a wild creature captured and immobilized on a canvas framed in gilt and hung on an invisible wall. I am interested also in the fact that the objects “in” the room—the elements of the still life—have been painted in a very precise manner, with clear-cut sharp outlines, while the street scene has been rendered in a much softer somewhat more impressionistic style. This pleases me. It makes the inner seem so much more real than the outer at the same that it undercuts the distinction between them. Perhaps this painting is an allegory of consciousness itself.  


Monday, December 28, 2009

Truth or Consequences?

Four of Ireland's Roman Catholic Bishops have now resigned in the wake of evidence that they permitted decades of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse to be perpetuated against thousands of children. "A fifth bishop [ . . . ], Martin Drennan of Galway, has said that he did not endanger children and will not resign, a position initially taken by the four bishops who have now stepped down."

The two most recent former Bishops of Ireland, Eamonn Walsh and Ray Field, issued a joint statement on Christmas Eve, saying that "they hoped their resignations 'may help to bring the peace and reconciliation of Jesus Christ to the victims' of child sexual abuse.

“'We again apologize to them,' the bishops said. 'Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have so bravely spoken out and those who continue to suffer in silence.'”

Somehow, I don't believe them. Maybe if they walked the length and breadth of Ireland wearing sackcloth and ashes, proclaiming their guilt at every church and begging forgiveness of every person, I might begin to believe that they have truly repented and aren't just putting on some dog and pony show.

And I'm not encouraged by the Arch-bishop's account of their motives, that "the church for too long had placed its self-interest above the rights of its parishioners, particularly innocent children." I mean, come on. What church has any interest greater than the well-being of its members? As long as the Church identifies AS its priests and AGAINST its members, men will continue to use the priesthood as a means to power and self-gratification.

Read the article for yourself here.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Letter to Obama

Here's the letter I just President Obama:

Dear President Obama,

I am very distressed to read on the Huffington Post that you are a) refusing to step up and support your party's efforts in Congress to include in the health care reform bill a robust public option that would let the states opt out and b) throwing your support behind the alternate plan, supported by Senator Snowe and the insurance industry, of a public option with a "trigger." This is unacceptable. Let me be very clear, Sir, and repeat myself: this is unacceptable.

I voted for you because you promised change, but letting the Republican Party continue to set the terms of debate on every imaginable issue including health care., and letting corporations set the terms and conditions of Federal oversight--whether it's the banking industry or the insurance industry--simply accelerates our national demise. I have watched and waited for you to step up and start enacting real change. I have defended you against friends and acquaintances who have said that your continual capitulations to the wealthy and the powerful have undermined any effectiveness you might have had.

And now I say to you: stop it. Stop pandering, stop capitulating. I say to you, step up, now, for a robust public option. It's the only hope we have of creating a health care system that takes care of people first and profits last. And believe me, Sir, if you think that this kind of capitulation will protect the Democratic Party or your own re-election efforts, you are seriously wrong, because I and every liberal and every progressive in this country will throw our weight behind whatever third party candidate offers him or herself as the candidate of change.

Your fellow citizen, Christina Hauck.

Friday, September 25, 2009

How I Got My Numbers

In my last post, I suggested that health care reform as it stands now offers us a choice between paying 12.5% or 4.5% of our income for health insurance. The larger figure assumes that the Baucus bill or some close variant of it passes and every American whose employer does not offer medical insurance is required to pay it on the open market. The smaller figure assumes that somehow Congress finds the will to create a single-payer system similar to Medicare.

I have to admit that I haven't actually seen the case put this way before. Here's how I arrived at those two numbers:

The Baucus bill widely assumes that most Americans now buying health insurance on the open market are paying about 12.5% of their income and that it is reasonable to expect them to continue to do so. It offers some kind of Federal tax subsidy for people who can't afford that: I'm not very clear on the details.

According to Representative Anthony Weiner of New York, Medicare currently spends 4% of the money it collects on overhead and administrative costs. Private insurance companies, on the other hand, spend about 30%. So I figure that if we can collect 4.5% of everyone's salary or wage and if we require a matching contribution from employers then we'd have a pool equal to 9% of the nation's payroll and we should be able to insure everyone.

Actually, I don't know how much money that would generate or if it would be enough to actually insure everyone. But my figures seem reasonable.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Simple Choice

When it comes to health care reform, doing nothing is not an option. And it looks like everyone is going to have to buy some kind of medical insurance. The only question is, how much are we going to have to pay?

The choices seem pretty stark:

Would you rather pay 12.5% of your income for health insurance or 4.5%?

If you'd rather pay 12.5%, then you must be for the Baucus plan. The good news about this plan is that it won't increase the federal deficit for the first ten years of its implementation and will actually decrease the deficit for the next ten years. The bad news is that 12.5% only covers the cost of insurance; it doesn't include your deductibles or co-pays. Have a bad year? You might end up paying 25% of your salary. But don't worry: your federal taxes won't go up.

If you'd rather pay 4.5% (and who wouldn't) then you are probably all for single-payer health care. The bad news? You'd have to pay more in taxes. The good news? Even a child could figure that one out.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Letter to my Congressmen

Here's the letter I sent to my congressmen last weekend (not just Brownback, but Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, as well). They're pretty conservative guys.

The Honorable Sam Brownback
303 Hart Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Brownback:

I recently read the following story in the Wichita Eagle:

Mike Levand, a 56-year-old independent contractor in medical sales, has been uninsured since January, when he moved to Wichita from Lenexa. Blue Cross/Blue Shield had covered him while he lived in northeast Kansas, but made him requalify after the move.

Because he had added weight and needed medication for health issues since he originally signed with the company, his premiums more than tripled, from $300 to $1,100 a month, Levand said.

There is no good reason for this man to have to re-qualify for insurance and then to be subject to this kind of price increase. Obviously, we cannot trust Blue Cross/Blue Shield to treat the people of Kansas with any kind of integrity or decency.

The time has come to stop the partisan bickering and find a way to make sure this doesn’t continue to happen everyday here in Kansas and across our nation. I urge you to put aside ideology and fully support a public option supported by premiums paid by subscribers. Without it, we are all at the mercy of an industry that has proven that it does not care about anything except maximizing profit no matter how badly it hurts individuals, families, communities and states.


Sincerely,

Christina Hauck


P.S. You can read the full article at http://www.kansas.com/news/story/959531.html. And if you need any further persuading, I urge you to read about the work being performed here in the Unites State by Remote Area Medical, which formerly only brought medical care to third world countries but which is now offering services in the U.S. I’m so ashamed that we can’t seem to care enough to solve this problem. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=111676259

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What Americans Want

To judge from the neverending flow of spam that I routinely flush down my computer's toilet, Americans want two things, urgently: smaller bodies and bigger penises.

Even though we have no real stake in the matter, being relatively slender Lesbians, Margaret and I put our heads together and came up with a solution: a surgical technique that suctions unwanted fat from the body and deposits it into the penis.

Maybe this is just the impetus we need to pass a health care reform bill.

But don't worry. It won't cost taxpayers a penny. We've crunched the numbers, and we predict that this new procedure, marketed with all the care and expertise given any new medical product, will generate enough new tax revenue to pay for itself. We also expect a huge tax windfall from the sale of the numerous, um, supporting products that hugely endowed American males will soon need, for example, a jock strap capable of supporting a 50 pound penis. Some exceptional males will no doubt need specially designed wheelbarrows to haul around all their junk.

Talk about making her scream.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

How Many Ways Can You Spell Hypocrite?

So it seems that the man who got the tip of his pinky bitten off during the anti-health care rally not only provoked the attack by punching the other man in the face, he actually has Medicare and used it to pay for his hospital bill.

I was reading some posts in response to a story about this at the Washington Post but I just don't have the stomach for it. Apparently, when Move-on.Org sponsors a rally that's not civil dissent it's a way of stifling dissent and a prelude to the Nazi takeover. But when conservative whack jobs bring handguns and assault rifles to health care rallies that's not a way of intimidating anyone who disagrees, it's simply an exercise of the constitutional right to bear arms.

Well, this is what we get for refusing to fund our education system: a nation of people who can't think.

Oh, yeah, one more thing: I refuse to refer to the amputee as the "old guy" or the "poor old guy," because he's only 65, and baby, that ain't old.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Stupid, Stupid, Stupid

Read this on the NYT:

“The thing that concerned me most about it was it seemed like a direct channel from the president of the United States into the classroom, to my child,” said Brett Curtiss, an engineer from Pearland, Tex., who said he would keep his three children home. “I don’t want our schools turned over to some socialist movement.”

What a stupid man. Does he not realize that our public school system is "socialist," paid for by tax dollars?

Someone should take his kids away from him.

