A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Season In Oz

Well, actually, not quite a season, more like a vacation. The Land of Oz is really rather like here, except for that Yellow Brick Road. It still has people in it like George W. Bush, Condoleeza Rice, Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean, Harry Reid, Tony Blair, Saddam Hussein, Jacques Chirac, Osama Bin Laden, Kofi Annan, and Arial Sharon. It's a little more narratively coherent than our world, a little easier to tell the Good from the Bad [though not from the Ugly], and the Munchkins have better vocal coaching and choreography.

There are two sets of characters traveling down the yellow brick road. For one of them, the Wicked Witch of the West is Condoleeza Rice. It's not very much fun hanging around with these people. Even their projective fantasies are dull. That's why they call themselves the "reality based community". When you go to a blog with a comment page full of these characters, it's like a Monday morning staff meeting. Borrrrrring!

I read these blogs for relevant news and quotations, but almost never for fun.

The second set of characters are far more entertaining. Instead of fancying themselves as the Wizard of Oz, chairing a committee meeting in the Emerald City, they are eager and willing to take up the personae of Dorothy (ruby slippers and all), Toto, Gilda The Good Witch of the North, The Tin Man, The Scarecrow, or The Cowardly Lion.

For all these fine folks Hillary Clinton is the Wicked Witch of the West. They are much more fun and I enjoy hanging out on their blog comment pages because they have such luridly colorful and comical delusions.

These friends of mine mostly see vast, overarching, conspiracies among major market newspapers, electronic networks, and magazines to rig all the news against their brand of politics. For newspeople are, of course, omniscient about good and evil, and biased to the side of evil, when they are not actively evil themselves.

You've got to give media people credit, though. They are the Winkies, with towering helmets, long coats, and big spears. As they march around the Witches Castle, they raise the chilling cry of "O--Ee--Yah! Eoh--Ah!"

The Winkies are very good at their evil trade. So good, in fact, that writing copy, editing videotape on the fly, meeting deadlines, and trying to shoehorn all the news into the newshole or the air time, requires so little effort that the bulk of their time can be devoted to collective conspiracy to knock the innocent wayfarers off of the yellow brick road.

Moreover the travelers on the yellow brick road think in terms of the Clash Of Civilizations, and see everywhere the evil winged monkeys, the hateful Islamofascists, who are the thralls of the Wicked Witch of the East, whom our cabin killed when it landed, and whose Ruby Slippers we confiscated.

Then some of the innocent travelers in Oz are cowering in the Catacombs, waiting in fear for the Liberal Legionaires of the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Stonewall Union, the Muslim American Society, and the National Press Club.

These stonehearted troopers will seize such good Christians and bring them before Emperor Bill Clinton [Diocletian has the week off.], and crucify them in the Coliseum, head downwards. Not to mention confiscating all their Christmas Trees and calling them Kwannza Bushes, or maybe Happy Holiday Conifers.

When above ground, you can spot these courageous Christian souls, stoically enduring their persecution, by the secret sign of the Fish on their auto bumpers and the secret sign of "W" on their auto rear windows.

For W means the great Wizard Of Oz Himself:

So what is the story of the Wizard of Oz?

From the first time his name is mentioned we know that the Wizard of Oz is a great and powerful wizard whose existence is shrouded in mystery. All the Munchkins bow deeply at the mention of his name when Glinda suggests that Dorothy will have to travel to the Emerald City to meet the Wizard of Oz in order to get back home.

When Dorothy and her friends finally get in to see the great and powerful Wizard of Oz, it is only to their dismay that they have to bring him the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West before he will grant them their wishes. After returning from that task, Toto unveils him to be nothing more than a flustered little man.

Despite this great disappointment, the Wizard of Oz still gives each of Dorothy's companions the virtues which they desire. He even agrees to take Dorothy back home to Kansas in his hot air balloon. But, when it gets launched without Dorothy in the basket, Dorothy screams for him to come back, and the Wizard of Oz shouts, "I can't come back! I don't know how it works!"

As I say, I vacation in Oz, and I enjoy my time among the [relatively] friendly natives. The only problem is that I have to return home, where the delusions need medication, survival requires a constant guerilla war with social service agencies, and you have to deal, up close and personal, with the decades long deterioration of American life, American dreams, and American hopes.

For this really is Kansas, not Oz, there is no yellow brick road, and nobody is the Wicked Witch of the East or the West. We are all merely fallible human beings, not demons in the form of winged monkeys. Even the worst of us. We are not aggregated into vast, overarching, implacable conspiracies to do this, that, or the other--even when, occasionally, we really do connive something or are collusively corrupt.

Here in Kansas, even your enemies can never quite match the lurid expectations you have of them, can never be found in quite the green make-up or with quite the supernormal powers of a winged Islamofascist or the Wicked Witch of the West. They can be dangerous enough, of course, as ordinary misguided human beings, and circumstances may easily force you to kill them in self-defense, or forestall them in many other unpleasant ways.

Our enemies are human, have families, have hopes, have fantasies, and, maybe, have faith, though maybe not the faith we have or not precisely the way we have it. Even when both they and we do have faith, we still all stand puzzled by the mystery of death.

So if they force us to kill or be killed [which they can easily do] we should kill with regret and not with hatred. For when we kill them, the blood on our hands will be our own blood, and not a drop of it will harbor any irredeemable evil, save what we bring to it with our own choices.

In Oz, you have no choices. You are merely who you are, and so are no longer human, but playing cards marked with Good or Evil, as you might be marked with Spades or Hearts.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Welcome Home Anchoress

The Anchoress has commenced her return to blogging, from illness, with a wonderful post on the Christian season of Advent, which started last Sunday. I would have liked to track back to it. Unfortunately she really is back, which means she can whip out three or four posts in the time it takes me simply to get to the grocery store and back.

Advent, so I am told, is supposed to be a time of austerity, fasting, prayer, and reflection in anticipation of Christ's coming. I'm sure it will be so for the Anchoress and I hope she is able to savor the delicate sweetness of heart which such things bring. She has already written on advent wreaths, the Merry Christmas wars, and how the perception of Divine Love can be lost with too great an addiction to anything, even blogging.

So welcome back, Anchoress. May St. Francis Xavier, whose day is this Saturday intercede for you that you may carry the inner results of this Advent with you to the end of all journeys.

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Monday, November 28, 2005

The Story of a Tulku

Most everybody has heard of tulkus, or lamas who have achieved sufficient insight to control their own rebirths. When reborn, they are found, recognized, and reunited with their former students or teachers.

One of my most intimate Buddhist teachers is just such a lama--The Venerable Bardor Tulku Rinpoche. I have stated on this blog that when you meet a tulku in person, even if you don't believe in rebirth, it is very likely that they will strike you as an uncommon individual. But, up to now, my readers have simply had to take my word for this.

Tulkus, or accomplished lamas in general, very rarely talk about their own personal story. To them it is beside the point. Their life is their work, practicing the Dharma and teaching it to others. The mere circumstantial details of what happened to them are simply irrelevant. But Bardor Tulku has a story that is more than this. It is a window into precisely what I mean when I say a tulku is almost always a striking and unusual individual to everyone whom he meets.

If you read this story and reflect on it, you will understand what I mean and why my relationship with Bardor Tulku Rinpoche is one of the most precious things in my life.

By the way, the elaborate hat Rinpoche is wearing on his head in the picture below is known as the Gampopa hat. Gampopa was the great Tibetan medical doctor, monk, and enlightened teacher who integrated the Kagyudpa teachings of our lineage into the tradition of Buddhist monasticism. He had his own particular style of formal hat in which he taught the Dharma, and my teachers preserve the tradition of teaching while wearing it, particularly for more formal occasions.

Prior to Gampopa, most of the realized Kagyu teachers had been laypersons and yogis rather than monks. Gampopa's best student, named Dusum Khyenpa, became known as the Karmapa, and it is the Sixteenth Karmapa Tulku that Rinpoche refers to below. Rinpoche himself is the Third Bardor Tulku.

When I was between nine and ten years of age, both my parents, my brothers and sisters, my whole family, our teachers and servants – there were thirteen of us – died while we were fleeing and struggling to reach India. I was the only member who survived. I had just turned nine. You are informed about the historical situation of Tibet, so I will not speak about it. In India, I wandered around and stayed in so many different places for a few years. But due to my family connection, I knew that His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa was there also.

My family connection to His Holiness dates back 200 years, almost to the times when America was founded. Many members of my family had served to establish Surmang Monastery in East Tibet and contributed significantly to its historical value for many generations. This is the reason why His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa had had a very deep connection with us. He referred to my family as far as eleven generations back.

