Friday, September 30, 2011

Turn Up the Sound - Peter Gabriel's New Blood

Rock and Roll Innovator Peter Gabriel
October 10th marks the release of "New Blood,"the new album from consummate pop-rock pioneer and innovator, Peter Gabriel.

With "New Blood,"all that's old is new again. Gabriel has once again taken an inventor's approach to music, breaking down some of his biggest hits to their barest elements, and then re-imagining and recording them with all new arrangements. The hitch is that on these tracks you will find no guitars and no rock-and-roll drum kits; instead, Gabriel performs the tracks with the lush and beautiful accompaniment of the 46-piece New Blood Orchestra.

The album will include new recordings of Solsbury Hill, In Your Eyes, Digging in the Dirt, and about ten other Peter Gabriel classics. I'm already sold on the concept, but in case you aren't sure, below is a video teaser of Red Rain.

6 Year-Old Cooper Stone Tosses Out First Pitch

Six year-old Cooper Stone threw out the first pitch this afternoon at the opening playoff game between the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Cooper is the 6 year-old boy who watched his father fall to his death while trying to catch a game ball tossed from the playing field into the outfield stands at a Texas home game in July.

For his first pitch toss, Cooper was accompanied on to the field by his mother Jenny where they were greeted by Ranger all-star Josh Hamilton. Hamilton squatted into a catcher's stance about half way between the pitcher's mound and home plate to snag the pitch from the six year-old.

After the ceremonial pitch, the six year-old walked over to Hamilton who remained crouched. They exchanged a moment of conversation before Cooper sweetly tossed his arms around the baseball player's neck. Hamilton then stood and gave a long supportive hug to Jenny Stone, appearing to take time to ask how both she and Cooper were doing. They talked for a few minutes, and Hamilton hugged both mom and son again before they left the field together.

It was a very tender moment in baseball history, as it was actually Hamilton who threw the ball into the outfield stands in July that ultimately led to the horrific fall and untimely death of Cooper Stone's father.

If you're interested, a video clip of Cooper's first pitch and hug with Hamilton is linked in this article (scroll down to the second "picture" window to see the video). It will likely end up being my favorite moment of the 2011 MLB Playoffs.

Dear Bank of America - Get Bent

Dear BOA,

I just read that you are going to start charging me $5 every month for the convenience of using the debit card you gave me (so you could save money by not having to process the paper checks I write). I have to tell you - this is the last straw for me. You've broken my heart for the last time. You've made me feel used and stupid - and I can't take it any more.

Our relationship felt so right in the beginning. It was give and take between us, and we were good for each other. But lately, every time we talk, it's all about you and how tough you have it. Me, me, me is all I ever hear from you. I know you've hit a real rough patch lately (haven't we all), but I have to say babe, you brought this shit on yourself. I didn't tell you to speculate on those wack ass mortgage securities. You did that on your own and you never even asked what I thought. Honestly, I think you got greedy, and when it blew back in your face a little bit, you tried to put it off on me. I'm sorry BOA, call me heartless, but I just can't feel bad for you.

Daily Zen - Friday, September 30

If a man speaks or acts with an impure mind, suffering follows him as the wheel of a cart follows the beast that draws it. 

If a man speaks or acts with a pure mind, joy follows him as his own shadow.

                - The Dhammapada

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Did You Eat Your Gay Lunch Today?

Shared by Cindy Dick via FB (originally from comedian Liz Feldman)

Bachmann Gets Another Taste of Shoe Leather

Just when you think she can't do more to hurt her own chances of becoming President, Michele Bachmann has done it again. 

This time, Bachmann "blamed" the President's Middle East policy for inciting the "Arab Spring." Apparently, Bachmann thinks it's a bad thing that Arab populations in several countries have risen up against long-standing despotic rulers. 

Democracy as we say, not as we do? Is that it Michele?

Daily Zen - Thursday, September 29

The deepest waters make the least noise.

              - Guatemalan Proverb

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Myth of Job Creators and Small Business

After listening to this brief interview on NPR, I learned a little about the potential impact of the President's proposed job's plan, but I learned something even more interesting about how small businesses impact the economy.

Small businesses account for 90% of the nation's 6 million companies with paid employees, but they only account for about 20% of our nation's employed citizens. What this means to me is that all the noise we hear from politicians about the importance of supporting small business people is more political hype and rhetoric than it is effective economic policy. That's news to me.

Disagree? Listen to the interview and let me know.

Turn of Phrase - MNF's Tony Romo Love Fest

"So I finally watched Redskins-Cowboys, which wasn't a professional football game so much as three hours of grown men writing Tony Romo's name all over their Trapper Keepers."

- From Tommy Cragg's article in Slate about the man crush that Monday Night Football broadcasters seem to have on Cowboys QB Tony Romo.

Daily Zen - Wednesday, September 28

Misfortune and experience are lost upon mankind when they produce neither reflection nor reformation.
                       - Thomas Paine

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Follow-Up on Jamey - The Bullying Continues

Jamey Rodemeyer, dead at 14. 

It's still not okay that this boy is dead, but he doesn't have to have died in vain.

A week ago today I published a blog post about 14 year-old Jamey Rodemeyer, the gay teenage boy who, despite putting up a good fight, ultimately chose to end his own life. I wanted to provide a quick update to Jamey's story, and again, ask you to do what you can, indeed what you should, to help put an end to the kind of hate and bullying that plagued Jamey throughout his short life.

