Monday, April 30, 2012

Turn of Phrase - Dramatic Testimony In the Joyless Case of John Edwards

Cheri Young
Wife of ex-aide to Edwards
"I felt like everything had been dumped in my lap. Everybody was on board but me. ... I didn't want the campaign to explode and for it to be my fault. I ultimately decided to live with a lie."

- From the tearful testimony of Cheri Young, wife of a former John Edwards campaign aide, explaining why she lied to cover up Edwards' 2008 mid-primary extramarital affair. 

Young and her husband Andrew have admitted to conspiring with Edwards to misappropriate about $1 million in campaign donations, much of which the couple used to support Edwards' pregnant mistress.

Edwards' trial is underway in North Carolina, and the former senator faces six charges related to campaign-finance violations. He has entered a plea of not-guilty on all counts.

Few contemporary political figures have suffered as monumental a downfall as John Edwards, and the fact that his saga has been brought about by his own shameful actions makes it only slightly less tragic. 

The prominent Democrat's epic slide from legit presidential contender to philanderer to liar to criminal has all occurred in the span of a few short years. Throw his wife Elizabeth's death from cancer into the mix, and even the most vicious and hard-hearted Republican (Dick Cheney's current role) would have to feel a sense of pity for Edwards. 

If convicted, Edwards faces up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines. That $400 haircut doesn't seem like such a big deal now, does it?

Daily Zen - Monday, April 30

To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.
                       - Bertrand Russell

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Week In Review - April 28, 2012

At the White House Correspondent's Dinner, the President showcased his sense of humor and shared his secret second-term agenda. If political humor isn’t your speed, check out this Craigslist car ad for a 1995 Pontiac that promises to “emanate manliness from every loosely-coupled piece of sheet metal.”

In sports, the tennis world’s #2 player Rafael Nadal kicked off the clay court season with a win, and in music, the world’s #1 singer-songwriter, Greg Laswell, gave us all a big win with the release of his new album Landline.

On an inspiring (and hopefully not somber) note, I reflected on my first year as a hospice volunteer, and shared what I’ve learned from my time with the dying.

Thanks to everyone who voted for May’s featured Daily Zen contributor. After a tight race, Ralph Waldo Emerson edged out Katherine Hepburn and J.M Barrie. We’ll show off a week’s worth of RWE quotes beginning Monday 5/7.

Oh yeah, one last thing, the most creative reader suggestion for a future Daily Zen feature contributor was RuPaul. I did some research, and while there weren’t enough sharable RuPaul quotes to fill a week (sorry Mitch), there was one pearl of wisdom I had to share.

“My goal is to always come from a place of love ...but sometimes you just have to break it down for a motherfucker.” - RuPaul

As always, thanks for reading!

Obama at White House Correspondent's Dinner

Here is the closing bit from the President's stand-up segment at the White House Correspondent's Dinner on Saturday. As expected, the POTUS took jabs at politicians and the media in "roast-style" comedy. His comments about Jimmy Kimmel, this year's WHCD host, yielded my favorite stand-alone line of the night.

"Jimmy got his start on something called the 'Man Show.' In Washington, that's what we call a Congressional hearing on contraception."

The President also revealed his "secret agenda" for the second term...

(Apologies to subscribers who saw this post in your email three times. I had technical issues with the "editing" of the YouTube clip!)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Weekend Zen, April 28-29

Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.

                       - Confucius

Friday, April 27, 2012

Indisputably Best Craigslist Car Ad Ever

"Am I man enough to handle a car this flawless? The short answer" 

Madison Avenue could learn a thing or two from this evocative advertising copy. Not to mention this clever pricing strategy - a car marked down from the original asking price of $199,999 to only $700. Who could resist such a bargain? No one, that's who.

You can click the pic to enlarge the ad, but you'll probably want to click here to see it even larger. Trust me, it's worth a click or two.

(Hat tip to The Dish for finding this one.)

Daily Zen - Friday, April 27

Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.

                       - Dr. Seuss

Click here to vote for May's featured Daily Zen contributor.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Daily Zen - Thursday, April 26

There is no enlightenment outside of daily life.
                  - Thich Nhat Hanh

Be sure to cast your vote for May's featured Daily Zen contributor!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What I Learned From Hospice and the Dying

Last fall I signed up to volunteer for a local hospice organization. After a few days of training, I began making regular companionship visits to clients, usually in their homes, hoping I could offer some measure of support and comfort to dying patients and their families. 

My patients, or friends as I like to call them, have been unique and diverse, men and women from a vast array of distinctive backgrounds. Some of my hospice friends are in the expected autumn of old age, grinding out their final months in ways they probably anticipated, and some of them are middle-aged, people who at the pinnacle of their lives find themselves suddenly facing a shocking and unfair twilight that has fallen on them far too quickly. 