Friday, August 21, 2009

I Was Right (sort of)

In my last post, I suggested that we might get through the Hysterical People by asking them questions and helping them to focus on certain facts. To a certain extent, I was right.

Apparently, a left-wing Democrat, Rep Anthoney Weiner of New York, got through to a right-wing talk-show host, Joe Scarborough, by asking simple questions: what is an insurance company? what do they bring to the table? why is their overhead 30% when Medicare's is only 4%? why can WalMart offer $4 prescriptions?

But my questions were way to hard and--I'll admit it, sarcastic and hostile.

You can read about it here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thanks to Klugman

Paul Klugman's recent column on the health care debate was very helpful. It may offer a way to help the Hysterical People (not all of whom are also Stupid People) understand the various options available to us. Here are some questions I imagine asking a Hysterical Person, if one should cross my path and be too exhausted to emote:

1) So you really think that Britain's Health care system is abyssmally bad and couldn't possibly work here? (Imagine here tearfully sincere nodding.) Then you should be writing your Senator and demanding that we immediately dismantle the VA Hospital System, because that's run almost exactly like Britain's NHS.

(How you can tell a merely Hysterical Person from a Really Stupid Person (or RSP): the RSP will simply deny the truth of what you are saying OR will accuse you of something nefarious, like Not Supporting Our Troops. Sarah Palin, anyone?)

2) And you REALLY don't want us to try anything like the Canadian system, right? (Vigorous nodding.) Well, then, you'd better get on the phone and demand that your Senator sponsor a bill dismantling Medicare right now because Medicare works just like Canada's system.

Klugman's most important point is that what Obama is proposing looks more like the Swiss model of health care, using a combination of regulation and subsidies to make sure everyone is insured. I don't think the Hysterical or the Stupid People need to hear that!

By the way, Klugman thinks the Swiss plan is workable. I think it's not, primarily because the Federal Government tends to draw its regulators from the very industry they are supposed to regulate and they seldom have the will to get the job done.

But I agree wholeheartedly with his last point: "all that stands in the way of universal health care in America are the greed of the medical-industrial complex, the lies of the right-wing propaganda machine, and the gullibility of voters who believe those lies."

Thanks, Paul.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Nature of Debate

Well, I am still waiting for the Great Health Care Debate to begin. But so far all I've seen is obsessive TV coverage of lunatics who believe every damn lie the Fox Network feeds them and shout and scream and wail and wave their guns around.

(Suppose the anti-war protesters has acted like this way back when Bush was starting his own private Oedi-war. Think we would've gotten a shred of respect?)

So, two ingredients for a good debate: debaters possessed of FACTS not fantasies and a willingness to LISTEN and RESPOND to what the other side is saying.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

If We Can Do It For the Military . . .

we can do it for everyone!

Great interview the other night between Bill Kristol and Jon Stewart.

Stuart got Kristol to admit that a) the government runs the best health care delivery system in the country and b) only the military deserves that level of care.

Kristol, who never stops grinning no matter how stupid he looks or sounds, wouldn't admit to the logical inference: the rest of us are getting second-class medical care.

Stewart couldn't stop grinning, and neither could I.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Health Care Scams, Er, Subsidies

I just read this article in the NYT.

My immediate reaction is that Congress is trying to expand the existing for profit health care system rather than admit it is broken beyond repair.

All those "subsidies" will end up in the hands of the insurance companies who will continue to invent ever more ingenious ways to avoid paying for health care.

What a scam.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Michael Jackson

I've thought more about Michael Jackson in the past few days than in my entire life. I was never a fan. It's not that I disliked him, it's that I never bothered to listen or watch.

Yesterday I watched some videos on YouTube: "Billie Jean," "Thriller," a compilation of dance moves, a performance from MTV. Suddenly, I'm a fan. He possessed such beauty and projected so much energy and light. His dance style is mesmerizing--and not just the big moves, like the Moon Walk, but the smallest gesture.

I have to admit that I also looked at videos that traced the alterations he made to his face. I don't know whether to understand these as symptoms of a profound mental illness or manifestations of artistic impulses, a courageous willingness to shape his face as a sculptor shapes clay.

Ultimately, I am filled with a kind of awe for the man and sadness at his untimely (and probably unseemly) death. I hope his family, especially his children, can move through their grief with dignity and find their path, their work and their love.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Reading LeGuin

I read two novels this week by Ursula K. Leguin. They aren’t her best-known or most celebrated, but I sure did enjoy them.

City of Illusions (1967) is about a man living on a world (Earth) whose mind appears to have been razed. He is found wandering naked in the woods and taken in by the people who live there. In some ways he appears to be human; in others, he is clearly not. In search of answers to his origins and identity, he travels on foot to the City, at first alone, then in the company of a woman. Within the city, cared for (or imprisoned by) a group of people, the Shing, who claim to be human and who offer him a version of history at odds with that of the people who rescued him, he recovers his lost self.

The Beginning Place (1980) is about a young man, Hugh, whose life is profoundly unhappy. One day he discovers a kind of alternate world within the woods near his house and begins to spend more and more time there. He meets a young woman, Irena, who has for many years felt that the woods belonged to her alone. At first antagonists, then companions and finally lovers, Hugh and Irena put themselves in the service of the people living high on a mountain in this alternate world. They kill a dragon, then escape back to a reality now made inhabitable by their love for each other.

While I was reading these two novels, I preferred City of Illusions. The hero’s dilemma drew me in, as did his quest to discover the secret of his past. And I loved the way LeGuin worked out the end of the novel. It was very deft and convincing. Reading The Beginning Place made me feel somehow impatient. I felt for her characters who suffered so much. But the novel moves very slowly. It takes pages and pages for the two protagonists to meet and they don’t embark on their quest—they don’t even hear about it really—until the last third of the novel.

Despite this, I think that The Beginning Place is the better novel, if only because I find myself thinking more about it. I love how the fantasy place seems to exist both as an alternate reality and as a shared psychic reality where the two protagonists learn to face their deepest most heart-rending fears. LeGuin does something like this in her justly famous short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” In both works she somehow evokes allegory without subsuming one realm to the other. It’s a remarkable achievement.

For me, one the best moments in the novel comes when it becomes apparent that Hugh and Irena perceived the dragon very differently. For Irena, it was female, with short, useless arms and prominent teats running down her belly, a grotesque version I think of her mother whose life is defined by powerlessness and fecundity. For Hugh the dragon was . . . well, the text doesn’t say. When Irena insists that the dragon was female, Hugh “shook his head, with a sick look, his pallor increasing. ‘No, it was—the reason I had to kill it—he said, and then put out his hand groping for support, and staggered as he stood” (163). And there you have some of what makes LeGuin great. The fantasy world is real, that is, material, located in space if not time. Hugh and Irena bring a leather coat and a wool cape out of it. It’s also a shared psychic space where two wounded humans help each other face down their worst fears. In suggesting far more than she ever tells us, LeGuin creates another reality, a space for her readers who singly or in community join in the quest and (maybe) discover a new truth about their own world, their own minds.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Mr and Mrs Madoff

Says he: she "cries herself to sleep every night, knowing all the pain and suffering I have caused."

Say I: she cries herself to sleep every night, trying to figure out how she POSSIBLY manage on the 2.5 million the judge left her.

And what's up with that? Some dude is suspected of dealing drugs and the Feds sweep in and take everything and never ever have to give it back even if it turns out that the suspicions were groundless.

Oh, yes, I am feeling testy today.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Carve These Words in Stone

"It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered."

Barak Hussein Obama

Terrorists in Kansas

I’ve been thinking about all morning about Megan McArdel's long and very provocative post called A Really Long Post About Abortion and Reasoning By Historical Analogy That is Going to Make Virtually All of My Readers Very Angry At Me.

She actually makes two analogies. The explicit analogy, the one referred to in her title, compares abortion to slavery "for two reasons. First of all, it was the last time we had an extended, society-wide debate about personhood. And second of all, as now, there were structural political reasons that it was much harder--nearly impossible--to change slavery through the existing political process."

While I am intrigued by the analogy, particularly for its ability to make sense of the fervor of the anti-abortion stance, there are a couple of problems which render it useless.

First, the idea that we haven’t had a debate about the nature of personhood since the nineteenth-century strikes me as untrue. The entire women’s movement has been about the personhood of women, and it isn’t resolved. I think that much anti-abortion energy stems from the belief that women are not full persons because they (we) cannot be trusted to make moral decisions. If there’s an analogy to be made with slavery, it might be better to compare women to slaves because anti-abortionists seem to think that women’s bodies belong to someone or something in a way that men’s bodies never do. It would be even more apt to compare children to slaves because we widely agree that they are somehow the property of their parents. But this is only to underscore one of the hypocrisies of the anti-abortionists: most them don’t seem to give a damn about what happens to children after they are born. If they did, they would devote at least some of their considerable energy on child welfare.