Linked here is a short interview Jamey's parents did with Ann Curry on the Today Show this week. I was flabbergasted by a story they tell about Jamey's sister and the ongoing hate and bullying she has endured at her school (where Jamey also attended). I am beyond disappointed and disgusted.

If you think these things eventually take care of themselves, that children will eventually learn on their own to respect those who are different from them, you are wrong. We must actually DO something. It's really very simple - we must set the right example for our children in how we talk about others, and we must never let them think that it's okay to hate someone, just because they are different.

Hurtful words and taunting are not small matters to children. Bullying damages kids profoundly, it scars them deeply and permanently. If someone is teaching children that it's okay to hate, you must challenge them. Try to help them understand the impact of their words and actions. If you actually witness hateful speech or harmful taunting directed at a child (even if it's delivered by a  child), you must speak up and you must stop it.

That's me on my soapbox. I hope you watch the video with Jamey's parents and I hope it makes a difference.

Yes We Can (Still Pony Up the Big Bucks)

In other bad news for the right wing, President Obama can still bring in campaign donors of all sizes by the thousands.  A successful fund-raising swing up and down the west coast raised $5 million in two days.

Republicans Still Haven't Found What They're Looking For

The evidence is mounting that the Republican party is growing increasingly dissatisfied with its current lot of presidential hopefuls.

Mitt Romney was a strong frontrunner out of the gate, but there was just one problem. A large percentage of the Republican base, particularly those belonging to the perpetually agitated and increasingly powerful Tea Party wing of the party, don't really like him. 

The door swung open wide in Iowa and in walked Michele Bachmann. But then, she started...speaking, and there was a quick realization that she wasn't going to be the thinking man's Sarah Palin.

Well, thank goodness for Rick Perry. He's just like W in every way, right down to his Texas twang and swaggery posture. But wait, we all know how well that presidency worked out. Besides, this communist wants us to use modern medicine to immunize little girls against disease! The Perry balloon is deflating fast.

NJ Governor Chris Christie (Mel Evans/AP)
Recognizing the urgent need to inject some livelihood into the Republican primary race, a group of super-rich white guys (a small subset of the Republican party which is mostly middle class white guys who vote against their own interest) wants to recruit New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to join the circus. Christie has resisted their advances so far, but who knows if his love of party (and the totally predictable patriotic realization that "America really needs strong leadership") will ultimately sway him to enter the race.

With only a few months until primary season is in full swing, Republican desperation is mounting. After three years in the White House, all that President Obama can say (the killing of Bin Laden, notwithstanding) is that he helped America avert a total economic meltdown and things didn't get that much worse on his watch. And still, Republicans feel about as optimistic as the Peyton-less Indianapolis Colts. 

It has to be frustrating when you believe that the other guy offers absolutely nothing - but still looks better to most people than anything or anyone you can come up with.

The Shallow End - Bad Lip Reading with Rick Perry

If you need to laugh out loud today, this should do it.

Daily Zen - Tuesday, September 27

Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury - to me these have always been contemptible. I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best.

               - Albert Einstein

Monday, September 26, 2011

Questions for Tibetan Monks Who Set Themselves on Fire

Tibetan monk jailed for assisting another monk with self-immolation protest.
Two Tibetan monks in Western China have set themselves on fire Monday to protest religious persecution by the Chinese government. As I contemplated their immense personal sacrifice, I couldn't help thinking about all the specific steps and actions these monks might have to take to prepare for such a grotesque and horrendous protest. I wondered how it must feel to arrange the details of one's self-immolation.

  • How do you select a location to set yourself on fire? Should it be as public as possible to ensure your protest is heard? Do you consider how this act will impact those who witness the event directly?
  • How do you decide what day and what time you will set yourself ablaze? Is there religious or political significance in the timing?
  • What materials must you procure in advance? Do those who help you obtain the materials know what you plan to do with them?
  • Is there a process for ensuring complete self-immolation? Is it as simple as dousing your clothing, your body, and your hair with gasoline and then lighting a match? 
  • Do you tell others about your upcoming protest in advance? Do you alert the media? 
  • Do your friends and loved ones know about your planned sacrifice? Do they understand and respect your motivations or do they beg you not to go through with it?
  • Is there a specific prayer you say just before or during the blaze? If so, what specifically are you praying for?
  • As you sought the answers to these questions yourself, did your commitment to this act waiver? Did you have doubts? 

The last questions I have revolved around the motivation of these monks. I tried to imagine - what circumstances could lead people to feel they had to make such a heinous personal sacrifice in order to stage a protest? How bad must it be? Is there no other way?

I am certain that to some degree I take my personal religious (or non-religious) freedom as an American for granted. I am aware of how fortunate I am to be born in a country where I can decide to practice or not practice any faith of my choosing, but I am not sure to what lengths I would go to protect that freedom.

At this point, I feel confident that lighting myself on fire would not be in my realm of protesting options. But, who knows, I might feel differently if I were a Tibetan monk in western China.

Apple's New Corporate Headquarters - Spaceship, Doughnut, Pentagon

The available renderings of Apple's planned new corporate office building in Cupertino, CA are drawing some interesting criticisms.

All the descriptions I have read so far about the building seem to ring true - it is kind of like a spaceship, but sort of like a giant doughnut, and it does also remind you of a new-fangled Pentagon (an oddly accurate comparison since it is actually a giant circle).