Not knowledgeable in the Hindi language, I really did not know what would happen to me at the age of nine, all alone in India. It was a very different environment, but confident that His Holiness was there, somewhere, I did not lose hope and told myself, “If I can get there then I’ll be okay, I’ll be fine. Even though I lost my family, possessions and home, if I get there I’ll be fine.” That is what I thought, and so just trying to get there was all that was left for me. There were so many interesting experiences on the way.

The Indian border with Tibet is very high, and the military authority there was either a general or captain. In any case, he was one of the highest officers in that area then. The inhabitants of the border are called Gyakar Khampas. They are Tibetan people who have been living in India for quite some time, have taken on Indian citizenship and live according to the Indian customs. They serve in the military and reach a high position.

The officer who stationed at the border, which I had to cross, really liked me and kept telling me, “You are too young to look for His Holiness the Karmapa, whoever he is. India is not a small country. India is huge. You don’t even have an address to go to; you don’t even know where to go, or where His Holiness is now, so how are you going to find him? There is not much hope for you.”

The officer continued, “Instead, you should become an Indian citizen. I can help you. I can talk with government administrators in India. I will take you to New Delhi, introduce you to government officials there, and they will send you to school. You can study and receive education. Once you have a very good education, you can work for the Indian government.” The friendly officer told me again, “This is not a small country. India is huge. If you have a good education, then you will be encouraged to make a good living.”

That’s what he said to me, giving instructions. And it was so true. To a boy who had arrived in a huge country between the age of nine and ten, and lost his destination, the officer's suggestion seemed like the only alternative. But deep inside my heart I knew that his advice did not coincide with the connection my family had with the Karma Kagyu lineage for so many generations, for more than 200 years. Not only that, scores of uncles, aunts and cousins had given their lives for the Karma Kagyu lineage – the Sixteenth Karmapa mentioned more than forty, even fifty people from my family, who had died for this lineage.

Specifically, His Holiness was speaking of my famous uncle, Chadzö Drolha, whom he personally appointed to unite the Tsewatsang and Lingpatsang Monasteries (which divided the district of Surmang into two communities) under the auspicious guidance of the Surmang Monastery. When the communists were subduing large portions of the Surmang district, my family was in Kongpo and my uncle's family had just gone to Tsurphu to see His Holiness the Karmapa.

Because of the communist invasion, my father sent a message to my uncle and his family asking them not to return home from Tsurphu, but to come to Kongpo instead and stay with us. The exact message was, “We do not have much, but enough. We can all survive together. So please, instead of returning home, come here.” My uncle and his family agreed to do as instructed after having completed his pilgrimage.

However His Holiness the Karmapa advised them to go to Surmang and help at the monastery there. The Karmapa is our root teacher, so my relatives did as he said and they had no regrets. They helped at the monastery in Surmang and most of those who stayed died while helping there. This is why my family connection to His Holiness is very strong.

The second incarnation of the Bardor Tulkus, my predecessor, also worked for the Sixteenth Karmapa. At the age of sixteen, the former Karmapa went to Palpung Monastery and received the full ordination from Tai Situ Pema Wangchuk Gyalpo; the Second Bardor Tulku received these ordinations together with the Sixteenth Karmapa, so they have a strong bond that links them closely. Instead of returning to his monastery, he went to Tsurphu, served His Holiness for a long time, while his monastery deteriorated in his absence. Requests poured in that Bardor Tulku return to his monastery until the day he passed away.

The Second Bardor Tulku served the Sixteenth Karmapa very often and in many different ways. And so do I. At the age of fifty-six, I am still in the service of His Holiness by being in America. It has been twenty-seven years now.

You see how strong a connection my family has had with His Holiness. He instructed my relatives to stay in Tibet and they all died. It was difficult for me to accept the death of all my family members there. I realized that they were in need of a spiritual direction, that the instructions denoted requesting His Holiness to please pray for them – it would be the least I could do. The fact that I was alive carried a meaning and I could not just disappear somewhere in India on my own.

The officer at the border and I argued every night and fought an interesting battle when I was nine. I argued, “No, I’m not going to do what you suggest. I want to go to His Holiness. I want to meet His Holiness. I am going to tell him all the stories, what happened to my family, what happened to my relatives in Tibet and who passed away. I will not rest until then. After I accomplish that, then nothing really matters, I can do anything.”

He kept insisting, “No, you’re too young to go there. How will you get there? What is the address? Who really knows where he is?” The officer and I argued like that for two or three nights. Eventually he saw that, even though I was really, really young, my stubbornness would not stop me and he said, “If that is the case, I will appoint two military men to take you to where you want to go. They will look after you.”

I had a friend and we went together. He was a very interesting friend, and we had been friends for a long time. We met again after a long time at the border. I had by then turned ten, he was eleven, and so we went together. Thanks to help of that officer… I don’t really know what rank he was. I was too young to understand the situation, but he was the highest officer in the camp. He sent for two people who took us all the way to Bomdella – we were both in really safe hands.

But the very same night we arrived, China and India started to fight; they kept bombing us, and we had to run again. We ran all night and finally, somehow, after a few days we ended up in Siliguri. The many Tibetans who had made their way to Siliguri wanted to go to Tsopema, the Lotus Lake where the Second Buddha, Guru Rinpoche, was burned in fire but miraculously survived.

The Tibetan refugees wanted to visit many different places. Actually, I and my friend were the only ones who wanted to go to Darjeeling, which is not far from Sikkim, and we were determined to go there. We kept repeating, “We don’t want to go to Tsopema. We want to go to Darjeeling.”

Somebody at the border had a sister in Darjeeling, so he gave us her address. After we got to Darjeeling, His Holiness heard that I was there and sent somebody to pick me up. I had now turned twelve, and I finally was able to fulfill my wish, requesting that His Holiness pray for my family and relatives.

I have been with him ever since. Instead of achieving a high position in India, I was able to return to the lineage, can work for and serve the lineage. That is what happened. Everybody has their goal, and keeping that goal in the heart is very, very important.

Think of yourself as only nine years old, with no family and no friends, trying to escape from terror and death over the highest mountains in the world. Consider how far you would get under the circumstances. You will then understand why tulkus are such extraordinary individuals.

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Very Last Post On Conservative News Bashing, I Promise

I solemnly promise it. Both you and I are getting a little punchy with this foolishness.

First there was the conspiracy that wasn't, a rumor started by Pajamas Media about the purported failure of the Mainstream Media to cover a massive anti-terrorist protest, supposedly staged by 200,000+ people, in Amman, Jordan.

Then there was the infamous one-seventh of a second that a black X accidentally appeared in front of Dick Cheney's face on CNN. Nothing is more indicative of the hyperacusis of attention and the hysterical thinness of skin of conservative media vigilantes than the mountain that was made out of this molehill.

Now there is the firestorm over the Iraqi car bombing on Thanksgiving Day. That heinous and dirty liberal rag the New York Times, failed to report the fact that U.S. soldiers happened to be giving out candy to Iraqi children when the bomb exploded.

I kid you not. These people went ballistic over this.

Here is a sample from them:

Here's a hypothetical question for the "anti-war" readers of this site. Suppose you have a terrorist in your custody. He tells you a similar attack is planned for tomorrow, but refuses to divulge additional information. Would you:

A. Bush lied!

B. Fire Cheney!!

C. The US used white phosphorus in Fallujah!!!

D. How dare you question my patriotism!?!!!

Write your answer on a 3x5 card and send it to someone who gives a damn. The rest of us have a war to fight.

I really wonder how long indignation will sustain the efforts of people like this to micromanage the news business over trifles. If they don't like the filter, they should find one they do like. If they can't find one, they should read the wire reports directly. I do. And if the wire reports fail to satisfy them, they should hop on a plane and go cover it themselves.

I myself prefer macromanagement. If a news source does not cover what I want to know, I find another one that does. But I can see why my micromanaging friends would not like it--they would then have to confront the implications of the news rather than heaping vituperation on the news source. And the implications of the news are not very reassuring.

If you look at the bombings, all the bombings, together, you have to actually confront the question of whether what we are doing in Iraq is working. It isn't.

It is both much more entertaining [and less disturbing] to get all in a huff about whether a major newspaper actually reported the GI candy distribution.

The most compelling thing about the stories of car bombings, when looked at globally, is the fact that the car bombings haven't stopped. They haven't even slowed down. There was a new one in the news the morning following the candy incident.

After years of tooling around destroying cities [Baghdad with Shock and Awe bombs, Fallujah with white phosphorous, ect. ect.] and ruining the lives of all the people who live in them and not just "the terrorists", the bombings haven't even slowed down.

Now a reflective man might think that if you destroy the lives of whole cities worth of people, who weren't your enemies before, they might just become your enemies, then. An occasional Hershey Bar distribution is not going to materially change this.

Nor, say, is Cindy Sheehan camping out in Crawford, Texas.

Nor is the coverage of news, whether or not it puts our troops "in a good light" or "in a bad light". It is a matter far beyond fiddling with the lights.