The slavery analogy also strikes me as insufficient because if fetuses are like slaves then pro-choicers are comparable to slaveholders and anti-abortionists are comparable to abolitionists. But as far as I can tell, the abolitionists operated mostly within the law. When they broke the law, say for example the Fugitive Slave Act, they did so without killing anyone. Further, with the lone exception of John Brown, abolitionists did not stage violent attacks against slaveholders, murdering them and bombing their plantations in an effort to force them to free their slaves. As a point of fact, it was the slaveholders who used violence and the threat of violence as a means to terrorize the slaves and maintain their ownership. Pro-slavers even staged a series of murderous attacks in Kansas in their efforts to ensure that Kansas was admitted to the Union as a slave state.

Again, I think it's useful to re-consider the analogy: women are more like slaves than fetuses are. The anti-abortionists are determined to hold women in a kind of bondage. They don't just want to ban late-term abortions, they want to ban all abortion. The more radical among them, the ones who are most prone to violence, want also to ban all forms of contraception. And they won't be satisfied until they get their way.

This brings me to the second analogy, which McArdel makes implicit in her claim that the anti-abortionists have no political recourse and must therefore resort to violence in order to secure their idea of justice. This is exactly in a nutshell the rationale for terrorism everywhere. And I agree: to the extent that the anti-abortionists are are willing to use violence to achieve their will, they are terrorists. Which means that the real question is, how do we deal with terrorists at home and abroad? Do we let them set the parameters of the debate? Can there even be a debate when the opposition is being forced to the table under the threat of violence?

Of course, even that analogy breaks down under scrutiny, if for no other reason than that unlike Blacks under apartheid or Palestineans under Zionism, the anti-abortionists do have political recourse, and they know it. The problem is that political recourse requires compromise, and they have made it very very clear that there can be no compromise.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Good News, Bad News, Good News

1. Sonia Sotomayor

2. The California State Supreme Court (6-1).

3. We're still legally married--in the sort of way that queers in Iowa, Mass, Maine, Vermont, and Conn are married. Sigh.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Republican Insight

I found some very delectable quotes in a recent Politico.com article which discusses how enthusiastic Republicans feel about taking on President Obama's soon-to-be-announced Supreme Court nominee:

“We are very excited about waging an ideological debate,” says Richard Viguerie, the well-heeled conservative fundraiser and direct-mail guru. “We never lose battles. Even if we lose the vote we win, we build the movement.”

Oh, gee, Richard. You're so right. The Republican Party has never lost a battle. An election or two. The White House. And Congress. Nonetheless, we are all very excited to see just how much momentum the Republican Party has right now. You just keep on keepin’ on, man! Do not deviate one centimeter from your current course.

“Remember,” adds Princeton law professor Robert George, founder of the National Organization for Marriage, “that the base does not expect to win this. That’s the little secret. [Republicans] don’t have the filibuster, the Democrats have the votes. For [the conservative base], this is about the future of the Republican Party, not who is going to sit on the Supreme Court. . . . . That is why conservatives are going to be interested in it, and what they are going to hold people accountable for.”

Uh oh, Bobby, secret’s out. The Republican Party doesn’t care about anything except the Republican Party—which is after all widely recognized as a far more important institution than the Supreme Court.

Republicans, he [Sen. Jon Kyle, R AZ] added, “will distinguish between a liberal judge on one side and one who doesn’t decide cases on the merits and one rather who does on the basis of his or her preconceived ideas."

That makes sense. Everyone knows that Republicans never react to anything or anyone except with the highest degree of intellectual discernment. Indeed, impartial discernment is the first thing I think of when I hear the word “Republican.” And they are remarkable for their refusal to ever decide anything on the basis of preconceived ideas. I myself have never heard of a Republican who even considered waging an ideological battle. Except maybe Richard Viguerie. But what does he know?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Confusion

“When you become speaker of the House, you no longer have the luxury of being dishonest, demagogic and destructive,” Mr. Gingrich said in an interview.

I really really really really don’t get it. Is it the “fact” that she knew about the torture and didn’t report it to Congress that makes the Republicans go ape-shit and demand her ouster? Or is it the “fact” that she’s now claiming not to have known about it?

But if the Republicans are against torture and mad that Pelosi didn’t do anything to stop it, why aren’t they calling for criminal charges against the masterminds?

Or, if they’re simply sick and tired of politicians lying lying lying, why aren’t they denouncing GW, Cheney and the rest of those goons?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Compulsion

I was reading an article at Politico.com that analyzes the factuality of President Obama’s and ex-Vice President Cheney’s dueling speeches on national security. It doesn’t surprise me at all to learn that Cheney played fast and loose with the facts. But I did feel a little disappointed by Obama’s own verbal shape-shifting.

However, that’s not the point of today’s entry. I read the first twenty comments on the story and was extremely taken aback to find the following remarks made by someone calling himself “elbonian”

"The liberals / lefties must be confused by this article. It is riddled with logical thought, clear suppositions and an honest effort to base comments on fact. Worse, this article is void of name calling and demonizing public figures which is the foundation of liberal / lefty thought. Chances are that liberals / lefties will lose interest in this article by the time they get to the second paragraph and begin posting comments that will be based on name calling, demonizing and making up stuff as they go along."

For some reason, that’s more or less how I’d characterize most conservatives! Wondering if perhaps I had overlooked the liberal vitriol, I went back and re-read the first twenty comments.

Of the first nine (all those preceding elbonian’s and thus presumably those s/he was responding to), seven contained nothing I recognized as “name calling, demonizing, [or] making up stuff.” Two contained remarks that I thought were slightly beyond to pale of civilized discourse:

#3 Conbug calls the President “Hussein Obama" and compares him to a “na├»ve 12 year old boy.” This is actually a very toned down version of comments I have read all over the internet claiming that Obama is really a Muslim and hence an enemy of America. Conbug also writes that “Too [sic] even compare the two as anything of equal stature EXCEPT MAYBE FOR READING A TELEPROMPTER is demeaning to Dick Cheney and or our former President George W. Bush.” Well, everyone is entitled to an opinion! But my opinion is: he’s making up stuff as he goes along.

#9 WWJD writes “VP Cheney has the facts on his side and tells it the way it is. The only thing the obamalama teleprompter had would be just more inept and worn out liberal ramblings.” Again, it’s an opinion and s/he’s entitled to it. But this writer is responding to an article that points out Cheney’s unclear grasp on the facts, so I’m guessing that s/he “los[t] interest in this article by the time s/he got to the second paragraph and began posting comments based on name calling, demonizing and making up stuff." Worse, what WWJD writes is profoundly unfactual: Obama's speeches are never inept, nor does he ramble.

Things really heated up after that with four of the next ten comments engaging in some of the faults elbonian attributes to liberals. Problem is, two of them come from a single conservative (or at any rate, apologist for Cheney). #11 mvpeach10 wrote “you simpering, wimpy little leftists, grow up,” a pretty clear example of name-calling (unless you happen to agree and then I guess it's just stating the facts). And #15 writes that “Obama is seeking more and more adulation. Getting it from 52% of the American population and the media isn't enough for this very narcissistic neophyte. He wants worship from the world.” Where does this idea come from that Obama thinks of himself as the next Messiah? Could it possibly be a projection of how many conservatives felt about GW? Ya think? But I digress.

Two of the negative comments were written by liberals / Obama apologists. #12 edwcorey tells elbonian “You write like a retard. Cheney is a failure at everything except nepotism and cronyism. He's corrupt, a sadist and a liar.” And #16 jpromansic writes about “bush amin and his goons” and calls Cheney a criminal. Some of that is uncalled for (retard, bush amin, goons). Some of it is very strong language, but also, in my opinion, true: nepotism, cronyism, corrupt, sadist, liar, criminal. (Well, not just my opinion. I think there's plenty of evidence to support this point of view.)

The upshot here is that in this small sampling, thirteen out of nineteen respondents avoided any name-calling, demonizing, or story-telling. That's pretty good. Of the six who engaged in rhetorical temper tantrums, conservatives outnumbered liberals four to two. So I have to say that elbonian’s comment instantiates what he accuses liberals of doing (which makes the score five to two) and proves (to me at least) that conservatives / Republicans are compulsively projecting their own foibles onto the liberals.

I wasn’t even going to bother writing this up because there are far better bloggers than I keeping track of this sort of thing. But the story that just broke on Politco about the RNC’s video comparing Nancy Pelosi to “Pussy Galore” shows just how vital this issue is—and how brazenly the conservatives / Republicans engage in name-calling and demonizing.