In the New Yorker, Paul Goldberger ponders whether this could be a sign that Apple has finally "jumped the shark" (though in a corporate-decline way, not in a Happy Days-will-be-a-shitty-TV-show-from-now-on way). His argument is that overly-grandiose office buildings have indicated in the past that a company has lost touch with reality (and ultimately and fatally with its own consumer base). I somehow doubt that's the case, but perhaps the next decade will prove me wrong.

Is Rick Perry Just Another "Pretty" Face?

There was an article in Mother Jones magazine this morning that offered an interesting take on why Rick Perry was so badly routed in this past weekend's Florida straw poll. The article alleges that Perry is simply too Sarah Palin-esque (i.e., lazy) in his approach to preparing for the opportunities he has to showcase himself, like the Republican candidate debates.

According to the article, Perry believes that his winning personality and his bullshit Texas bravado, instead of thoughtful consideration of issues and prepared policy positions, should be enough to garner him favor among voters. Based on his massive fall from grace of late, that is not how Republican voters feel. Perry is paying for his lack of effort with a rapid downturn in public perception of his viability as a candidate.

I congratulate my Republican friends for not letting the candidate get away with his just-smile-and-talk-Texas-tough strategy. Our national problems are too big for us to seriously consider someone for President who doesn't take the time to truly understand the issues and formulate serious plans for addressing them.

We may not have seen the last of Perry, but he better damn well start "hitting the books" a little harder if he wants to be a legit contender for Commander-in-Chief.

Daily Zen - Monday, September 26

We cling to our own point of view, as though everything depended upon it. Yet our opinions have no permanence; like autumn and winter, they gradually pass away.
                           - Chuang Tzu

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bookstore Chairman - Must Love Books

Wanted: Bookstore Chairman of the Board

  • Applicant must love books (not just "like to read books" but actually love books). 
  • Must occasionally feel a nearly undefinable, overwhelming, and ethereal connection to a story or an idea.
  • Must periodically rant on the verge of incoherence about how beautifully a favorite author turns a phrase or constructs a sentence.

Recently, Barnes and Noble  Chairman Len Riggio had lunch with African peace activist Leymah Gbowee, author of "Mighty Be Our Powers." As a result of this meeting and the viewing of a documentary film that featured the author, Riggio decided to finance the author's book tour. On his own. As an individual. Out of his personal (granted, very deep) pockets.

When asked why he chose to finance Gbowee's book tour himself, Riggio said, "If you met her, and she said, 'I need some money to help get my message out', I guarantee you would write her a check."

Say what you will about the Barnes and Noble Chairman (and former CEO), but you can't deny that Len Riggio is a book guy (and a book guy with a heart).

Dating back to at least my time at Barnes and Noble in the late 90's, Mr. Riggio has occasionally shown himself to be personally devoted to supporting a very special book that touched him as a reader or moved him as a human being. These titles were not just books that possessed unfulfilled selling potential, and not just new releases that were over-hyped by a major publishing house. They were books that mattered.

(Certainly, this kind of commitment to specific book titles was commonplace among Borders employees as well, but seldom, if ever, did it happen at the Chairman or CEO level of the company - unless you include self-published ego-projects about the Grammy Awards or business books that were hyped solely to promote the reputation of a big company investor.)

In his forty-plus years as a bookseller, Len Riggio has proven himself to be skilled at making the decisions that drive positive financial results. He owes his success to more though, than just being forward-looking and strategically apt. By picking up the costs associated with Gbowee's nationwide book tour, expenses that typically belong to a publisher, Riggio has demonstrated belief in something bigger than profitability. Leymah Gbowee tapped into something pure and personal in Len Riggio, and ironically, the passion and generosity she inspired in the Chairman is also deeply rooted in what makes a bookstore and a book company successful.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Weekend Zen, September 24-25

Listen or thy tongue will keep thee deaf.
          - Native American Proverb

Week in Review - September 24, 2011

Here are links to a few things you might have missed on the blog this week.

There was much to talk about in the blogosphere this week, but for me, the devastating story of 14-year old Jamey Rodemeyer was the only news that really mattered. The story of the gay teenager's suicide was horrific, and made all the more so because of the role bullying played in his death. For me though, what turned the news of Jamey's death from tragic to unrelentingly heartbreaking was the poignant insight we gained into Jamey's tender and compassionate soul, through the looking glass of the "It Gets Better" video he made to help other gay teens just a few months before he took his own life.
RIP Jamey, and for what it's worth, God bless.

Other news items that got blogging attention this week included former President Jimmy Carter's take on the creation of a Palestinian state, ex-NYC mayor Ed Koch's attempt to lead a Jewish revolution against Obama, and my thoughts on the ten-year anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan.

Distractions from our real national problems this week were provided by the Republican debate circus, which fortunately allowed enough air time for Michele Bachmann to to tighten her own political noose, and by Facebook, which essentially ruined all our lives forever by making minor changes to their interface.

Lastly, this week we said goodbye to indie rock pioneers R.E.M., and while we aren't lucky enough to be rid of Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, the rock band Foo Fighters sent an extremely creative message to the reverend and his pathetic family of funeral picketers.

Turn Up the Sound - REM Swims Off Into the Night

In light of the news of the final dissolution of REM this week, I wanted to feature one of their finest songs, albeit not one of their greatest hits.

Nightswimming, from their last best album "Automatic for the People,"strikes just the right nostalgic tone. The video of Nightswimming below seems somehow perfect as it features a woman translating the lyrics beautifully in American Sign Language (ASL).

"These things, they go away, replaced by every day."

The Shallow End - Video Game, Washing Machine, or Both?

Mom! It's my turn to wash the clothes!