We have just enough troops in Iraq to maintain a stalemate with the insurgency and nowhere near enough troops to suppress it. We are also frilling away the military readiness of our volunteer forces by making them do a job they were never organized or manned enough to do: military occupation.

Senator Joe Biden has put his finger on the problem:

"That is because we cannot sustain 150,000 Americans in Iraq without extending deployment times, sending soldiers on fourth and fifth tours, or mobilizing the National Guard."

Both John McCain and John Murtha have made sensible suggestions about this: either finally send in enough troops to actually occupy Iraq, rather than merely visiting it to distribute some ordinance or some candy bars, or withdraw the troops and put them to work doing something more productive.

Unfortunately, both of those suggestions come with long term costs that we may not like and are not willing to face. It's much better, really, to pretend that these alternatives aren't there, that all us roughshod patriots of the 101st Fighting Keyboardists "have a war to fight".

Except, of course, our Dick Cheneys of the future who still have "other priorities".

They have a war to fight, all right, but it's a war with the Copy Editor of the New York Times over a few pieces of candy.

We have turned Iraq into a fancy new live fire and bomb construction training ground.

It is a training ground which we have created by kiting out 150,000 easy targets and leaving the borders of Iraq so porous that explosives and non-Iraqi fighters (who need the practice so they can go to places like London or Amman or maybe even here) can come in by the truckload.

The two alternatives above, Murtha's or McCain's, are about the only way I can see to stop this. And, frankly, I'm actually much more inclined to look at the McCain solution than people might think. I notice also that my good conservative friends don't touch on the McCain solution at all, for all their anti-terrorist ferocity.

This is what comes from refusing to open your eyes to the problem.

I don't see any of the media warriors on the net making any serious effort to even address the issue, which is perfectly plain to anyone with eyes if you stop reading the newspaper to castigate its bias and start reading it for the news.

Then, of course, there is the problem of our own borders to consider, which also leak like a sieve. Why is this such a big deal? Consider the number of hazardous chemical plants which are upwind from major American cities and have no serious security around them at all.

A chemical cloud released by an Oklahoma City sized Ryder Truck bomb would kill thousands.

Of course, the lobbyists for the chemical industry think this is just fine, so apparently our Republican government does also. I don't. And the 101st Fighting Keyboardists haven't even thought about it at all.

How do we secure our incredibly long borders? The same way you deal with things like Hurricane Katrina--with the state National Guards. Oh, oops! They're busy helping to hone bomb making skills in Baghdad. Sorry.

And, of course, the people who are scheming and planning new outrages are actually in places like Saudi, Iran, eastern Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia and so on.

There's a whole band of places they might be that stretches from Morocco to the Philippines. Not to mention possible pockets and havens in Europe. How do we deal with them? Well certainly not by tooling around in Iraq in humvees, waiting for the next car bomb to explode. You need spooks, and plenty of them, and you need a spookhouse that is in good repair.

If the media warriors read the news, instead of the newspaper, they would see it is perfectly plain that our own spookhouse is in devastating disarray. The mistakes the spooks made prior to 9/11 have not been addressed in any significant way, and are actually being covered up in such cases as the Able Danger affair, which you can find out about by reading the news instead of the newspaper. Or watching the news, instead of watching the Cable News Network.

Anyone interested can track down the story in Lou Dobbs' transcripts.

Moreover, the morale of the people doing the work in the spookhouse has been completely undermined by the very clear standard that if the policymakers don't like the message you bring, even if it is true, they are likely to destroy your career as a messenger. This is the most devastating long term result of the Plame Affair.

This is the sort of thing you can read about in the news. This is the sort of thing that is actually material to "fighting terrorism". And this is the sort of thing you almost never see on the webpages or the comments of the 101st Fighting Keyboardists.

It's a real shame. The web is so great an opportunity to air out the relevant public issues and actually digest the meaning of the news that we all lose out with these distractions of how this paper or that paper covers a story.

John Cole of Balloon Juice, whom I respect a lot, covered the "candy war" quite sensibly, from a Conservative perspective rather than a wingnut one. [The two are different.] In the course of the discussion, it was pointed out that when the answers of the general public are compared to the News Media with questions such as Efforts to Establish a Stable Democracy in Iraq will succeed/fail? the discrepancy between appears horrendous, and probably due to the political bias by newspeople.

In this case,while 56 percent of the public believes efforts to establish a stable democracy in Iraq will succeed, 63 percent of the News Media think it will fail. When connected to the incidents [such as candy reporting] that so exacerbate the BigDealitis of the media warriors, the case for a liberally biased media appears patent and obvious.

But if you go back to the actual Pew Survey, you find that News Media are only one of eight categories of "opinion leaders" surveyed:

News Media, Foreign Affairs, Security, State/Local Government, Academic/Think Tank, Religious Leaders, Scientists/Engineers, and Military.

I hardly think that the people in all of these categories have a self-evident "liberal bias", though perhaps the 101st Fighting Keyboardists would disagree.

What is characteristic about the groups chosen is that they all can be expected to be more knowledgeable about broad public issues than the general public itself, and a majority of them will be more knowledgeable about any given public question asked.

When asked: Efforts to Establish a Stable Democracy in Iraq will succeed/fail? the opinion leaders, every last one of them, except the Military, are significantly more pessimistic than the general public, with by far the highest degree of pessimism among Scientists/Engineers (84%) followed by Foreign Affairs & Academic/Think Tank (71%) Security (70%) and News Media coming in a paltry fifth (63%) in degree of pessimism.

Moreover in only two categories, Military and State/Local Government, are a majority of the opinion leaders optimistic about Iraq's democracy prospects. But even then, the State/Local Government category is significantly less optimistic, by 5%, than the overall public score.

Finally, and most tellingly, only the Military category is more optimistic than the general public, and this by a full 8%!

This would prompt me to ask, what separate planet are the Military personnel surveyed living on? And it makes me nervous that the actual success or failure of Iraq's democracy depends so much on our Armed Forces.

For I can see no other realistic interpretation of these figures than this: the more you actually know about public affairs, the less confident you are that Iraq will succeed. Unless of course, you happen to wear a uniform, which apparently functions as intellectual insulation.

Now, of course, there is a school of thought which consistently equates knowledge itself with "liberal bias" and perhaps the media warriors will hole up there like Osama Bin Laden in Tora Bora.

But we don't have to hole up with them.

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But Keep Your Tongue Firmly In Your Cheek

Things have just gone too far! Dissent has stepped over the line into treason! We must stop it!

First there was Cindy Sheehan, then John Murtha, and now this! We know there are too many open sympathizers of these scoundrely renegades in certain states, all too willing to treat the wanted fugitives to an extra large latte and slip them a little cash when they happen upon them.

We can even guess where the dastardly duo might be holed up. An Underground Railroad already exist in the pockets of the country where NONE DARE CALL THIS TREASON, passing them along from house to house, tucked away in secret rooms--trapdoors under the dining room table, false walls in closets, secret compartments inside CPU boxes next to the Motherboard. But be put on notice, sympathizers of renegades, WE KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE!

The resistance to the ROVE act has been flagrant in these places, where the security and safety of this great land has been constantly undermined by calls for "liberty and justice for all", "due process of law", "equal protection of the law", "respect for facts and science", and "government in the Public Interest".

Are they satisfied? They have brought us down to THIS:

A heinous example of disrespect and lese majeste. But it goes even further than this. In certain of these foul pockets there is an open defiance of public safety, public order, the legitimate predation of the poor, and the necessary impoverishment of the middle class which has made this country great since the permanent election of Reagan, Bush, Bush, & Co. a quarter of a century ago.

And THIS is what these degenerates have stooped to:

Can anything be more corrupt? A "red white and blue" alert instead of an Amber alert? What will they not perpetuate? This is a deliberate mockery of the patriotic "ordinary American" who makes this country great--as well as the news, radio, and entertainment that he chooses to lighten his cares.

All right thinking people must band together to apprehend these perpetrators and those who would harbor them. If there is a Starbuck's Coffee Shop in your neighborhood, monitor it carefully. Watch who goes in and who comes out. If you see anything suspicious in your local public library, report it immediately, so action can be taken under the Patriot Act. Set up block watches to keep track of things like art gallery wine-and-cheese openings, expensive craft fairs, public University lectures, and local bed-and-breakfasts.

Be Alert! Your country needs you! Now!

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Friday, November 25, 2005

Delicious Thanksgiving Banter...

Between myself and Alexandra of All Things Beautiful. The mini-fracas over the accidental appearance on CNN of an X on the face of Dick Cheney, for what I understand was only a few milliseconds, gave Alexandra enough mileage for two whole long posts--dark and angry meditations on the corruption of the Mainstream Media, with appropriate comments appended by her outraged and disenfranchised readers.