I’ll let Ann Lewis, former advisor to Hilary Clinton, have the last word:

“It’s an attempt to demean your opponent, rather than debate them. If they’re serious that this is an issue of national security, then you’d think that one would want to debate it on the merits,” she says. “It’s almost as if they can’t help themselves.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wrong Again

Well, I really thought Adam Lambert would win American Idol. So I gather did Kris Allen!

I'm happy for them both. And who knows, maybe Kris Allen will turn out to be more than a cute boy with a nice voice and guitar--and I'll be wrong again.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Where Outrage and Compassion Meet

When Margaret and I proposed going to the Globe Indian Restaurant for lunch yesterday, our friend Rebecca got a funny look on her face. It seems that the owner, Lotti, has been arrested for his treatment of his employees who were virtual slaves. One employee died of pnemonia because, Rebecca said, Lotti refused to take him to the hospital. We were aghast. We eat there every chance we get, and like Rebecca, we don’t want to support inhumane business practices. I also got an uneasy feeling. Was the employee who died our favorite waiter, Sebastien, who suddenly stopped working at the Globe about a year ago? We never asked Lotti or his wife what happened to him. We simply assumed that he had been fired because he wasn’t a very good waiter, kind of chatty and slow.

Late last night I googled “globe indian topeka kansas arrest” and learned more. It seems that Sebastien died over a year ago, on April 28th 2008. I haven’t found any evidence that Lotti refused to take him to a hospital, but the news accounts I’ve read say that he was present when paramedics responded to the 911 call, initially denied employing Sebastian, then admitted to keeping all his personal identification at the restaurant, a common strategy of enslavement. In a subsequent investigation, Lotti told federal agents that a restaurant owner in Kansas City had transported Sebastien to Topeka when Lotti needed a new waiter. Lotti said that he could get illegal workers from any Indian restaurant as far away as Chicago.

Lotti was convicted on April 7, 2009 of three charges of “harboring illegal immigrants for commercial advantage or private financial gain ” “Harbor” is a very strange term for what he did to Sebastien, as to at least two other waiters: forced him to work up to 70 hours a week for what seems to be about $4-5 per hour. I gather he faces up to thirty years in prison and a fine of $750K. I doubt he’ll be punished that harshly.

Perhaps exhaustion is part of why Sebastien was such a slow and disorganized waiter. Or perhaps he was hoping that if he worked slowly enough, Lotti would let him return home to his wife and children in India. All of the news reports say that he had complained that he was being forced to work, but none of them say whom he complained to or there was any relationship between his complaints and his death.

The last time we saw Sebastien, he seemed to be in pretty bad shape. He had a huge bruise on the side of his face and his pallor was grey. He also seemed subdued, taking our order and bringing our food without any conversation. We made a lot of what now seem to be stupid assumptions: that he had gotten into a fight, that he was in pain. Now I’m guessing that he was close to death and had either fallen due to weakness or been struck by Lotti in anger. We didn’t say anything, out of fear of intruding. I don’t know if our concern would have made a difference. But I sure do wish we had reached out.

So today I am remembering Jacinta Sebastian Pereria who died in Topeka, Kansas at the age of 53, far from the people who loved him.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Conservatives and Corruption

Here's a letter to George Will I've drafted in response to a recent op-ed piece he published in the Washington Post. I haven't decided whether or not to send it to him.

Dear Mr Will,

You recent op-ed piece, “Tincture of Lawlessness,” published in the Washington Post, shows exactly why conservatism is an outdated, even corrupt ideology.

First, like many conservatives, you confuse rhetoric with argument. I find this in the unreasonable use of hyperbole involved in claiming that President Obama is acting unlawfully. You bring no evidence to bear on this point other than a brief quote from the Economist, whose author appears to share you ideological perspective. Your claim that the central goal of his presidency is simultaneously “maximizing the number of people and institutions dependent on the federal government” is similarly hyperbolic, highly inflammatory, and without any basis in fact.

I could similarly criticize the irresponsible rhetoric of your claim that “markets” succeed when “when freedom allows merit to manifest itself, and incompetence to fail,” because the personification of these ideas masques the very real agency of the people who wrought the current economic crisis. But I’d rather point out that like most conservative pundits these days you are simply ignoring the facts: the economic disaster that has befallen our nation, indeed our global community, is due largely to the unrestrained “freedom” (license is more like it) that allowed greedy and incompetent cohorts of well-placed individuals to help themselves to untold wealth. It seems to me to be highly unlikely that President Obama’s pursuit of “economic planning” and “social justice” could possibly wreak more havoc.

Unless of course—and this brings me to my third and final point—the primary purpose of your attack is to rally support for and ensure the survival of one of the most cherished tenets of conservatives everywhere: the idea that corporations and the small but disproportionately wealthy and influential class of people who own them are super-individuals with more rights and privilege than anyone else. What else could be behind the bleating complaint that Obama wants to give Chrysler’s workers more than the banks or the investors “whose contracts supposedly guaranteed them better standing than the union.” From my point of view it is only fair that the investor class accept a larger loss than the working class because investors have far more resources than the workers. But that’s exactly what you can’t stomach and that’s why conservatism is at best an unsustainable ideology: because it elevates the wealthy to positions beyond reproach, indeed, beyond the law, while devaluing and demeaning anyone who works for a wage.

President Obama is not corrupt, as you recklessly claim. He is trying to redress the multiple corruptions of an economic system that chiefly benefits the wealthy. The reforms he proposes are modest and way overdue.

I don’t expect that he or you adopt the socialist point-of-view that I myself have arrived at. But I do wish you’d get off your ideological hobby horse and accept two propositions: a) that the acquisition of wealth untempered by any internal or external force has corrupted our economic system and b) that it is in everyone’s best interest for our nation to find a way to a more equitable distribution of resources. And if that’s asking too much, how about sticking with the facts?

Sincerely,

Christina Hauck

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Maui Chronicles: Shopping

I didn’t go to Maui with the intention of shopping. After all, I can do that from the comfort of my own living room. But, of course, we did shop, mostly in Kihei and little in Paia, mostly in a desultory sort of way because mostly we weren’t buying. For the record, I bought one tee shirt, one Hawaiian print shirt, one rash guard, about a gallon of sunscreen, two silver chains, and a gift for Margaret. Margaret bought one tee shirt, one Hawaiian print shirt, one pair of white pants, one dress, and a gallon of aloe vera.

If you are ever in Maui, here are three stores we found to be exceptional.

The Rainbow Attic, 1881 S Kihei Rd, Kehei. “Maui’s largest consignment store.” We both loved this place. A great selection of used but wearable clothing (most of it costing $8), not to mention boogie boards, jewelry, art, furniture and other household stuff.

The Maui Farmers’ Market, 621 S Kihei Rd, Kihei. The produce guy at Safeway told us about this place. You have to drive several miles north of the main tourist drag in Kihei, and it’s only open M-F, but they’ve got a great selection of fruits and vegetables as well as nuts and coffee. The best papaya we ever tasted.

Maui Hands, Ka’anapali, Lahaina, Paia. We visited the Paia store. A slightly up-scale art gallery. I especially loved (but did not buy) the handmade furniture and the jewelry. Someday.

Since we’ve been back I’ve been industriously shopping for rashguard and an SUP (stand up paddle) board. Rashguard is a tightly fitting shirt that surfers wear to protect their nipples and inner arms from, well, rash. It’s also great protection from the sun. I bought this beautiful shirt from Essential Surf in Santa Cruz, Calfornia. Stand up paddling is a wonderful way to get out on the water. SurfingSports has a cool (if somewhat hard to navigate) site full of information and photos.

Well, shopping is fun, but it’s also a time-consuming distraction, at least for me (as I suspect for a bunch of other people). More about that tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Life is So Unfair

Well, I’ve gotten caught up on American Idol, and I guess I was wrong: Allison Ireheta did not make it into the final three. But I gotta tell ya: she way out performed Chris and Danny on Tuesday night. There’s no WAY they deserved more votes. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles--or is that the way the fan base moves?

There’s no way I feel sorry for her, though. She’s seventeen years old. She’s got a great voice. American Idol has given her international exposure and a fan base. And she’s gonna have a great career.

Tonight we’ll see if talent wins out over cuteness. Stay turned.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Maui Chronicles: Fear and Fun

It seems counterintuitive that a little fear can enhance your fun, but my recent experiences in Maui tell me this is true.