This new contraption, part washing machine and part arcade game, may spawn a whole new industry.

Consider the options...

- The Ms. Pac Man-Dishwasher?
- The Missile Command-Microwave?
- The Frogger-Riding Lawnmower?

The possibilities are endless, so long as you have a pocketful of quarters.

Mitt is From Mars, Perry is From Venus

Interesting Republican presidential debate analysis and recap from Slate.

Michele Bachmann's Lie of the Week

Is this a face you can trust?
Michele Bachmann's latest lie, stated during the September 22 Republican presidential debate, is that President Obama has the lowest approval rating "in modern times." In fact, even at its low of 38%, President Obama's approval rating is still 13% higher than President GW Bush's lowest approval rating of 25%.

I debated calling Bachmann's statement a lie, wondering if maybe it was just (another) uninformed misstatement. When someone demonstrates a consistent pattern of stating things as fact, that are in fact either unproven or untrue, particularly when those things stated are for personal gain, that person is lying. 

Daily Zen - Friday, September 23

How could drops of water know themselves to be a river? Yet the river flows on.
           - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Foo Fighters Fight Back vs Westboro Baptist

By now, you have heard of the Westboro Baptist Church, founded and run by the fanatical Fred Phelps and his lunatic family. Westboro's claim to fame as a church is hate. The primary target of their hateful bile is homosexuality (meaning gay people or anyone whom they perceive to be supporters of the GLBT community). Their preferred weapon? Protesting and picketing funerals, particularly those where their presence will be most controversial and get the most media coverage (like fallen US soldiers or Matthew Shepard, who was beaten to death for being gay).

Recently, Westboro decided to take on the rock band Foo Fighters, picketing outside one of the band's shows. Dave Grohl, lead singer of the Foo Fighters, and his bandmates decided on an incredibly original and entertaining counter-protest.

You have to see this! It involves trucker costumes, a gay "love" song, and a rolling performance on a flat bed truck.

Daily Zen - Thursday, September 22

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else.
                             - Buddha

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Millions of Americans Stricken with FFCA (Facebook F*cking Changed Again)

Provided by and shared via dozens of my FB friends
Like everyone else in America, today I contracted a wicked case of the new technology-based syndrome known as FFCA (Facebook Fucking Changed Again).

With one day of torturous coping behind me, it turns out that my life didn't actually end. My symptoms (twitching, cursing, and yelling at my Mac) have already begun to moderate (except for the cursing, which I seem to have a nasty case of), and I once again have enough perspective to go on about my regular internet business.

I can only hope that you all, like me, have begun to get a handle on the horrors of reorganized news feeds, sub-classified friend groups, and random "helpful" pop-up boxes.

Godspeed everyone (or high speed, at least).

Daily Zen - Wednesday, September 21

My mind remains wide, so my place is naturally remote.

                    - Tao Yuan Ming

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Call to Action from Jamey Rodemeyer's Parents

The local television news story linked below is about the suicide of gay teen Jamey Rodemeyer. In the video, Jamey's parents speak out and ask that we all work together to stand up to those who bully gay teens. Teach your children well.

A 14 Year Old Boy Is Dead - Please Take Action

Almost everyday, I come to Starbucks and I write, but I don't usually have to fight back tears as I do it. I am seated at my usual table, sipping my usual drink, working on my everyday blog, but today is different. Today, I stumbled across the story of Jamey Rodemeyer, a 14 year old boy who committed suicide last week.

Jamey was a gay teenager who was struggling to come to terms with his own sexuality, and as if that wasn't enough for a young teenage boy to handle, he was being bullied both at school and online. 

From the Buffalo News article about his death:

"I always say how bullied I am, but no one listens," Jamey wrote online on September 9. "What do I have to do so people will listen to me?"  
Just over one week later, Jamey was found dead outside his home of an apparent suicide.

Now we know how Jamey answered his own question. Those who knew and loved Jamey had an awareness of his struggles, and he did have help, but not enough. He had friends and he saw both a therapist and a social worker. Still, he continued to be bullied at school and online. He made the mistake of starting a Formspring account where people could make anonymous comments, and they did.

Another read: "I wouldn't care if you died. No one would. So just do it :) It would make everyone WAY more happier!"

I learned about Jamey through a post on Facebook from the It Gets Better project. The project compiles short videos from famous (athletes, celebs, etc) and not-so-famous people who have a supportive personal story or message to share in the hopes of reassuring struggling GLBT youth that they should hang on, as life does eventually "get better."

It breaks my heart to tell you that young Jamey Rodemeyer not only knew about "It Gets Better," but he also had enough love in his heart to make a supportive video of his own. The video painfully shows us the beauty of Jamey's open and tender heart, and it serves as proof that Jamey had hope for his own life as recently as May 2011 when it was posted. In the end though, the brutal hatred and intolerance he faced were simply too much for such a fragile soul. I wish I could make every person I know watch his video. And since you've read this far, why don't you? Now.

That brave young man is dead now. So, what's the lesson here? Fuck if I know. If I have to find one, I'd say it's - don't hate a child. And don't let anyone else get away with that, either. Even other children. Stand up and show your love instead, because your love matters. Maybe not every time, but sometimes. 

Sometimes love triumphs over hate. Sometimes love salves the vicious wounds that hate inflicts. Sometimes love restores a soul that has been crushed beneath the unbearable weight of hate. Sometimes love slowly weaves its way into an unimaginably broken heart and repairs the devastation. Sometimes, but not every time. Sometimes, there just isn't enough love in the world, and sometimes, it's just too late. RIP Jamey.