Of course I had to join the fun:

Well, I guess X marks the spot where Doofus New News stands with a lot of egg on it's face. Since DNN's most durable face is that of Wolf Blitzer, all I can say is, on him it looks good.

I doubt very seriously that it was deliberate. Even if you do have a "liberal bias" [Which I certainly do, whether CNN does or not.], there is absolutely no need to do such silly things to deliberately undermine American trust in Republican Presidents, Republican Vice-Presidents, Republican legislators, and Republican Supreme Court nominees.

They have done it so well to themselves over the past few months that we Liberals can just coast for a while and start planning for the 2006 elections. And, as the Abramoff scandal starts to snowball and gather up many prominent Republican politicians, we will have even less work to do.

Haven't heard of the Abramoff scandal, you say? Well, you will. If you'd like a sneak preview from a trustworthy Conservative source, go check out Tim F. on Balloon Juice.

I must say, however, that cancellations associated with egg on the face seem to be the fashion these days. I sincerely mourn the fact that your Open Source Media logo had to suffer such indignity. It was really quite nice and it will be a shame to see it disappear.

I presume it will disappear. I hope Simon, Johnson, & Co. are not so goofy as to wear the fresh egg on their faces indefinitely as some sort of Red Badge of Courage. Or even to wear it on their Pajamas. After all, they're going to have to start selling a lot advertising soon, and that cancelled logo will not be a strong sales talking point.

Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving, and, if you'll take some gratuitous advice, relax and enjoy the fact that not all who make turkeys of themselves will appear on your dining room table. Some will be on the web and some will be on the tube.

Alexandra is a good egg. And its been a pleasure to find her through hanging around with The Anchoress:

I am not going to rise to the occasion Jo, and take the bait, it's Thanksgiving and I would like to say: Thank you for stopping by and hope you have a nice Thanksgiving Day.

I am just busy writing a post called 'Loyalty To The Truth On Thanksgiving', so if you are free after you have had your fill of our deliciously tasty Republican meat, pop back over and join. Don't bring your carving knife from the table though, let's have a day off from bashing against each other's heads. I have a headache from doing that with others all day yesterday. LOL!

Her post did, in fact, prove to be quite interesting. It was an appreciation of the best of her blogging cohorts on the anti-progressive side of the fence. I do not mean that word "anti-progressive" perjoratively. It is becoming harder and harder to tell who is a real "conservative" and what conservatism really means. Friedrich Nietzsche speaks of the "transvaluation of all values" where everything we thought we believed in becomes it's opposite. I don't think we've quite had this yet in America, but since 9/11/01 the values of most of us have been added to, and converted into, a skillet breakfast.

When I look at bloggers like Alexandra, what I see that she has in common with those bloggers whom she lists and highly respects are a set of antipathies rather than a clear set of common premises. From a fair amount of time reading the people with whom I disagree, I'm not very sure I know, collectively, what they like, but I'm perfectly certain that I know what they dislike.

So, for once, having someone like Alexandra looking elsewhere than her adversaries and reflecting on her principles:

The loyalty and integrity we should have as bloggers is to the Truth and liberation of that Truth, and not to the Truth we assign to the political denominations we belong to. And above all to the good old fashioned family values of integrity and loyalty to that Truth which we celebrate at Thanksgiving.

I took advantage of the situation to look a little deeper into what I found in that reflection and in that mind and voice of a fellow American whom I already like, and with whom I completely disagree:

Well, Alexandra, thanks for inviting me over. Your post does not disappoint. I know some, but not all of the bloggers, and, since my blogging hiatus of four months has left my blogroll in massive disrepair, such a cogent list of the "pursuers of Truth" is very welcome.

As you probably have guessed, I like to hang out with the people who disagree with me. You get your knife sharpest on the hardest stone. And I like posts such as this best, where I get to see in a little more detail what makes them tick.

Partisanship gets everybody a little shrill and ragged, and I like to see my adversaries more relaxed and reflective because I am less interested in "winning the battle" than I am in savoring the differences. Not that I'm uninterested in winning the battle, of course, just less.

The differences are fascinating, like slowly rolling the kaleidoscope. If I were to summarize them in a non-partisan way, I would say that my adversaries, as Americans, have in the back of their mind the image of America you get from the Declaration of Independence: self-evident Truths in the absolute, Liberty in the absolute, sovereignty of the People in the absolute. All in capital letters. And all with the memory of people under the yoke of tyranny.

When I look into my own mind what I see is the Preamble to the Constitution: liberty balanced by justice, sovereignty controlled by law, and truth evaluated by skeptical reason. All of these in lower case.

And all of these summarized by the two greatest phrases of philosophical politics which have proved to be two of the greatest and most durable pieces of practical politics: Due Process of Law, Equal Protection of the Laws. And these most definitely in capital letters. All with due consideration of the history of vigilance committees, public tar-and-featherings, lynching, strikebreaking, and Jim Crow.

So I will strive to keep firmly fixed in my mind that behind all disputation in you is that fiery young redhead, scratching the parchment with his quill pen dipped in iron ink, outlining his vision of the Death of Tyranny. How could one not be generous to a vision like that?

And perhaps you can keep in mind that behind all disputation in me is that committee of grave and mature men, striving to speak for the People as a whole, trying to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity, and desiring to form a more perfect union.

Is that a deal, or what?

And Alexandra is very good with the badmitton of blog commentary, as good as anyone else I know, and certainly, this time, gave me more credit than I probably deserve:

Jo, Thank you for taking the trouble to write your comment, wow some great pearls of wisdom and insights there, and yes that's a deal! I will however synchronize the genders in your redhead comment, shall I...LOL? Happy Thanksgiving!

That she pursues the Truth, with a capital t, is a tribute to the goodness of her heart.

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Thankful Way

What have I to be thankful for? If you have read me occasionally, you know that my outer life is a struggle. You also know that my inner life is a large construction project, as it is for any Buddhist, and, particularly, one who has taken the Bodhisattva Vow. For with that Vow it is not just the construction of a snug little haven of a house, it is an infinite subdivision of snug little havens for all sentient beings.

So what I am thankful for, first and foremost, is the maturation of the karmic opportunity to take that vow, or perhaps to re-take it, in this life and to get the construction project going. Because I have been indolent for these twenty years and have not accomplished as much as I could of on the subdivision, I am thankful that I have found the "profound skillful means" that my Tibetan teachers have preserved for over a thousand years. For even with my indolence, I have grown steadily in confidence about the clarity, sanity, and effectiveness of walking the Buddhist path.

I said "confidence" and not "faith". I have made this distinction before but I especially want to stress it here. Nothing in Buddhism is to be accepted without questioning. Nothing. This is what is known as "contemplating the Dharma". Everything you are taught is, sooner or later, to be weighed, tested, and experienced directly. There are no mysteries which you must believe in despite your reason and despite your experience. Now, of course, to some degree, there are parts of the Dharma that you must be patient and wait to experience, just as there are parts of middle-age and old age that the young must wait for maturity or dotage to know directly.

These parts of the Dharma you must take on trust. Once again "trust", not "faith". Trust is provisional, faith is absolute. So the next thing to be thankful for is being truly able to extend such trust to things like karma and rebirth, since, as an ordinary person, I can only have direct glimpses of them occasionally.

I trust what my teachers tell me that I can't yet test, because everything they've told me that I can test, has proved to be unfailingly true. They taught me about how my mind works, how anybody's mind works, when you look at it from the vantage point of actually having a mind, rather than the vantage point of trying to look at the activity in someone's else's brain. These two vantage points are not intermeasurable or interchangeable, any more than the sense of sight is interchangeable or intermeasurable with the sense of hearing.

I have tested what they said about how my mind works, by looking at it while it is working, in the process known as meditation. What they have told me has been unfailingly true. My mind does work that way and I can watch it doing so.

My teachers also taught me about the limits of both reason and skepticism. They taught me that reason is only provisional, that when you apply reason to reason itself, thoroughly and consistently, the overstated claims of reason disappear as swiftly as the last snow in Spring.

If you would like the matter put in the terms of European philosophy and intellect, they have taught me that all predication--saying things are some specific "this way" or some specific "that way"--leads to either logical contradiction or infinite regress.

Ludwig Wittgenstein started with "The world is all that is the case." Nagarjuna, the source of the Buddhist philosophical analysis that I've been taught shows unquestionably and finally that nothing whatever can possibly "be the case".

My teachers have taught me, as well, that intellectual skepticism is also only provisional, because after you have obliterated the claim of reason to do what it cannot really do, you still have to deal with doing the dishes. And you cannot accomplish this only with the absolutely true assertion that the dishes are not really there.