While in Maui we paid for three “adventures”: horseback riding at the Mendes Ranch in Wailuku, surfing at Kalama Park in Kihei, and snorkeling at Olowalu. I did not expect to experience any fear during the horseback ride, but the first time my horse, Cowboy, started running, I found myself grabbing the saddle horn with my right hand and laughing out loud all the way uphill: a little fear, a lot of fun. The second run, on the other hand, wasn’t fun at all. First, Cowboy took off too early, and Gerard, one of the guides, yelled, “not yet, not yet.” I got the horse reined in (a feat of which I’m proud because that willful horse wanted to run), but as soon as Gerard took off, so did Cowboy. One of my feet had slipped from the stirrups and I was little off balance, so I grabbed the horn with both hands as we went charging up the hill. I was just too frightened to enjoy the ride. By the time I got my balance and composure back, it was over.

The fear I experienced surfing was of an entirely different order. As we walked toward the water carrying our boards I found myself wishing I had never signed up. I felt pretty sure I’d get dumped and tumbled and scraped and that I’d never manage to catch a wave let alone ride it. So I was afraid of pain and humiliation. That fear persisted through my first effort. I was surprised how fast the wave was pushing the board, and how easy it would have been to stay on my belly. I had to make myself kneel. It took all my will to try to stand up. I almost made it, and falling didn't hurt a bit. After that, I wasn’t afraid at all, just focused and determined. And when I finally did it, when I stood up and kept my balance and rode that wave, I felt only exhilaration. I suspect that if I ever try surfing bigger waves--and I want to, I want to--I’ll experience more fear and more exhilaration.

The fear that accompanied snorkeling was closer to what I experienced surfing. It started as we began swimming. Images of drowning flashed through my mind. I pushed them down: I’m a good swimmer, I’ve snorkeled before, and I was in good company. I had little flashes of fear throughout the snorkel. Once, surfacing from a dive, I started to inhale before I’d cleared my snorkel. I spit the mouth piece out before I’d taken any water into my throat and, as I gulped in air, told myself to be a little more careful. A bit later, after we had found some sea turtles and were following them, I found myself anthropomorphizing, wondering if they were leading us into some kind of trap. It was a passing fancy, quickly dispelled. I also felt a little afraid during the time we were following the manta rays: they have long barbed tails and I worried that if I got too close they might sting me or that if we followed them for too long we'd never get back to shore.

The verdict? A little fear increases vigilance. Heightened awareness increases pleasure. Too much fear paralyzes. Paralysis ain’t fun.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Home Again, Home Again

Maui is such a beautiful place--the ocean, the mountains, the beaches, the breezes, the smiling people. I am so happy that we got to spend a week there. I'll try to write here about some of our experiences, though it may take me a while to gather my thoughts and impressions.

In the meantime I just want to say how happy I am to be home in Kansas, another beautiful place, especially in the spring when the Flint Hills are covered in tall green grass and the wildflowers are blooming and the trees are fully leaved and the birds sing loudly all day long under the biggest bluest sky.

We just got back from a walk. The tulips have all blown away and the irises have begun to bloom. Just on the edge of town, we sighted a fox trotting across the road. She disappeared behind some trees then reappeared, bounding through a field of tall grass. I imagine she's after our neighbors ducks. Poor ducks.

At the top of the hill, we faced the golden distant sunset. Turning around we saw a massive thunderhead riding the eastern horizon. The white, almost full moon was nearing the apex of the sky. Birds and crickets and frogs all were singing as we walked slowly home.

How wonderful it is to live on a planet so alive with beauty. How wonderful to be alive to it all.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Control or Chaos

We generally fly Southwest Airlines. We like them for a bunch of reasons. If you can't make your flight, they issue you a full credit applicable toward any future flight. All you have to do is use the credit within one year of the original purchase date. If you miss that deadline, they'll re-issue the credit for only $50. They don't charge you extra to check your luggage or sit by a window. And often the cabin crew will sing to you. There's a very funny SWA rap on YouTube: check it out here.

Another way that SWA is different is that they don't have assigned seating. Instead, they put you in a boarding group, A, B, or C which is determined mostly by when you pick up your boarding pass. They board in that order, and you are free to take any open seat. There are some problems with the system. Sometimes they run out of overhead bin space, and you have to either cram your carry-on under the seat in front of you or you have to check it. Also, since everybody wants to sit close to the front of the plane, a logjam occurs as people take the first available seat. But the atmosphere is generally friendly and they have one of the best on-time records in the industry.

I didn't realize how chaotic this system is until we boarded the first leg of our American Airlines flight this morning. They assign seating and after taking care of the first class passengers they board from the back to the front of the plane. This made for a much more controlled situation. Everything quite orderly, thank you.

I've often thought that SWA could operate more efficiently if they boarded the C group first and made them stow their luggage and sit in the back third of the plane. It would even offer them a perk: on partially full flights singles would have a much better chance of nabbing a three-row and stretching out. Our experience this morning made me realize just how right I am.

I recently talked to an SWA customer service rep about my idea and she just laughed. I guess they've tried it. The problem is that the C people won't move the back of the plane. They just stake out the prime real estate at the front of the plane. Well, I still think it could be accomplished. But then the cabin crew would have to play Cop and that would take all the fun out flying Southwest.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Better World?

Well, I seem to have gotten myself stalled out again. Drat.

Not that I haven’t been writing a little. It’s just that for some reason I've felt averse to sharing.

I’ve been working on what is either a very long entry or sequence of entries about shopping, which seems to be one of my favorite (and most self-defeating) activities.

Perhaps my latest shopping expedition got in the way of finishing/publishing?

Ironically enough, what I bought was a new computer. No, not the MacBook Air I’ve eyed again and again in the sale section of the Apple Store. I bought an eee 901 Linux from Amazon, an entirely different kind of computer.

I bought it because it looked like the perfect travel companion: light-weight with excellent battery life and exactly the features I want on the road: internet, word-processing, music, movies and photo storage. We'll take it with us next week to Hawaii, and I'll try to write a bit from there about how well it works out.

Already I see that I got more, way more, than I bargained for. I imagined the linux operating system, in this case Xandros, would be something like a Mac. I’ll try to write later about how Xandros is and is not Mac-like. For here and now let me say that part of what makes linux cool is the anti-shopping dimension. By that I don’t mean that linux users don’t buy stuff. Obviously, they do. In fact, they must, just like everyone else. But my brief forays into the wonderful world of linux persuades me that this global community is creating a space outside of the corporate ownership model that has turned us all into a bunch of zombie consumers.

Of course, lots of people share that commitment and pursue it through a variety of means: cooperative business models, local economies, do-it-yourself and back-to-the earth movements come to mind as obvious examples.

The linux way involves figuring out how your machine works, making it work differently, and sharing the results. This is much more than a metaphor for figuring out how the Machine works in order to make it work better (or make it stop working). All this tinkering throws a monkey wrench--or rather, lots of them--into the Corporate Machine. It creates choices outside of those offered by the Corporate World (Microsoft vs Apple) and it does so in a community dedicated to deconstructing the false dichotomy of those "choices."

I doubt that linux and linux users alone can save us. But maybe community is the key to building a better world.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bi-partisanship--and So Much More

I read that Obama doesn’t want to prosecute anyone for torture because he wants to avoid a “partisan” fight.

That seems disingenuous. First, partisanship is here to stay. We have a two-party systems and folks can, do and will stand with their party. Actually, it is beginning to seem like every time President Obama invokes “partisanship,” he is signaling his willingness to bend over backwards to make the Republicans feel good about themselves. But nobody should feel good about torture. Strangely enough, many Republicans do.

And isn’t it interesting that the debate over investigating and prosecuting those involved with the torture is shaping up along, if not exactly party lines, then certainly along the broad political ideologies that underwrite party politics. Liberals (Democrats) want to prosecute those involved; Conservatives (Republicans) want to congratulate them because they (ostensibly) saved American lives.

I wonder what they think an American life is worth, not in terms of dollars and cents, but in relationship to other lives. Ten other lives? A thousand? A million, billion, trillion? Where do the advocates of torture draw the line?

More importantly, where do you draw the line? How many human beings would you torture (or allow to be tortured) to save your own life?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Millions of Stories to Break Your Heart

Here’s a story to break your heart: the father of Rubina Ali, one of the child actors from Slumdog Millionaire, is trying to sell his daughter for £200,000.

The comments that follow the story are also disturbing. Everyone is looking for someone to blame. It’s the father. No, wait, it’s the government of India. No, no, it’s Danny Boyle for casting her in the film and not making her a millionaire.

But no one is to blame. Rather, we all are to blame. Why? Because we only pretend to value human life. Most of us value our own lives and those of the people we love and perhaps our neighbors, but only the ones who look and think like us. The rest of the time? We value our ideas about how good and wise and useful we are.

If we really valued human life—and by “we” I mean all human beings—we would not have war or slavery or rape or hundreds of millions of people dying slowly of starvation or dehydration.