Afghanistan - Still Unwinnable After All These Years

Having just passed the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, we are only weeks away from the ten year anniversary of the start of our war in Afghanistan. Sadly, as this milestone date approaches, we have made far too little progress despite the best efforts of hundreds of thousands of American soliders, nearly 2,000 of whom gave their lives there.

Any real security gains that have been made notwithstanding, consider these events which have all occurred in the Afghan capitol of Kabul, and all since June.

  • Today, the head of the Afghan High Peace Council (a man who was also a former President of Afghanistan) was killed at his home in a heavily guarded diplomatic area of Kabul. 
  • A Taliban siege in Kabul last week, which included attacks with grenades, rockets, and suicide vests, held the city captive for two days and resulted in 11 civilian deaths and three Afghan police casualties. 
  • In the prior two months, there have been attacks on the British Council cultural body and on the Intercontinental, a luxury hotel in Kabul popular with foreign visitors to Afghanistan.
Imagine if all of this happened in the last three months in our nation's capitol. Could we possibly feel safe and secure as a nation? Now, consider that this is only some of what happened this summer in Afghanistan, and that these are only events from a single city. What would our outlook as a nation be? How would we feel about our collective future? Now, consider that this chaos and destruction has reigned for decades. How scarred would our national soul be (not to mention our individual psyches)? Would there be any hope at all left in our hearts?

As we begin the process of transitioning responsibility for the nation's security to the government and people of Afghanistan, it is painfully obvious that we are handing over a nearly impossible task. After ten years, thousands of lives, and billions of dollars, Afghanistan remains unstable.

I make no judgments on our original decision to invade Afghanistan in October of 2001, and I am not criticizing any specific conduct of the war since then. I am not arguing that Americans should stay in Afghanistan longer or that they should leave quicker. In the end, I can only conclude that the war has been unwinnable since the start, and that Afghanistan is a costly and bloody puzzle that may only be figured out over a period of decades, if at all.

Daily Zen - Tuesday, September 20

True inward quietness is not vacancy, but stability - the steadfastness of a single purpose.
                        - Caroline Stephen

Monday, September 19, 2011

Novak Taking Time Off

The world's top-ranked tennis player, Novak Djokovic, has said that the back injury that led to his second mid-match retirement in the last two months (and only his third defeat of the year) is not serious. 

To heal the injury, he plans to rest for an undetermined amount of time. After his record year, Novak has earned it. 

He also announced plans to marry his girlfriend after the end of the current tennis season.

Obama Gets Tough

Photo by Chip Somodevilla (Getty)
Two weeks ago I wrote a post urging the President to "fight or go home" as it relates to his attempts to negotiate with the immovable object which is the Republican Congressional block. The President has made numerous "across the aisle" overtures, and time and again, these efforts have yielded little or nothing.

I have begun to believe that the President can get more flies with a hammer than he has been able to get with honey, and based on his recently announced approach to addressing the budget deficit, the President now sees it that way too.

President Obama has laid out a common sense approach to reducing the deficit, simultaneously increasing revenues and reducing spending, while putting sacred cows from each party on the table (reductions in Medicare spending and increases in taxes on the wealthiest Americans). Those who have nothing to offer but unhelpfully entrenched policy positions have already attempted to distract us from the real issues calling the President's budget deficit proposal "class warfare." In defense of his proposal, President Obama has responded saying, "This is not class warfare. It is math." Well said, Mr. President.

Class warfare would be something like increasing taxes on the wealthy (and on corporations) in order to fund increases in the social programs that most benefit the under-privileged poor. President Obama is NOT proposing this, he is simply asking us to do what every struggling small business owner or head of household knows he or she has to do - make more and spend less at the same time.

I hope politicians on both sides come to understand how their insistence on sacred cows and their refusal to participate in real policy negotiations do nothing to resolve our complex economic challenges. I also hope that Americans on both sides demonstrate through their votes in the next election cycle that we deserve and expect more from our elected officials in Washington.

Daily Zen - Monday, September 19

Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm.

           - Robert Louis Stevenson

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ed Koch Flexes Jewish Muscles

As reported in this NPR article, former NYC mayor Ed Koch has issued a very direct warning to President Obama to "revisit" the administration's position on Israel or be prepared to pay a steep political price with his Jewish constituency. This news story was particularly interesting when juxtaposed against my prior post about former President Jimmy Carter's stance in favor of Palestinian statehood.

As I said in the previous post, Carter's position, while validated when viewed through the lens of history and justice, will not likely wield nearly the political influence with the White House as the small but vocal Jewish voting block.

Carter's Middle East Opinions Deserve Serious Consideration

Former President Jimmy Carter has an arguably more complete and profound understanding of Middle East politics than any President before or since. With Palestinians pushing the UN Security Council for a "statehood"vote this week, the former President is lobbying in favor of an independent Palestinian state, and his opinion should be (but won't be) seriously considered.

Carter views Middle East issues and events in a broad historical context, and the policy positions he advocates are intended to serve both justice and American interests in the long-term. Say what you will about his success as an American President, but you can't ignore his Middle East expertise and accomplishments which include:

  • The Camp David peace agreements between Israel and Egypt during his presidency
  • His role in designing and negotiating the Geneva Accords in 2002-2003
  • The success of the Carter Center in fostering peaceful solutions in international conflicts (work for which the former President has received a Nobel Prize)

As a political leader no longer seeking office, Carter also has the luxury of being able to state his Middle East opinions unequivocally, without concern for the impact of his pro-Palestinian statehood position on his image or electability. When you consider that his policy positions bring him no personal loss or gain, and you couple with his vast historical understanding of the region, it's hard not to take President Carter's recommendations as relevant, serious, and ultimately correct. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Weekend Zen, September 17-18

It's a puzzling thing. The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away. Puzzling.
                          - Robert M. Pirsig

Week in Review - September 17, 2011

Here are links to a few things you might have missed on the blog this week.