The skillful means of Buddhism not only consist of the experiential power of meditation, and the rational power of skeptical Middle Way reasoning, they also have the emotional power of what is called the "fruition". This is best expressed for non-Buddhists in an aphorism:

If someone blesses you, and you think of them as a Buddha, you receive a Buddha's blessing. If you think of them as a Bodhisattva, you receive a Bodhisattva's blessing. And if you think of them as an ordinary person, you receive an ordinary person's blessing.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the world. There is everything wrong with our perception of it. To "become enlightened", to be a "Buddha", merely means to wake up and finally see for yourself that the world actually is perfect. Anyone you meet actually is a Buddha, but they can't see it directly, you can't see it directly, and we all have to deal with everybody's misperception of the matter.

Of course, I haven't done this, I haven't become enlightened. But my teachers have taught me that if you merely think of the world as perfect, and of every being as a buddha, even though you can't directly perceive the ultimate perfection of the world, you clear up an incredible amount of your misperception of things, and you clear it up very, very quickly. It is like using a snowblower instead of shoveling the driveway with a trowel.

By looking at the world that way and following the traditional instructions of my teachers about how to do it, I have unequivocally cleared up a considerable amount of my confusion about all sorts of things. This truly has happened, just like they said. So I trust them when they tell me that I can continue to do this in this life, and in future lives, until I finally do become a Buddha, even though that hasn't happened yet. I can see the process working directly and I can see that, when the process is complete, it is impossible not to be enlightened, and it is impossible not to work to help others to do it too.

And I am very thankful for that. It is the only thing that ultimately has any real value or meaning.

I have good things in my material life, though fewer than formerly. I have opportunities in the world that I can still pursue, though fewer than when young. I have a fair degree of health, though not nearly as much as in the past. And I have life itself, though this unravels with every rotation of the second hand on the clock. I can be thankful for all of these on this day and at this moment.

But I have seen material goods, fancy opportunities, physical and mental health, and life itself either evaporate like a mud puddle, or smash to porcelain shards in an instant. None of them are anything more than the beautiful flower petals which once graced the opening rose, and now are scattered on the grass.

The fact that I have abandoned illusion about the permanence of these things is the greatest gift my teachers have given me. They told me not to put my trust in mere things. I have tested this wisdom and it is unequivocally true.

They also told me where to put my trust, in the Dharma. I did so, and now I hold the Wish Fulfilling Gem.

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A Classic Case of Detachment From Reality

The foolishness started over on Open Source Media. Not that anyone will be taking Open Source Media very seriously for a while. Immediately after their "grand opening"--with immense fanfare about how citizen journalism, spearheaded by blogs with sharp noses for facts, will keep the "Mainstream Media" honest--OSM was forced to resume its former name of Pajamas Media. It seems that the hearty citizen journalists of the new, well capitalized, venture, hadn't bothered to check to see if someone else was using the name on the web. They were.

My heart goes out to Alexandra over at All Things Beautiful. Word on the street is that she was the designer of the very spiffy OSM logo that currently sits, with a big cancellation mark on it, atop the spiffy new webpage. I just went over to offer her my condolences. I had this to say about her excellent post on the exuberance of the OSM kickoff:

I hope they spend the venture capital wisely and make OSM into a site that I will be both flattered and proud to disagree with completely.

I still do hope this, but it seems a rather pallid hope at the moment.

Be that as it may, I want to call to your attention a classic case of the Conservative Blogosphere's detachment from reality. It's not very big thing, really. But it does indicate how totally insular, circular, and completely self-isolated from common facts all my fine wingnut friends have gotten now that the bloom has come off the Bush Administration.

It occurred last Saturday immediately after the big OSM party and OSM started the whole thing. There was a news story the Friday before, widely covered, on Al Zaquawi's audiotape on the Internet threatening the King of Jordan. In that story was a sidebar about a Jordanian anti-Zaquawi protest called March Of The Nation, in Amman. Keep that name in mind for later.

The Washington Times, as you might expect, flipped the story to feature the "anti-terrorist" protest and treat Zaquawi and the King of Jordan as the sidebar. Then the fun began. OSM read it, and came to the conclusion that the "MSM" were not even covering the protest despite the supposed number of demonstrators being an extraordinary 200,000+. Well, of course, it was immediately picked up by Astute Blogger, Roger L. Simon, Sister Toldjah, Desert Rat Ramblings, and Little Green Footballs. As well as Mark Steyn in the Daily Telegraph across the pond in Albion's fair isle.

The Anchoress, as always, put the case against the MSM the most elegantly and vividly in one of her wonderful, more-pity-than-anger, posts:

If 200,000 people had gathered to call out President Bush, it would have been news all over the world - the pictures would have been everywhere - the story would have lived for days. Hell, this summer 2 to 3,000 gathered in Washington for a Bush hate-fest and it got all day coverage on C-span.

But if 200,000 Arabs take to the streets to call out a chief terrorist it gets no coverage, it is not a story, and there are no pictures.

Think about that for a second. 200,000 Arabs protesting against a terrorist. It is unprecedented. You can always find a crowd protesting a president or a prime minister, but the Arab street rises up against a terrorist and terrorism, and the coverage is nonexistent.

Now for the facts. The Washington Times featured this story in their World coverage. There were no pictures in the coverage. The WT credits the story as being "from dispatches". Their 200,000+ figure apparently came from Agence France-Presse, though I could not track it back, and I could find only one secondary source which offered the same information, an odd website by the name of ArabicNews.com. There is no About Us on the site to tell us just who the great people of ArabicNews are, but there is a notice that the site is for sale.

There were three other primary sources for the story: Associated Press; UPI; and Petra, the official Jordanian News Agency. The most widely distributed source was the AP story. It appeared in at least 75 separate newspapers across this country with little or no change, straight off the wire. There is a good reason for this. The AP story was the best written and had by far the most facts about the matter.

Drawing largely from the AP story, Fox News covered it, CNN covered it, MSNBC covered it in far more depth than anyone else, including the Washington Times. The cable websites don't have pictures, but I think we can safely assume there were some, particularly on MSNBC.

In addition to this, you can find the story covered strongly on ABC.com and also covered on CBS.com.

Moreover, it was covered in the New York Times in the International section, exactly the same location and degree of newsplay as the Washington Times. Not only that, in the NYT it had a picture, praise the Lord!

It was also covered in the Washington Post World Wire Reports. Also with a picture. And a different picture than NYT used.

And even the BBC covered it, despite Mr. Steyn's claim that they didn't. I found it easily on their website, so I presume he didn't look very hard there. But then maybe, since he's a Brit, maybe he spent the entire two days the story ran watching the Beeb telly news and so knows that there were no pictures. I don't know him well enough to know if he's really that thorough. But with the Brits you just never can tell.

So much for the coverage, now, let's deal with the event. There is one little fact which nobody seemed to have noticed in all the fine coverage above. You can find it in the UPI wire:

Interior Minister Aouni Yerfas, government officials, members of parliament, political parties and syndicate presidents led the demonstration that marched through Amman's main streets after Friday prayers.

This was not in any way "the Arab street rising up against a terrorist and terrorism". This was a government orchestrated and choreographed parade that had a parlimentary cabinet minister leading it! It was about as spontaneous as the half time show at the Orange Bowl.

To what end? I'll quote Petra, the offical Jordanian News Agency:

The Jordanians expressed, during the march, loyalty to the Hashemite leadership... They also hailed efforts of the security apparatuses in revealing the criminals and catching one of them.

Hey, with the Interior Minister at the head of the parade, I'll bet they hailed the efforts of the security services if they knew what was good for them. I certainly would!

The AP story, the UPI story, the Petra release, and the France Presse piece were all the information anybody not in Jordan had to write a story with. Everything that was available from the primary sources got published somewhere. Except, of course, the fact that the event was essentially fake, that it was a Jordanian government publicity stunt.

It also got top international coverage billing in the major markets of NYT and WaPo. And this was even though the event was fake and anybody in the journalism business who read all the primary sources would see this immediately.

Those who published it so widely across the country simply relied on AP, who didn't bother to mention the Jordanian government involvement in the "protest".

Moreover, the secondary sources that are essentially house organs of the Republican Party, Fox News and the Washington Times, squeezed every last drop of newsworthiness out of the primary information.

And I very much suspect that the Washington Times, at least, knew that the protest was fake and didn't bother to mention it. The multiple sources of their story suggest this very strongly. But still, even those patently partisan Republican flacks didn't have the nerve to run a fabricated government publicity stunt as Page One material, merely because it feathered the partisan nest.

American journalism hasn't degenerated quite that far, thank heavens.

Oh, by the way, if you want to read some sensible and intelligent coverage of Jordanians beginning to reject terrorism, try this Knight Ridder Washington Bureau article.

Finally, as I have been composing this post, word has just hit the wires that Jordan's King is replacing the fine government displayed in his Friday parade with a new one headed by the chief of his security services, who will now also become the Prime Minister.