Actually, I’m not too worried about Rubina. She is such a special child. Someone will help her. But I am very worried about all the other Rubinas, the ones whose names we don’t know:

The 25 million children displaced annually by war

The untold numbers of child soldiers

The 5.8 million children who die everyday from hunger related causes.

The 2 – 13.5 million who have been stolen or purchased--often from their parents--and who labor in factories and fields and private homes and brothels. (2007 Trafficking in Persons Report by the United States State Department, p 10)

Who will save them?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Susan Boyle & the Ugly Truth About Beauty

Like millions of others, I am entranced watching Susan Boyle soar over the shaming (and shameful) mockery to which the Britain’s Got Talent crew and audience subjected her before her performance. I just listened to an older recording, “Cry Me a River.” The woman’s got chops, no doubt, and I am hoping that she has a great career to match her great talent.

I’ve also been intrigued by the outpouring of complaints about how quick human beings are to judge individuals based on their appearance. Some comments suggest that the fault lies with the media or the entertainment industry (pop quiz: are they any different?), or with men or the young. But there’s some research out there that suggests we are hardwired to respond to beauty: we think it's more, well, attractive.

Here is a summary of some experiments I read about long ago and far away (but researched a bit in order to write this entry).

Experiment #1: a woman made up to be deliberately unattractive stages a seizure on a crowded train at rush hour. Not a single person stops to help her. In fact, everyone walks right over her. A second woman, quite beautiful, stages a seizure on a crowded train at rush hour. She is instantly surrounded by people who express concern and desire to help.

(I’ve been unable to track down any citation for this, but there’s an interesting discussion of similar experiments in Elaine Hatfield’s book, Mirror, Mirror: The Importance of Looks in Everyday Life.)

Experiment #2: this one was trying to figure out if our reactions to beauty are innate or conditioned. The experimenters gathered up photographs of women they collectively agreed were quite beautiful and others they felt were unattractive. They made an effort to include representatives from all of the so-called races in both groups. Then they showed them to infants. Time and again the infants showed far more interest in looking at the photos of women the researchers deemed beautiful and turning away from the photos of women deemed unattractive. Thus, it would seem that we have some kind of instinctive sense of what constitutes female human beauty.

Subsequent researchers have shown that the innate preference for beauty is not gender specific or even species specific. According to these researchers even very young infants would prefer to look at the faces of pretty cats or tigers rather than ugly ones. They conclude that the preference is part of our perceptual hardware. Fortunately, our judgments can and do change under environmental influence (which explains how really ugly skinny plastic glasses suddenly look, you know, very cool).

So we can admonish ourselves to never ever judge a book by its cover, but it seems that’s exactly what we've been doing forever and what we’ll keep on doing in spite of our collective admiration for Susan Boyle. Mark my words. The next time some overweight or extremely geeky person stands up in front of Simon Cowell and waggles his or her hips and promises to wow him, he and we will roll our eyes and sneer.

So, yeah, the beautiful people get a leg up from day one. Fair? Nope, but I guess that evolution never did care about what’s fair.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Blogger's Crisis

Suddenly, I'm having a blogger's crisis. I started Tall Grass Zen as a way of keeping our sangha informed of events and inviting members to talk to each other across the spatial distances that mostly keep us from practicing together. Then I started Cave of Poison Grass as a place to think about the relationships between Zen meditation and everyday life. A bit later I started this blog, Professor Hauck, as an outlet for my sarcasm, which is the step-child of anger and powerlessness and could maybe someday dissolve if I practice hard enough. I even started a blog called Tea in Kansas in order to reflect on my tea tasting practice, which alas has devolved into getting the most flavor and caffeine with the least bitterness out of hong cha.

JW's suicide has blurred those carefully drawn lines. I'm posting here, I'm posting there, I'm posting everywhere. As I told my nephew this morning, I promised myself I would post to my blog everyday but I'm not sure which blog I'm supposed to post to or if it even counts as a daily practice if I don't post everyday to the same blog.

For now, I'm going to concentrate on this one because I'm not that fucking enlightened and trying to post to the Cave everyday would feel like falsifying the Buddhadharma.

That said, I did post something at the Cave this morning, in case you are interested.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

No/Way/Out

JW’s wife spoke at the Memorial Service on Tuesday. It was very generous of her. She helped me to understand why JW killed himself.

Jayne said that for the past several years, JW immersed himself more and more in his job. He would go to work everyday, come home, eat dinner, turn on the computer and go back to work. That’s not much of a life. When he became unable to work, he had nothing to fall back on—or he felt he had nothing to fall back on.

Jayne also said that the man we were remembering was not the man she had been living with for the past four months, the man who killed himself. Unable to work, JW disintegrated into greater and greater agony.

I have an image of JW crossing a bridge. He can’t go back and he can’t imagine going forward. So finally he jumped.

Jayne says that she has felt JW’s presence on several occasions. He is in a place of peace and light now.

Thank you, Jayne.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Calling You Back

This is what I said at JW's Memorial Ceremony last night:

I guess I knew JW the way most people in the school did. First, he was a conduit for the many requests for chanting in our world wide sangha. I saw his name in my inbox quite often. I also talked to him on the phone from time to time, usually when I was panicking over something. Where were the kasas and certificates? Would our ceremony happen? And I met him a couple of times, most recently when I did office work for him during my week of kyol che a few years ago. So we weren’t close. Nonetheless I loved him.

When we got Bobby’s email saying he had killed himself, it was like a knife in my heart. How could this kind, gentle, patient, compassionate man have slipped so far away from us?

For me today, this is JW’s great teaching: we need to keep one another close. You know, we are all in this together. We need each other. When one of us leaves, it’s so painful.

So if you know someone who seems to be pretty far out there, please reach out and call them back. And if anyone here tonight happens to have drifted far from us, please come back. We need you.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Of Ignorance and Gratitude

I learned something surprising about JW over the past few days: he was actually a practicing Catholic, not a Zen Buddhist. He took five precepts and practiced for some time—I don’t know how long—but felt more at home in the Church than in the Zendo.

Margaret says that he was doing what true Christians do, turning the face of Christ toward everyone he met without any kind of fanfare.

This does not mean that JW was not a Bodhisatva (or kind of Buddhist saint) because clearly he was motivated by a spirit of selflessness and a desire to help everyone who crossed his path, without judgment or distinction.

The priest yesterday affirmed his hope and his belief that JW was living in peace with Jesus. That’s a very comforting thought.

From a Buddhist doctrinal point of view JW is in bardo, a kind of purgatorial state which he will pass through for forty-nine days. The bardo, as I understand it, is confusing, sometimes blissful, sometimes terrifying. It offers opportunities for enlightenment and into Nirvana or re-birth. I suppose that’s comforting, too, in a different kind of way.

In truth, nobody knows where JW is. We can speculate. We can deny one point of view and affirm another. But no amount of thinking or writing or arguing can change the fundamental fact of everyone’s ignorance. All we can is continue to try to put everything down—our opinions, condition, situation, as Zen Master Seung Sahn used to say—and be present moment to moment, offering to help when we can, accepting what help is offered. This is how JW seems to have lived most of his life. For that, I am grateful.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Everything Has Changed, But We're Still Alive

This is one of the lovely things the priest said at JW's funeral mass here in Providence, RI.

He also made a lovely analogy between redwood trees and human life. Redwood trees grow hundreds of feet into the air, but their roots are very shallow. However, they develop highly tangled root systems, which help them to survive strong winds. JW's death was like a strong wind, which we will survive by depending on one another.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Stupid Airplane Tricks #1

So we get to 30,000 feet, and the pilot turns off the fasten seat belt sign, and Margaret and I get out our iPods. I decide I’ll put some eye drops in before I start listening to music. The fluid’s a little slow coming out, and I start to wonder what’s wrong. It hits my eye, and I KNOW what’s wrong: I’m putting ear drops in my eye.

Which now feels like it's on fire.

I jump up almost hitting Margaret in the face with my stainless steel thermos as I crawl over her. Lots of turbulence has me lurching wildly, bouncing off of seats, as I try to run toward the back of the plane. Judging from the expressions on the other passengers' faces, I looked incredibly stoned.

I tell the attendant what’s wrong, and she pours water over my eye, flushing it out. This stage lasts about five minutes. Water is running down my face, inside my shirt. I don't care. We get most of the bad stuff out.

I called my eye doc when we landed in Chicago. Itt seems that I'm going continue seeing in three-D for a while.

Margaret says, at least you got all that wax out of your eye.

Friday, April 10, 2009

No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

I love this show! Of course, I’ve only seen two episodes, but the writing is good, the acting is great and the setting, Botswana, opens a window to a part of the world I’ve never been and know practically nothing about.