A sincere look at how 9/11 changed America (but not enough).

The start of political cannibalism season as Republican Presidential candidates begin to eat their own, how Democrats lost New York’s Weiner district (for the first time in almost a century), how Michele Bachmann lost her mind (for at least the third time this month), and why Congress better damn well play ball with the President’s proposed jobs bill.

From the world of not-really religion, my surprising (though not wholesale) defense of Pat Robertson, and a note about the Reverend Al Sharpton’s new gig at MSNBC.

From the shallow end of the pool, a must-see dog that balances a tower of 36 doggy biscuits on his nose (and resists the impulse to chomp them until instructed), a smoking orangutan who kicked the habit, and this week’s chart about graphs from McSweeney’s.

As always, thanks for reading!

Reverend Al Sharpton Joins MSNBC

The Reverend Al Sharpton has joined MSNBC and now hosts a program called PoliticsNation that airs weeknights at 6pm. Excellent, now my dad and other conservatives around the nation have one more reason to never get their news from MSNBC.

NPR reported that "The announcement of his new show sparked criticism from conservatives, but some black journalists also voiced reservations, asking why a black news professional was not selected for the job." 

My question for them...since when has any 24 hour news channel required their on air talent to be an actual "news professional?"

In Defense of Pat Robertson. Really?

In the event that television evangelist Pat Robertson said something stupid (he has) or something hurtful (he did) and he needed to be defended (as if that were possible), there are overwhelming odds against the person who spoke out on his behalf being me. But, here we are.

On his 700 Club television show this week, a troubled man asked Robertson's advice on what to say to a friend who, in light of his wife's advanced Alzheimer's and severe dementia, wants to see other women. After some clear consternation, Robertson essentially says that the situation and disease are horrible, and that he wouldn't blame the man for being lonely and needing companionship. He also advises, and I am paraphrasing here, that if the man were to pursue other relationships, then he should divorce his wife rather than act in violation of his marriage vows.

It would be easy to blow this whole thing up and frame Robertson as a gutless and heartless bastard (and I'm not arguing whether or not that's ultimately true), but if you review the specific language and the context of his statements in this delicate and difficult circumstance, the reality is that this comments don't support that assertion.

Daily Zen - Friday, September 16

My mind is my own church.

 - Thomas Paine 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Medical Community Repudiates Bachmann's Comments

Doctors anticipate that Republican candidate Michele Bachmann's candid off-hand remarks about the HPV vaccine could have an actual negative impact on the health and welfare of Americans.

For the love of all that is good, candidate Bachmann just stop and go home.

The Shallow End - The Lighter Side of Home Invasion

Art mirrors life in the new Nicolas Cage film "Trespass" where he and his family are home invaded. Oddly enough, in his real life Cage was once awoken by a naked stranger eating a Fudgesicle in his bedroom.

New Yorkers Replace Weiner with Republican

The New York City congressional district formerly represented by Congressman Anthony Weiner (of the infamous sexting Weiners) has elected a Republican state assemblyman, Bob Turner, to take Weiner's place in Congress. The election of Turner is significant in that it marks the first time in 88 years that this particular congressional district, which is 40% Jewish and has three times as many Democrats as Republicans, has sent a Republican to represent their interests in Washington.

This surprising outcome is prompting politicos to ask - Is this a referendum on President Obama? Has President Obama angered the Jews by asking Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank? Are Democrats in serious trouble in 2012?

Poppycock, I say. While these may be legitimate questions to ask, I think Washington insiders may be missing the larger message here. Politicians need to keep their private parts in their pants, out of sight of the public, and away from their cell phone cameras. For some folks, this is a moral issue. For me, it's just a glaring sign of ridiculously bad judgment. Regardless, times are incredibly tough, and "we the people" need to be able to take our leaders seriously.

The biggest lesson for politicians here is an obvious one: if the unfortunately named Congressman Weiner had simply behaved himself, he would be readying himself for an 8th consecutive term in Congress and Democrats would not have lost the seat.

Daily Zen - Thursday, September 15

From passions arise worry, and from worry arises fear. Away with the passions, and no fear, no worry.

 - Sutra of Forty-Two Chapters

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Charts About Graphs (from McSweeney's)

Ben Greenman's latest installation in his series Charts About Graphs and Graphs About Charts. This type of information is too powerful not to share.

Turn Up the Sound - The Working Hour

Hey Congress - This is the working hour. We are paid by those who learn by our mistakes.
Viewing Tip: Click on the title bar at the top of the clip to open the video in a larger YouTube window.

Congress Must Play Ball with President Obama's Jobs Plan

Atlanta Job Fair Crowd
Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal & Constitution, via Associated Press
As a proud Obama-crat who is still pulling for the President and the nation to succeed in engineering an economic turnaround, I have been reading with significant interest about the President's recently announced American Jobs Act. With a full week's analysis under my belt, I have concluded that the so-called experts (economists and executives) have no idea what the ultimate impact might be of the President's proposed legislation.