Well, at least they at least had a fine send-off last Friday.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Ill Wind Blows Nobody Good

A bitter wind was blowing through the canyons of Downtown Columbus yesterday morning. Winter is calling. The headline news was horrible for Ohio, layoffs for 30,000 and plant closings by General Motors, speculation as to how many others will lose jobs in Ohio among the subsidiary manfacturers supplying GM, and a bus strike looming in Columbus--a terrible prospect for many of us who are "working poor" and simply shut out of automobile use. If the busses do not run, many of us will lose our jobs, too.

Another step in the slow devolution of American economic life is taking place, and still more ordinary Americans are being reduced to permanent peonage.

Not that it matters to me personally. I am two steps down from where those 30,000 people have been kicked to. They are just starting with Unemployment Compensation [half of salary in my state] and COBRA insurance coverage, where they will now pay all of their health insurance premium, instead of sharing it with GM, and they will be able to do this, if I remember rightly, for just 18 months. A bit steep on a salary cut in half, but they will just have to get used to it.

I, myself, am perhaps six to eight weeks from being homeless, and I am very lucky to be a part of a charity care coverage arrangement by a consortium of Columbus doctors who got tired of donating evening hours to the Free Clinic. For every patient your family doctor recommends to the consortium, he or she must agree to cover another patient. I am also on a sliding fee scale at my Mental Health Agency. They are about one fiscal year behind on the supplemental tax levy payments that they receive for their sliding scale consumers, and they are no longer taking any new ones.

I have no real prospects for being much further from homelessness than six to eight weeks for the rest of my life. My lawyer [who takes on disability cases for a % of back due benefits alone] has started the process of fighting for my disability status with the Social Security Administration. Virtually all mental health disability cases, who are not actually in the Bin and are making efforts to be partially functional in the world, are rejected by Social Security. SSA rotinely contracts out the medical evaluations to certain doctors who are notorious for bias against the claimants.

One of these doctors evaluated my capacities to work full-time based upon his watching me climb up and down a single flight of stairs one time. Another who evaluated me was [I kid you not.] playing Rush Limbaugh, on a boom box behind his desk, in between appointments.

This last fellow was an interesting case. Doctor X's "medical office" was two windowless rooms squirreled away in the darkest corner of the basement floor of a nondescript office building, with neither a name for him on the building directory, nor on his Suite door. The "waiting room" furniture contained of only a two person love seat and a single, framed, Medical Office Impressionist picture on the wall facing the couch.

There was no receptionist, nurse, or file of medical records. His "consultation room" contained only a desk, a desk chair, a straight chair, and the boom box on the floor behind him, plugged into the wall. He worked entirely from a Macintosh laptop as he asked me a standard set of evaluation questions. Not a scrap of personal memorabilia was anywhere on his desk--no clock, no picture calendar, no family pictures, no wise little sayings from Hallmark Cards, no fancy pen set from last Christmas, no placard with his name, nothing. It was as bare as a windswept prairie.

And the only thing on the walls was an irregularly torn piece of newsprint with the telephone number for the Columbus Police Department and This Is a Zero Tolerance For Violence Zone, hastily hand scribbled in ball point pen. Needless to say, he was about as personable and courteous to me as Armadillo road kill.

If my lawyer actually wins me a favorable disability ruling, the total maximum income I will be able to make yearly will probably be somewhere around $12,000. The figure is inexact because my disability stipend will depend on the actual number of SS quarters I have paid into the system. Since I face the constant possibility of a mental health relapse from trying to do too much in too short a time, [I have come quite close to this once or twice and had to pull myself back from the edge] there is no way I could sustain that level of income solely on my own efforts with full time work and no disability stipend.

Moreover, if I were to find a temporary job of a couple of weeks duration, suited to one of my many skills and paying a realistic wage for my level of education [I have taken on such a job once or twice], I would make too much money in a given month and I would risk having my disability stipend yanked, even though now I could never do such temporary work full-time.

So, as I say, the GM layoffs do not mean much to me personally.

Abstractly, though, I can consider the sufferings of those 30,000 people and empathize with them. I once was where they will be now, and their worst suffering of all will be the terror of falling to where I am now--with no assets, no credit, and no prospects. It's not as bad as they think, if you can live simply and be content. This is perhaps the only plus of reaching this level, for the fall down is terribly painful.

I am lucky. I reached the conclusion as far back as 1983 about why this frilling away of the American Dream has been going on. I have followed with great care the economic mismanagement of the United States by Reagan, Bush, Bush & Co., who are a wholly owned subsidiary of the energy industry and a consortium of stockbrokers. I have also fought it, off and on, these past 20 years. Because of this, in my travel down to penury, I have never lost my self-respect.

I doubt this will be the case for many of those 30,000. They are far more likely to stigmatize themselves for their narrowing prospects. I'm sure they will be taunted by the vision of easy luxury in the parallel universe of the television ads--which will resonate in them over and over as, "You didn't make it. You weren't good enough. You are a loser." Such things are the typical and irrational American psychological responses to unavoidable work loss.

For most of them have been sleepwalking through the reign of Reagan, Bush, Bush & Co., oblivious to the long term damage being done, glamored by the tough talk ["strong on defense", "resolute against terrorism", "determined to return America to Family Values"], deceived into looking anywhere else but Republican Washington for the slow demise of American manufacturing and the American middle class, whose wealth and opportunities have been systematically pillaged, and redistributed upward, through the process of bad energy policy combined with unchecked stock speculation.

I idly wonder how many of the 30,000 belong to the white male working class base which is well recognized as the the hard core support of the modern Republican Party.

I idly wonder how many of them, or their wives or daughters, are part of the softer core Republican Social Conservatives (i.e. Christian rightists) which is predominated by women, and for whom certain social agendas are "non-negotiable", no matter what other damage this country sustains.

And I idly wonder how many of them are part of the "War On Terror" part-time and fluid feminine supporters of the Republican policy, who have made their decisions out of unfaced fear and unprocessed anger, preventing them from evaluating those same decisions based on the quality of the results. Even the anti-terror results.

They will all soon be standing in the Unemployment Line, encountering the sticker shock of how much health insurance really costs every month, and re-entering a world where the majority of the decent jobs no longer even appear in the hard copy Want Ads of their newspaper. And where those same jobs are just not available to anyone with some grey in their hair. God help them if they've been putting off buying the computer or getting Internet savvy. God help them if they don't realize quickly that both their resume and their personal appearance must make them out to be as young as possible.

How will they explain to themselves what just happened to their income and their lives? What will the parallel universe of easy luxury in a perfect world now have to say to them?

They will have plenty of time to consider it, after they filter into being Wal-Mart associates, Target team members, or grocery baggers. And if it takes them long enough to do this, I'll be waiting for them, two levels down, and ready to greet them as warmly as I can with, "Welcome Home!"

A bitter wind is blowing through Columbus this afternoon. It is spitting snow. Winter is calling.

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Monday, November 21, 2005

My Enemy, The Stigma

My day job is in Customer Service. It is "accommodated" or "sheltered" work for the mentally ill in "recovery". Most mental illness is forever, if it is to any degree serious. But recovery is possible in the sense that medication, monitoring, and accommodation can return many individuals to a functional role in society.

One of the most heartening, and heart rending, experiences I ever had was my encounter with "Kate". She spoke in front of a vocational preparation class that I attended before I found my current job. Kate is a heavy-duty delusional paranoid, far sicker than I am. The medicines she has to take would likely sedate a horse.

Kate had just lost her job in a grocery store because the store chain had gone bankrupt. Kate had also been a horrible victim of what we call The Stigma. Her entire family had abandoned her and shut her out, with the usual nameless and groundless fear that mental illness is somehow contagious, and the usual irrational conviction that clinical delusion is somehow a moral failing.

One of the reasons I write about these things is to confront and combat The Stigma anywhere I find it.

Kate's job accommodations have to include time off for relapses. Our chemical cocktails sometimes gradually lose their effectiveness and have to be remixed by our cocktail shaking physicians. Kate has to watch herself like a hawk. She has no safety net of family and friends to help watch for signs that the delusions are returning. So Kate has to be ready, on nearly instant notice, to check herself into the hospital while still partially lucid.

When Kate visited my class, she stood up in front of a group of total strangers, white as a sheet, obviously sweating with anxiety and fear. She told us in exact clinical language the details of her illness, the reaction of her family, the loss of her job, and her plan to cope with it and find another.

It was harrowing. She spoke in a rather flat, nonchalant voice--which almost sounded as if it were coming from someone behind her left shoulder--while her terrified and anxious figure wavered in front of us. As she spoke, she gradually lost some of her fear, adjusting to the audience as she saw our empathy and sympathy with the horrible mental pain still present in her recovery.

By the time we reached the question and answer period, our relations with her were nearly normal for those of guest speaker and class.