I was alerted to its premier on HBO by Aaron Barnhart’s review in the Kansas City Star. Here’s a letter I wrote to him after I watched the first episode:

I sure do share your delight in this show. It's quite heartwarming. I'm writing to point out a couple of things you might have missed.

It is true that the show probably gives us a false sense of life in Botswana. Doesn't TV give us a false sense of life everywhere? But it's not true that it ignores the HIV crisis. Rather, it places HIV in the background of the characters' lives. For example, the slick lawyer (“Friendly”) compares the large turnout for the funeral of Precious's father with the scanty attendance at those who die of “disease,” a reference I think to AIDS and social ostracism. More overtly, the fellow running the insurance scam has been giving the money to an orphanage, home to many children who have lost their parents to "a terrible disease." Obviously, HIV is on everyone’s mind.

I congratulate you on (finally) realizing that the show’s focus on male sexual infidelity encodes the threat of HIV because unfaithful husbands transmit the virus. But you missed the importance of the case about the woman who was caring for a man pretending to be her father. Women throughout Africa perform much of the work, but are not able to build wealth because what they earn is so often taken by their husbands and other male relatives. Their poverty may part of what makes them so vulnerable to sexually predatory men.

Finally, the show's darkest shadow was cast by repeated references to child slavery and organized crime, two grim and not unrelated topics. The show's charm, for me, lies in its ability to show us both the sunshine and the shadows of present-day Botswana.

(Barnhart wrote an email thanking me for my comments. But I was really hoping to start a conversation. Oh, well. I’ll just have to talk to you, gentle readers:

The second episode continued to approach serious topics with a light, sometimes comic touch. There’s a case involving a dentist that hinges on economic predation and another case about an unfaithful husband who meets a gruesome end. The part I found most moving was the gentle way that the script deepens our sense of the plight of Grace Makutsi, No. 1 secretary to the No. 1 Lady Detective. Grace not only feels humiliated as she watches less qualified but more sexually attractive women land better paying, more prestigious jobs, she is also supporting her brother, Richard, who is dying from AIDS. But don't worry. Grace is no sad faced victim, just a well-rounded, slightly comic figure.

I can hardly wait for episode three.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Trivial

Yes, that’s right. I’m talking about American Idol.

What I love about the show is that it gives ordinary people with great voices a shot at something bigger. Well, maybe the people who win aren’t exactly ordinary. But show biz is tough, and AI opens some doors to people who lack connections and hence access.

What I hate about the show is the way it trades in humiliation, from replaying videos of really bad singers insisting they are brilliant to Simon’s blistering dismissals to the way the show makes the weakest contestants sweat it out, week after week.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a fanatic. I watched faithfully the first year, fitfully the second year and hardly at all since then. Until now. Suddenly, I’m hooked. Maybe it’s because the overall professionalism of the contestants has shot up. Maybe it’s because the overall professionalism of the judges has shot up, mostly because the new judge, Kara DioGuardia, helps balance out the Simon Cowell / Paula Abdul weirdness. (What’s with those two anyway? Simon always critiques Paula’s critique before issuing his own. Snipe, snipe, snipe).

A no-brainer: Adam Lambert will win. He’s got voice, style, versatility, drive and originality. Plus, he’s ten years older than my personal pick for second place, sixteen-year-old Allison Iraheta, who has it all except the edge that comes from experience (and maybe good fashion sense). I’m guessing that Kris Allen will hang on for third place—and that he’s the one the judges will give a second chance to.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Unimaginable

Yesterday a friend of mine, JW Harrington, jumped from a bridge and died. He was the Executive Director of the Kwan Um School of Zen. He had been seriously ill for several months, unable to work. He was fifty years old.

We weren’t close friends. Most of our conversations were about business or the weather or the health and well-being of other sangha members. But I have the warmest feelings for him. He was incredibly efficient, but never officious or impersonal. His efficiency seemed very Zen-like, a by-product of complete attention and deep compassion. He was always patient and kind. And now he is gone, and I understand from the manner of his death that there was something about JW I never saw, something sad and lonely and desperate.

Several months ago I found myself briefly, but seriously, considering suicide. I felt that my life had no purpose, that I might as well kill myself. I instantly perceived what that would do to Margaret, how it would shatter her for a very long time, perhaps the rest of her life, and I knew that I could not cause her such pain. And there arose in my mind the faces of the people I love and who love me, all of whom would be devastated should I take my own life. At first I was only thinking about people who live near-by, people I see often, but by the time my imagination had rippled out east and west to both coasts and south to the Gulf and flown over the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans, I understood: love gives life purpose and meaning.

How could JW not have known that? He had been a student of Zen for thirty years. He had a wife and a mother and literally thousands of friends. On Saturday, JW came to the Buddha’s Birthday celebration at the Providence Zen Center--just four days before he jumped from that bridge. Everybody was so happy to see him. And yet somehow he could not feel our love, our profound connection. He could not experience himself as part of the vast human network. This must be what every suicide feels, completely and hopelessly alone.

I read somewhere that every person who has survived jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge reports the same thing: once they were falling they realized they had made a terrible mistake. I can’t help but suppose that successful suicides also experience that urgent regret as they hurtle through space. And I can’t stop wondering about JW: in the seconds before he hit the water did he get it? Did he understand that his life had meaning no matter how sick he felt or depressed or discouraged?

We all die alone, but the solitude of the suicide is almost beyond imagination.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Obama

I did not believe that the Democrats would ever nominate a Black man for President--but they did.

I did not believe that America would elect a Black man President--but we did.

I did not believe that American would inaugurate Obama--but we did.

On inauguration day, Margaret and I flew an American flag. It was the first time I raised a flag as an adult. I felt so proud.

I don't agree with everything he says or does, but I trust him. I feel more secure knowing he's on the job.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Made in America

I wonder if Americans are more violent than people of other nations? It probably depends on how you define violence. We certainly have a history of state-sponsored or -supported violence on a pretty grand scale. I’m thinking of slavery; of the attempted extermination of the Indigenous Peoples; of our post-WW2 military actions, overt and covert; of our extensive use of incarceration, especially against the poor; and of our high murder rate relative to other industrialized nations.

I’m wondering too if the recent spate of murders here—three cops and one parolee in Oakland, California; eight people in a nursing home in Carthage, North Carolina; thirteen at an immigrant center in Binghamton, New York; three cops in Pittsburg, PA; five children by their father in Graham, WA; and countless others that did not make national headlines—are just business as usual here in the USofA or if the recent stresses have pushed us to some kind of collective breaking point?

I’m tending to the latter opinion. True, the NC and the WA murders are acts of domestic violence, committed by men who were acting out their frustration with their wives, which occurs with depressing frequency. And it’s not unusual for men in fear of their government to act out against the police, which is what happened in CA and PA. Even the staging of the PA murders is precedented. But the attack on the immigrant center seems especially ominous because the perpetrator did not act out against people with actual power, like the police, or people with perceived power, like a wife, but against people whose situations were remarkably similar to his.

I am particularly struck by the fact that he barricaded his victims in the building before attacking them. I imagine that he himself was feeling trapped and obviously, quite desperate. In psychoanalytic parlance, he made the passive active.

Actually, as I think about it, three of these murders play out some feeling of entrapment: Robert Stewart shot people confined to their wheel chairs and Richard Poplawski barricaded himself in his house.

I don’t think that this could possibly be a uniquely American phenomenon. But it is happening right now in America.

What I fear is that we are just on the beginning of massive violence as more and more Americans feel the walls closing in—as the jobs evaporate and their houses are repossessed and their marriages disintegrate in the face of social and economic stresses.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Iowa Rocks

I am so happy that Iowa is the third state to legalize gay marriage. Margaret, a daughter of Iowa and singer of praise for all things Iowan, never doubted the outcome. I was skeptical.

Now our marriage is recognized in five states (I think I'm counting right: Iowa, Massachusetts, Connecticutt, Rhode Island and New York) and at least as many countries. Let's hope the California Supreme Court shows as much judicial wisdom Iowa's. 

Go Iowa!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Money for Nothing, Kicks for Free

I’ve been reading the very interesting NY Times series about Workers’ Compensation in the state of New York. The general consensus is that the system is broken, but nobody can agree on how to fix it. My sense is that Workers' Compensation is not the problem. Rather, a widespread dislike of and scorn for workers is the problem. Consider, for example, how readily the courts and insurance companies and business owners and doctors assign blame to the injured workers themselves, who are widely perceived as wanting to get their money for free. One doctor was quoted as saying that 75% of the people on Workers’ Comp didn’t deserve it.