My initial instinct was that with President Obama's jobs speech last week he may not have scored a touchdown, but he had at least finally sketched out a play and huddled us up. If we work together, we might just move the ball down the field after all.

Within hours (or minutes) though, the tiny bit of momentum the President might have gained was threatened, as Republican party leaders indicated that less than half of the President's bill would ever stand at chance at becoming law. That's ok though, that means half of the proposed legislation could still make it through the intricate maze of the congressional labyrinth and positively impact our economic well-being.

The day after the President's jobs plan was announced American "big business" piled on with the nay-saying Republican leadership. An article in the New York Times reported that executives from various industries doubted the impact of the provisions in the President's plan, saying that things like payroll tax cuts and related incentives are not likely to spur any additional hiring. According to these executives, if companies were going to hire new workers, they would need to see increased consumer confidence and increased demand for their products and services, plain and simple.

Daily Zen - Wednesday, September 14

Many lifetimes of misunderstanding come from distrust, hindrance, and screens of confusion that we create in a scenario of isolation.
               - Hongzhi Zhengjue

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Republican Presidential Debate Starts Cannibalism Season

Party politics in the United States seldom yields anything surprising or new, but nothing is so predictable as the intra-party cannibalism that occurs during one of the major parties televised Presidential candidate debates.

If you belong to the party that currently holds the White House, there is almost nothing so wildly entertaining as watching opposition party maneaters swarm into a feeding frenzy when they think they smell an open wound on one of their own kind. It's like watching wild antelope race across the savanna, and then suddenly turn and attack the weakest of their own herd. (Okay, that would actually be grotesque to see in the animal world, but it's great when you are watching opposition party politics.)

At last night's Republican presidential debate in Tampa, Texas Governor and newly-crowned front runner Rick Perry was the seemingly pre-selected target of his peers. Perry took shots from a host of other candidates on topics ranging from taxes to Social Security to the mandated vaccine against HPV in young girls. Pundits generally say that Perry weathered the attack reasonably well...but I say, who cares!

 The almost-primary-season Republican political cannibalism is well underway, and that's the show I'm excited to see. The only thing I will enjoy more is when the race really heats up and they all take outlandish and absurd ultra right-wing political positions ("God makes my tough political decisions," "Gays aren't actually people," "For better or worse, James Earl Ray was just trying to make a point") that will push me solidly back toward my Democratic core and cement my support for President Obama in 2012.

I know the nature of televised intra-party political debates encourages politicians to say the craziest things. Still, these eat-your-own party member buffets do help us see how far to the right (or left) a candidate will go to differentiate him/herself from the field. They probably don't truly believe all the wacky shit they say during the intra-party debates, but they might. Right, Michele Bachmann?

Daily Zen - Tuesday, September 13

Nature teaches more than she preaches. There are no sermons in stones. It is easier to get a spark out of a stone than a moral.
                       - John Burroughs

Monday, September 12, 2011

For My Fellow Federer Fans

Very interesting commentary in The New Yorker on the mystique of Fed and his total collapse in the last three sets of his semi-final vs. Djokovic. (Thanks for recommending the link Jane!)

The Shallow End - Orangutan Kicks the Smoking Habit

In light of our collective need for post-9/11 anniversary smiles, I'm adding another not-too-serious animal story today (the previous post was a video of a very talented canine balancing doggy biscuits).

I suppose this story of a captive orangutan who has been allowed to adopt a cigarette smoking habit could actually upset a few folks (it kind of pissed me off at first), but relax and think of it this way - now, she's kicked the habit!

The Shallow End - You Think Your Dog Has Skills?

This dog has mad balancing skills and more discipline than most people.
Viewing Tip: Click on the title bar at the top of the clip to open the video in a larger YouTube window.

Daily Zen - Monday, September 12

You shouldn't allow yourself to be confused by others. Act when you need to, without further hesitation or doubt. People today can't do this. Their affliction is in their lack of self-confidence.                      
                           - Linji

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 Changed Us, But Not Enough

For several weeks, I have intended to write about the tragedies of September 11, 2001, but each time I sat down to do so, my feelings and beliefs refused to coalesce into a defined shape that I could identify and express. A strong undercurrent of sadness and loss ran through me, and I felt a deep sense of waste and distress, but I struggled to distill order from these emotions. Today, on the ten year anniversary of those horrific events, I awoke at 4am feeling anxious and short of breath, but the muddled thoughts that have swirled inside me have finally crystallized into words that I can share.

What I believe is that the events of 9/11 changed us, but not enough.

It is with all due respect that I acknowledge that 9/11 profoundly and eternally changed thousands of individual lives. Friends and family members of the nearly three thousand people who died in the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon, and in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The thousands of soldiers who have given their lives in our nation's war efforts since 9/11, and all those who knew and loved them. And a relatively small number of individuals who were so completely stirred by the terrorist attacks that they made fundamental changes to their own daily lives, better aligning them with their most deeply held values and convictions, religious or otherwise. There are no doubt tens or even hundreds of thousands of individuals for whom 9/11 was a genuinely life-altering event. But what about the rest of us? What about our nation as a whole?

Americans have all endured the easily identifiable and somewhat superficial impacts of 9/11. Airport pat downs and other minor travel inconveniences. Bag checks and metal detectors at concerts and sporting events. New rules and protocols imposed on us almost everywhere we choose to gather by the thousands.

And Americans all carry the burden of the more costly and complex consequences of 9/11 on our collective world. Job loss, national debt, and economic distress. A more fragile national psyche that must live with increased terror alert levels, breaking news, and fear of...fear.