I was so moved by her that I made a point afterwards to tell her how much I admired her courage, learned from her story, and was inspired by her recovery to push harder for mine. She just glowed, and we were, to my great honor, casual friends in the Vocational Center from then on. Later, her luck got better and she found an accommodated position in her old job specialty, physical therapy.

Her example is one of the reasons, perhaps the major one, why I can be so frank about my own condition and my place in the separate world of the mentally ill. Beyond our actual difficulties, The Stigma sometimes bands us together with the emotional intensity of the circus sideshow people in the old movie, "Freaks".

Yes, The Stigma can be that strong and that pervasive.

So I am a Customer Service Representative. I did this job, among many other jobs, before my latent bipolar condition overwhelmed me. Back then (the late 1990's), I worked with 7 other reps using a headset, working off of four separate phone lines, and at a hectic pace.

We were lucky, though. Our medical insurance operation was a small enough company that we simply worked hard and didn't have to meet call number quotas or meet a standard of only so many seconds per call, figures whipped up by some work productivity hotshot who couldn't handle a headset and four phone lines on a dare.

So I do it again. But there would be no way under my current medication that I could handle four full lines all day. I also cannot handle too many eight hour days in a row. My accommodations are a staggered schedule, a two-line phone, and routine back-up by my healthy boss, a wonderful African-American lady, whose taste runs to beautiful afro-centric dress, and who is a little whirlwind of efficiency in our office.

Other vocational avenues are closed to me in recovery. My last full time job was as a cabinet maker, in a shop where there was a constant din of panel saws, mechanical planers, belt sanders, hand sanders, and hand drills. I was also an amateur woodworker with a little shop of my own.

Now I simply cannot abide more than a few minutes at a time of machine noise. I am slowly trying to make the transition to all handwork for my recreational pieces. But I have to make several new tools (buying them is beyond my means) with the machines before I can go entirely over to hand working. Under the circumstances, my progress is glacial.

But it is progress. It is recovery. It takes place each and every day, one day at a time, for Kate, for me, and for all of us--despite the pain, despite The Stigma, and despite the chronic feathery fear of relapse.

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Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Pretzels and the Beer Were Very Good Indeed

As fans of the post-season bowl games know, rowdy and rough edged entertainment is more fun if there's a bunch of you to soak up the suds, whoop and holler at every touchdown, and groan at every dropped pass. So when I heard about the gunfight in the House Of Representatives over the supposed "Democratic Pull-Out Resolution", better known, really, as the Republican Put Up Job, I strolled over to my good friend the Anchoress' to watch the fireworks. I was certain that the whole affair would call from her one of the sustained bursts of wonderful prose that makes her a top draw in the sphere. I was not disappointed. Go read it all.

But my contribution to the festivities can be examined with only the headline and the conclusion of her piece:

Pull-out? The deaths will be on your head.


America can choose life or death. It is that fundamental.

Of course, "America” is not going to do any such thing. America is going to elect representatives in a little less than a year. That is all America is going to do.

The President is almost certainly not going to pull out troops immediately and unilaterally, and no House “resolution”, even should it happen to pass, will force him to. I will be polite and say that the President will be “stern and resolute”, and not make a peep about why.

But of course the resolution will not pass. If there was even the slightest chance of it passing, the House Republican leadership would not have forced this showdown. It is all theater.

This is all a ploy to squeeze the adrenal glands of the conservative base, so they will raise a large hullabaloo. If this blog is any indication, it appears to be working.

Will the hullabaloo be effective? Will it help keep Republican control of Congress? Maybe. But the odds are narrowing.

It is about the fourth or fifth time such a hullabaloo has been raised, and in the interval we have seen several more Operation Bah Humbugs which have left the insurgency exactly in the same place it was before.

John Murtha and John McCain, who are, not coincidentally both heroic Vietnam veterans, are looking at two sides of the same coin, and it is a coin that no one else is looking at at all. The all volunteer military is slowly coming unraveled under the pressure of a war where the only real options are stalemate or withdrawal.

The Republican Congress and President can find about five times more troops somewhere (I’ll let you guess where), occupy Iraq, and take the chance that enough troops to actually suppress the insurgency won’t turn the rest of Iraq against us.

They can continue to run Operation Bah Humbugs indefinitely and ineffectively while our overall military operational readiness degrades, the Iranians keep shadowboxing us away from their nuclear bomb progress, and the Chinese military power grows.

Or they can declare “victory” and withdraw strategically sometime between the end of next August and the begining of next November.

Those are the real options.

All the rest is theater. And we can all sit back and wait for another honorable veteran to have his name and service professionally smeared and libeled. He will be the third to have it done to him: Max Clelland, John Kerry, and now John Murtha.

The Anchoress later had this to say in a display of marvelous inconsistency with the "aid and comfort to our enemies" rhetoric of her original post:

My understanding is that there IS a plan and has been a plan for some time, to begin withdrawing some troops in 2006, after the December elections…that we will slowly withdraw, incrementally, until the Iraqis are able to fully function on their own…which sounds reasonable. It cannot be done with “dates.”\Just as we keep reading that Valerie Plame was “covert” even though she was sitting at a desk at Langley status “classified” not “covert” we also keep reading “Bush has no plan…”/There is a plan. Folks just don’t want to hear it. The democrats KNOW there is a plan and that’s one of the reasons the talk loudly about Pulling out - so that when it finally starts happening, they can take the credit.

Well, now we have our skewed debate and our House vote. Was it good theater, or what? And the only thing “on anybody’s head”, is that marvelous motley cap with the three little bells. And, of course, it has just been revealed that the generals in Iraq are already sending the details of a withdrawl plan to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

In addition, the President is now saying things like:

Congressman Murtha is a fine man, a good man who served our country with honor and distinction as a Marine in Vietnam and as a U.S. congressman. I know that the decision to call for an immediate withdrawal of our troops by congressman Murtha was done in a careful and thoughtful way. I disagree with his position.

What a change from the White House spokesperson who asserted that Murtha was from the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party like Michael Moore, the "Fahrenheit 9/11" filmmaker. What a change from Representative Jean Schmidt:

He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do.

Do you suppose somebody finally figured out that they have gone to the well once too often?

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Now, With a Fanfare of Trumpets, Let's Welcome Open Source Media!

The following is from The Anchoress, who has been chosen as one of the blogging movers and shakers over at the new Open Source Media. This is the new name of Pajamas Media, the consortium formed to send out blogging hit squads against "liberal media bias" and "distortion of the truth" after the CBS Bush National Guard Memo scandal. Roger L. Simon was the co-founder with Charles Johnson. They have managed to capitalize to the tune of $3.5 million with the intention of becoming a full-blown independent media outlet.

The Anchoress has this to say about her new media connection:

I think Alexandra’s graphic is a brilliant masterpiece! and on top of all that, she also has the best notes on the launch I have yet read. Head over there - it’s really great!They must be doing something right, they’ve managed to awaken the easily-roused ire of the elegantly fussy and disdainful James Wolcott, who could be predicted to hate it. He hates everything that is not a reflection of his own bilious, superior sort of queenly cynicism.

Well, with a logo like that how could one not take it seriously? I certainly do, and I did some extensive reading on the new site.

Let’s quote Mr. Simon, the CEO:

Our most important goal is openness via the free and respectful exchange of ideas expressed through citizen journalists, coupled with a dedication to honesty and the truth…Citizen journalism at its best means the pursuit of the truth above all things, above partisanship or the financial interests of the medium publishing it.

So far, so good, but very little yet about news [you know, that stuff you write when you are actually where something important is happening and describing what is going on]. I don’t doubt that OSM intends to be full of ideas and hot in pursuit of truth.

But, so far, the content appears to be mostly an extended linkfest, with lots of empty newshole, where ideas [presumably] are linked to, but hardly expressed.

Ideas are difficult and take time to formulate, even when they are bad ideas, and the hot pursuit of truth can generally be conducted only when you think you have flushed out a lying fox. Perhaps even one with a capital letter.

This doesn’t happen every day, so there will be some effort needed to fill that newshole with interesting things to bridge the gap. I suspect this will be the achillies heel of the venture. Nothing burns out writers faster than having to write, on demand, about nothing in particular.

So let’s turn to the financial interests:

The investor group is led by Aubrey Chernick, angel investor and technology entrepreneur

I think I’ll very much enjoy looking into Mr. Chernick and the other angels in whom he invests, or perhaps the other angels with whom he hangs out, and just who else they dispense their angelic largesse to.

But the future is bright, as Mr. Simon points out:

Securing this first round of venture backing validates the Pajamas Media business model…

Which brings us to the meat and potatoes: What are they going to sell and how are they going to do it? Advertising, it seems, since they have an ad manager ensconsced on the 7th Floor of Rockefeller Center.

He’d better get to work and sell some ads. They only have $3.5 million in venture capital and that doesn’t go very far when you have an office in that high-rent district.