What’s really bizarre about this point of view is how many of those holding it profit from Workers’ Comp without doing much, if any, meaningful work. For instance, many of the fifteen Commissioners, whose job it is to review cases, work at home for a just a few hours a week. For this onerous task, they are paid $90,000 a year. At 10 hours a week, that comes out to about $180 per hour. Not bad when you consider that most are political appointees with no relevant experience in medicine or the law.

Even trained licensed professionals are in on the scam. One semi-retired doctor, hired to give independent medical assessments, performed as many as fifty examinations in a single afternoon. This means that he saw each patient for perhaps five minutes. He did not write down his findings. Rather, he ticked off boxes on a form and sent the form to an agency that turned his "findings" into a narrative which he then signed. He says he was paid about $100 per exam. That means that he was pulling in about $1,000 an hour. Of course his "work" was virtually useless. He cheerfully acknowledged that he couldn’t remember any detail of any case. And he admitted that he signed the narratives without reviewing them for accuracy as required by law. Apparently, he’d rather spend time with his wife.

I say his work was “virtually useless.” I’m guessing that it was extremely useful to the entity that paid for the exams, the insurance company, which used his “reports” as an excuse to deny claims and drag claimants through the courts sometimes for years.

Perhaps what is at work here (pun intended) is a psychological process called projection, in which an individual ascribes his or her own negative qualities to another person or group of people. If the reportage in these articles is correct, many of the people affiliated with the Workers’ Comp system in New York (and doubtless elsewhere), actively ascribe their own laziness, greed and dishonesty to the injured workers they are supposed to help.

I think that the dead give-away to this projection is the profound lack of compassion for, even hostility toward, the claimants, many of whom are suffering enormously, first because of their physical pain, second because of the emotional stress of being kicked around by the system, and third because of the social stress of not being able to work or have any money. One insurance company lawyer said that if he notices a claimant quietly sobbing in the courtroom, he automatically hires an investigator to follow him or her around, because he “knows” s/he is only trying to garner sympathy for a non-existent injury. And a doctor—a medical doctor—said that people should just go back to work in spite of their pain.

This scorn for workers seems to underlie the strategies that many employers have adopted to try to contain costs and discourage malfeasance. Some offer “bonus bucks” paid to all employees for a certain number of injury-free days. Other employers run a “bingo” game in which workers compete for a pot of money that grows with every injury-free day. According to one factory owner, the pots are large enough to be meaningful: up to $150. I think that's paltry. And I think that signifies scorn in a world that measures worth according to wealth.

By now, the solution to this mess should be obvious: long-term psychotherapy for everyone. Sure, it's not very practical, and it would take a long time. But wouldn't it be a healthier, happier world if the people with most of the money and most of the power owned up to their demons?

In the meantime, let's raise the minimum wage to something like $50 an hour. With no overtime and two weeks vacation, that comes out to about 100K a year, enough to elevate most Americans into the middle class. The opportunity to make that kind of money might even reduce the number of frivolous claims. Of course, to make such a massive wage increase mean something (and to avoid triggering inflation), we'd have to reduce wages and salaries everywhere else in the system. Let's start by capping executive compensation in all industries at about 250K and work our way down the ladder.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

What Those Executives Deserve

Here is a letter to the editor of the New York Times that responds to AIG executive Jake DeSantis's letter of resignation published ten or so days ago. The Times didn't pick it up. But you can read it here:

Regarding Jake DeSantis’s letter of resignation:

Mr DeSantis is confused.

He says he agreed to work for a salary of $1. But really, he agreed to work for $1M deferred compensation.

He “doesn’t disagree” that members of his profession have been overpaid, yet he insists that he’s “earned” most recent paycheck, not to mention the considerable wealth he's accumulated as an employee of AIG.

He says he was never paid for CDO trading, but discloses that he had substantial amounts of money invested in AGI-F.P. Clearly, he expected to and perhaps for a time did profit from that disastrous enterprise.

Personally, I think that Mr DeSantis and his cohorts (not simply in the banking “industry” but throughout corporate America) should learn to think of themselves as public servants. As such, they should all work for minimum wage with no benefits and expectation of any additional compensation, at least until a full and sustainable recovery has been secured.

If they are as good as they say they are, it shouldn’t take more than two or three years.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Capitalism's Shadow

I found this interesting little quote appended to the end of a BBC article about the Conficker worm, which so far has failed to generate the kinds of cyber-chaos predicted:

"Verisign, one of the guardians of the networked world, believe these bugs exist because the general level of security is just not high enough."

Apparently, a level of security sufficient to stop these hackers in their tracks would make it harder for consumers to do what we do: buy more stuff. And that would make it harder for businesses to do what they do: sell more stuff. 

It makes a kind of sense. You can't lock everything down. Imagine if every time you wanted to buy groceries you had to be buzzed into the store. And what if they kept all the food in those little boxes that lock? 

Of course, we're not talking about criminals who steal stuff, like food or computers or jewels. We're talking about criminals who have the PiN to everyone's bank account and the key to the safe deposit box. 

Uh oh. It almost sounds like I'm talking about the banks themselves. I don't mean to. But still, at the back of my mind, I can't help seeing criminals behind every legitimate  business transaction. In Jungian terms, the criminals are our shadows, the part of ourselves that we can't tolerate knowing about. Following those shadows leads to the conclusion that there is something innately corrupt about our financial transactions, about capitalism itself. 

Oh, go ahead. Put your fingers in your ears. Or better yet, point your fingers and drown those words out by chanting "communist" over and over, loudly. It won't change a thing. And that's the really big question, isn't it. Do we want a better world or do we want to go shopping?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Of Pyramid Schemes and Protection Rackets

Is the recent economic meltdown the result of a giant pyramid scheme, Bernie Madoff writ really really large? Did all the new money go to the earlier investors, and now the money's run out except for what the Feds are willing to print and hand over to the very same villains who designed the scheme?

Or maybe it's just a shill game. You know, somebody's got one pea or other small object and three opaque cup shaped objects. He puts the pea under one of the cups and shuffles them for twenty seconds or so and then you guess which shell the pea is under. It's a gambling game. You guess right, you double your money. Guess wrong, you lose your money. But guess what? You can't win because the player palms the pea and no matter how carefully you watch or which cup you choose, you lose.

I'm starting to think it's a protection racket. All those wealthy execs saying, you need us to run this show. Pay or we'll walk.

Whatever it is, it's clearly being run by criminals. Or at least that's the import behind this argument against trying to write new rules and rein some of the more reckless players in:

Wall Street wizards have proved adept at designing complex financial products to sidestep existing regulations. And Vincent Reinhart, former director of monetary affairs at the Federal Reserve, says, "You're going to see firms try to figure out how to be under the radar."

"Wizard" in this context means, "exceptionally successful criminal." "Complex financial products" means "pyramid scheme." And "under the radar' means "breaking the law."

Just in case these wise guys need an idea to get them going, Reinart supplies one:

For example, private equity investors might try to buy large hedge funds and chop them into funds that would be small enough to operate unregulated, Reinhart said.

Whatever happens, there's one thing you can be sure of: your cup's gonna turn up empty.

(To read the original story, click here)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Back in the Saddle

OK. I'm the world's worst letter writer and the world's worst blogger. The first trait I come by honestly. Everyone in my family knows how to write a letter, but no one does. The second trait I can't account for. Is it genetic? Here I am trying to overcome my genes.

I've been thinking a lot about the TV show "Big Love," which sounds really dorky--a soap opera-ish hour about a bunch of Mormon polygamists who one would imagine must be pretty boring. Or simply creepy--all those child brides being transported from one sealed compound to another. 

But this show does a good job of making Mormon polygamy seem, well, normal. Sure, the family has three moms and only one dad. But they're are all pretty likable, except wife number two, Nicki, who is kind of borderline, but only because her father, the Prophet, put her into one of the Joy Books when she was probably around fourteen and some old guy she didn't know found her there and married her, and she had a daughter she abandoned and never told anyone about including her husband, Bill and her sister wives. 

Bill pursues wealth like his salvation depended on it, which is its own kind of vice, and he tries really hard to make everyone happy. He even has to take Viagra to make everyone happy. It doesn't work, though, because when Nicky learns that he needs Viagra to even think about making her happy she gets really really unhappy. That fight gets displaced though by the fight over Nicky's birth control pills and that fight stops because of their eldest daughter's miscarriage which is really really bad because she isn't married. 

Whew! I guess when you take the usual forms of vice out of the picture, as the Mormons have tried to do, you have to make do with money and sex. Unless you live on one of the compounds, and then, according to this show, it's sex and murder, sex and child rape, sex and forced marriage, sex and forgery, sex and (for something completely different) gay sex. 

I really like it though that Bill decides to declare his family its own church and give everybody communion with pieces of Wonder Bread and water, under the stars by the swimming pool.