Nineteen men and four airplanes. It seems like they changed an entire world of things. In truth, things have changed enough, but collectively, as a nation and a people, America has not. Since 9/11:

- We lost confidence, but gained no humility.
- We remembered sacrifice, but failed to honor it through our daily actions.
- We gained perspective, but made choices that diverged from our core priorities.
- We learned to appreciate humanity, but did not foster human kindness.
- We shared moments of brotherhood, but found no long-term unity.

At heart, America is still a nation composed of respectful and caring individuals, most of us generous souls who will care for a neighbor during his time of greatest need. But we no longer care for the man we just met (as our greatest religious and ethical traditions would have us do), and unfortunately, we have become a nation of strangers. On that clear September day, we reveled in the feeling of community that so quickly replaced our more common notions of distrust and selfishness. For a moment, we bonded as a nation. But in the days since then, and truthfully, in most of the days before, we failed miserably to come together.

On this tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001, let us remember that the terrorist attacks, grisly and horrifying as they were, offer us an opportunity. As a nation and as people, what we have is the chance not only to memorialize all that we have lost, but to re-gain it.

  • We have a real opportunity to focus less on ourselves, and instead pursue the greater good with our daily words, actions, and votes.
  • We have a real opportunity to practice random acts of kindness with those we know, and even more with those we don't know - family, friend, neighbor, citizen, human.
  • We have a real opportunity to keep an open mind, assume positive intention, and find it in our hearts to offer forgiveness.
  • We have a real opportunity to let our hearts swell and be charitable in our thoughts, words, and deeds - we can choose to go beyond our smallest selves and be bigger than we have to be. 

When we have done all this, then we will have changed, enough.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Weekend Zen, September 10-11

My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness. - Dalai Lama

Week in Review - September 10, 2011

Here are links to a few things you might have missed on the blog this week. 

A plea from former NY Governor Eliot Spitzer urging President Obama to get aggressive with his detractors (and a related post from me suggesting that he fight or go home), the full text of the President’s jobs speech this week, and our weekly jab at insane Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann

A video showing Rafa Nadal’s bizarre press conference collapse, a quick look at whether Roger Federer might have a shot at his sixth US Open this week (he’s in the semi-finals on Saturday), and sad news that Peyton Manning may already be done for the season.

From the "hard to believe” category, yet another shameless request by current Borders execs for a $2 million parting gift, and in light of the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, a collection of pre-9/11 photos of the twin towers of the Trade Center. 

If all this seems too serious, check out the latest (and last) from Glen Campbell or the story of the man who stuffed shrimp and lobsters (into his pants as he tried to steal them).

Glen Campbell - Gentle, Thoughtful, Personal

I'm not old enough to remember Glen Campbell's weekly television show, but I do fondly remember his music. Gentle, thoughtful, and personal. At the age of 75 and living with Alzheimer's, Glen Campbell has just released what he says will be his last studio album, Ghost on the Canvas, and he talked with NPR about the album, his career, and his life.

You can hear sample tracks from his new album via the NPR interview. For an extra special treat, you have to check out the song linked below - an incredibly poignant and tender rendition of Wichita Lineman, performed by Jimmy Webb (who wrote the song), pop singer Billy Joel, and Dobro master Jerry Douglas.

Daily Zen - Friday, September 9

There seems no plan because it is all plan; there seems no center because it is all center. - C.S. Lewis

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Michele Bachmann Predicts Failure, Offers Nothing

Republican Presidential hopeful (and the most embarrassing thing to come out of Minnesota since Sen. Larry Craig's restroom toe-tapping incident) Michele Bachmann has already started spouting her typical worthless partisan rhetoric in response to the President's jobs plan. As expected, her empty words provide no factual back up for her statements and she offers absolutely ZERO alternative ideas of her own. She is poison and she is simply bad for us all.

More Surgery May Sideline Peyton For the Year

ESPN has reported that Peyton Manning had another neck surgery today, the second such procedure he has had in 2011.

Recovery time for the future NFL Hall-of-Famer should take a minimum of ten weeks, but it may also take much longer. The team hasn't given any specific anticipated date for his return.

Sad news for those of us who are Colts fans as we will not likely see Peyton before Thanksgiving, and we may not see him on the field at all this year.

Full Text of the President's Speech

Kevin Lamarque  /  Reuters

I've just finished reading the full text of President Obama's jobs speech, and if you missed the address, I would urge you to do the same. Yes, it's long, but educating ourselves takes effort, and this speech contains important details about our economy, something we all say we care about a great deal.

I have to say, President Obama has laid it all out for Congress. He has provided a wealth of specific job creation ideas and he has enumerated specific ways of paying for everything he proposed.

He also very openly acknowledged that there are some ideas his fellow Democrats won't appreciate (like adjustments to Medicare and Medicaid programs) and some ideas Republicans will balk at (like raising tax rates on the very top tier of wealthy Americans). Who gives a damn? If Congress wants to avoid wholesale incumbent replacement in the 2012 election, then they better suck it up, move past the politics and ideology, and take meaningful action.

The White House has gathered all these proposals for boosting our economy WITHOUT increasing our debt into a program called the American Jobs Act. It's now up to Congress to pass this legislation, in whole or in part, and if they can't do that, then they better damn well enact some legislation of their own that will move us forward as a nation.

Daily Zen - Thursday, September 8

You should withdraw inwardly and search for the ground upon which you stand; thereby you will find out what truth is.

                      -Yun-men Wen-yen