And there had better be some ideas in place about how to deal with Major Problem #2 of all media outlets: how to generate enough entertaining and readable content to keep the money rolling in when the advertising is constantly poaching on the news hole. Problem #1 is filling the news hole in the first place, as I have suggested above.

So finally we can turn to that “above the fray of partisanship” business. We can already get a glimpse of how this will operate:

Austin Bay writes about “Big Lies”… Liberal Marc Cooper weighs in on yesterday’s House Iraq debate, while conservative Atlas Shrugs issues a warning to the Republicans… JustOneMinute has his eye on the continuing brouhaha around the Fitzgerald/Plame investigation. Who told Woodward anyway?… Daniel Drezner is looking at new US approaches to Iran and … Michelle Malkin is back from her book tour and blogging… Taking a break from politics? Click next below for Harry Potter info.

One of the advantages of being above partisanship is that you can see far enough ahead to warn your readers when one of the six bloggers whom you cite and link to is “liberal”.

Of course the liberal blogger post cited merely reinforces the “raving moonbat” stereotype, (so dear to the hearts of my conservative friends) hair standing on end, boldface type shouting all over the place, and invective strewn to all quarters.

Actually, Marc Cooper is a pretty decent writer when he has some sensible editors to reel him in. On his sidebar is a link to an excellent piece in LA Weekly, “Sour Grapes”, on California farmworkers forty years after Ceasar Chavez. But I doubt I’ll see it cited or quoted on OSM.

Without editorial direction, Cooper is another Hunter Thompson wannabe, without Hunter’s wide and delicate verbal color palatte.

Of course, I don’t expect serious and thoughtful progressive bloggers, like Chris Bowers over at MyDD, to be cited by OSM at all. After all, the readers would not only have to be warned that he is “liberal”, but also that he is “reasonable and intelligent”.

But the logo is pretty, the site is pretty, and I just hope the ads don’t ruin it. Though I also hope Mr. Simon and his fellow bloggers like the Anchoress get the ads to keep it going, and that it gets better.

UPDATE: I had a chance to look up Mr. Simon’s “angel investor”, Aubrey Chernik. If large wings make an angel, Mr. Chernik certainly qualifies–on the order of $705 million. He has also taken OSM very thoroughly under his large wing, apparently providing them space for editorial offices in the same building which houses Mr. Chernik’s own company, NC4.

The company, by the way, deals in “crisis management readiness” and, with its partners, has been a large for-profit beneficiary of our “homeland security” transformation under the Bush Administration.

Now, of course, I am perfectly certain that, in the same way that OSM is “above partisanship” it is also “above financial interests”, which is why they can be so conveniently down the hall from their corporate angel with it doing no harm.

After all, OSM and NC4, Chernik and Simon, are not only on the side of the angels, they also live in the City of the Angels.

And you can’t get more angelic than that.

[h/t Martini Republic]

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Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Quest for Peace

For the past six years this is what has been happening in Woodstock, NY:

Since the first light of the new millenium [Jan. 1, 2000--ed.], one hundred and eight offering lamps have been lit daily in the shrine hall at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra. As the light from each lamp shines forth, it carries the collective prayers for peace and harmony of all those who have contributed to their lighting. This ceremony at the beginning of every day is a reminder that the quest for peace will not come from occasional mindfulness or sporadic efforts. Rather, each day we must renew our prayers for peace, and we must regenerate our aspiration to approach the world with an attitude of gentleness and compassion. As more and more people view these lamps and become involved in keeping them lit, the light radiating outward will signal the dawn of a new era marked by harmony and understanding in the hearts of all

The quest for peace will not come from occasional mindfulness or sporadic efforts...

Karma Triyana Dharmachakra is in the midst of trying to expand the main monastery and rebuild the guest house so it will work more easily and efficiently for monastery visitors and the staff. The staff themselves receive no money except a stipend large enough for each of them to carry health insurance.

In winter, I'm told, the thermostats are kept so low that water ices over in the toilets. And a winter in the Catskills, up on top of a mountain, is very, very cold.

Despite all this, they spend $108 a day to keep lamps lit for the peace of the world. The lamps are filled with pure butter ghee, which KTD makes by hand on its stoves, melting stick butter slowly, boiling the excess water carefully off, and filling each lamp around the handmade, cotton-wrapped wick in the center. By the end of this year they will have spent $236,520 to keep those lamps lit every day for six years. A butterlamp, by the way, burns with an incredibly bright flame.

The quest for peace will not come from occasional mindfulness or sporadic efforts.

Religious dedication is not confined to any one system of belief. But the phrase above applies, I think, to any and all of them.

The address is:

Karma Triyana Dharmachakra
335 Meads Mountain Road
Woodstock, NY 12498

If you want to be part of it, you don't have to send them a lot. You could mail them a dollar in wrapped in letter paper with the words, "For First Light" on it. If you sent them $108.00 you could keep all the lamps lit for one day. If you sent them $365.00 you could keep one lamp buring for one year. And even if you can't afford any of this, you can pray, too, in whatever form your beliefs teach, particularly on New Year's Day when the formal ceremonies of First Light are held. Whatever you do, I believe from the bottom of my heart that it would be good for them, good for me, good for you, and good for the world.

Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of President Roosevelt, and, later, U.S. ambasador to the United Nations, once said, "It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness."

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

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Friday, November 18, 2005

The Refusal To Acknowledge Failure, the Refusal to Confront Success

So what went wrong in Iraq in 2002? What is still going wrong there now. I have just come across a marvelous Washington Post piece, centered on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, with a quotation from Rumsfeld's own advisory think tank, the Defense Science Board, when it set out to evaluate the failures:

It might help if Americans and their leaders were to show less arrogance and more understanding of themselves and their place in history. Perhaps more than any other people, Americans display a consistent amnesia concerning their own past, as well as the history of those around them.

This is a tease. Go read the whole article. There's nothing I can say about it that it doesn't say better. Really.

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The Buddhist Posts are Now Updated

Here they all are again. There are now 23 of them. Enjoy.

Clinging To The Pot A story of the great Tibetan yogi, Milarepa.

Benedict and Me--Part II: One Truth, Four Truths, Two Truths More truths than you ever thought were possible.

Pope Benedict And Me, Part I: The Sleep Of Reason A meditation on inter-religious dialog.

Humming Activity--Peace and Quiet The story of a pilgrimage, a high lama, and Buddhist retreat.

The Mountain Will Not Come To Joe Claus... In anticipation of another visit to the Monastery.

Karma, Merit, Buddhist Vows, and the Spiritual Friend I can't say much more about it that that.

A New Buddhist Post The difference between true compassion and "idiot compassion".

This Is An Emergency Post Prompted by an e-mail, circulated among Buddhists, purporting to prove that Pope Benedict XVI had made hostile and derogatory comments in the past about Buddhism.

A Death In The Sangha A description of the practices undertaken after a Buddhist death.

His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa The current manifestation of the head of my lineage, surrounded by the important current members of it.

Death, Terri Schiavo, Rationality, and Faith A post from the Buddhist perspective about how the Terri Schiavo affair throws light on the best kept religious secret there is: religious doubt.

Thinking about Death yet again Why contemplating your own death is such a valuable thing to do.

The Way Things Really Are A little taste of what my teachers call "analytical meditation" demonstrating how the world is actually created by our own mental fabrications.

Letting Go Of Fear A literary description of the basic Buddhist calming meditation called Shamata.

There are Cyber-Retreats and then there are Cyber-Retreats Stimulated by the Anchoress, this post is about what hanging around a Buddhist monastery is like.

A Vision of Long Ago and My Religious Friends A post on the appearance of goodness in forms that are not all sweetness and light.

When Pleasures Slip Into Larger Spaces Than The Mind A post on "mindfulness".

The Power of Prayer The meaning of prayer for a Buddhist.

Since the Anchoress Asks, I'll Answer A segway into the Four Noble Truths.

The Buddhist View Of Original Sin This post is exactly what the title says. It resulted from a spirited discussion of Original Sin over at La Shawn Barber's Corner.

On Being Liberal and Religious, Part 3 This post addresses the question of what it means to be "liberal" when you are also religious. It contains both my Buddhist answer to the question of What is the moral nature of the world? and my Liberal credo concerning the practical politics that follow from my answer.

On Being Liberal and Religious, Part 2 This post addresses the question of "secularity", the belief that religion is "a private matter", and concludes with a question to the secular among us: What is the moral nature of the world?

On Being Liberal and Religious, Part 1 This post confronts the American interaction of religion and politics. It asserts that there are three broad groups in our politics when looked at from this vantage point: Secular Liberals, Secular Libertarians, and Religious Conservatives. I note that I belong to none of them. It also tackles the religious problem of thinking about our politicians, particularly those whom we oppose, as fellow human beings.

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