It sounds cliché, and it probably is, but when I reflect on the relatively short time I have worked with my hospice friends, I know I have taken away far more than I have given. After all, how could you not view it as an unparalleled gift of generosity, when people are willing to share with you the most poignant, vulnerable, and important moments of their lives? I often feel like the hours I spend volunteering for hospice provide me with a sense of satisfaction beyond what I have earned, but I suppose life is like that - sometimes rewarding us with more than we deserve, and sometimes with less. 

Through the experiences I have had working with terminally ill people, I have grown, and each patient, each dying friend, regardless of sickness, age, or demeanor, has been a mentor and a teacher.

The dying have taught me to be attentive - to blooming flowers, to cracks in the sidewalk, to the sound of my own breathing.

The dying have taught me to be grateful - for the feeling of the sun on my skin, for the smiles of strangers, for the legs I have to carry me.

The dying have taught me to be open - to the gentleness of touch, to the beauty of silence, to whatever each day offers, or takes away, from me.

The dying have taught me to be brave - to face pain and loss with strength, to face fear with an open heart, to face love with courage.

We never know how the world will challenge us or down which paths our lives will travel. We only know that things won't always turn out the way we planned, and we have little to depend on to get us through, except each other. I'm grateful to have had this lesson, among others, reinforced by my hospice experience, and I'm overjoyed to have reached a point in my life when, for a little while at least, I can be truly present in the lives of friends, family, and sometimes, strangers.

I've taken a little time away from the daily grind to chase a dream or two, but by this time next year, maybe I'll be working full-time again, earning a living the old-fashioned way. It really is strange, the way things turn. Regardless of how it all works out, I can't imagine a time when hospice volunteering won't be a part of my life. I have so much more to learn about dying, and the dying still have so much more to teach me about life.

Daily Zen - Wednesday, April 25

Endurance is one of the most difficult disciplines, but it is to the one who endures that the final victory comes.

                       - Buddha

Be sure to vote for May's featured Daily Zen contributor if you haven't already!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Turn Up the Sound - Greg Laswell's Landline

Indy singer-songwriter Greg Laswell
The work of indie singer-songwriter Greg Laswell is my personal favorite musical discovery of the past decade.

Laswell's poignant and personal lyrics, laid down next to haunting piano and acoustic guitar melodies, create the kind of melancholy marriage made in heaven that stirs both my heart and head.

The best songs from his first few records, tunes like "High and Low" and "Marquee," are intense and brutally sad, reportedly coming on the heels of a viciously difficult breakup. On Landline, Laswell's new album which was released on Tuesday, things seem to be looking up a bit for the musician. There are more up-beats, heavier synthesizers, and less blunt force musical trauma.

Landline features several notable offerings, not the least of which is the title track, on which Laswell shares vocal duties with the lovely and talented Ingrid Michaelson. Laswell's voice is filled with yearning and depth, and Michaelson's is...utterly different, but pensive and somber just the same. When they sing alternate verses, their voices are perfect complements to each other, and when they sing together, they produce a harmony that is sweet and comfortable.

In the event that Greg Laswell's music, or my description of it, has left you with the impression that he is an artist who spends most of his days weeping alone in a corner contemplating sharp objects, be sure to check out this witty and entertaining "making of" video clip he made with Michaelson about their recording of Landline.

Daily Zen - Tuesday, April 24

One meets his destiny often in the road he takes to avoid it.  

                - Jean de La Fontaine

Be sure to vote for May's featured Daily Zen contributor if you haven't already!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Nadal Looks Solid in Clay Court Opener

Nadal stretching for a forehand.
Photo: Reuters
Rafael Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic in straight sets on Sunday, winning a remarkable eighth consecutive title at the Rolex Masters in Monte-Carlo.

Nadal's reign on the red dirt courts of Monte-Carlo is unprecedented in tennis. Since he entered the tournament for the first time in 2005, his unbelievable match record is an undefeated 42-0.

With the victory, Nadal earned his record 20th ATP Masters 1000 title, giving him one more Masters shield than rival tennis great Roger Federer. Even more importantly for Nadal, the Spaniard's win on Sunday snapped a seven match losing skid against Djokovic, the world's top-ranked player.

The 6-3, 6-1 scoreline in the final was impressive, and Nadal's play was solid throughout the match. In classic clay court grinder style, Nadal ran Djokovic all over the court, and he broke the Serb's serve five times in two sets. His energetic, aggressive, and consistently high level play on Sunday looked a lot like...old Nadal.

Having said that, before we re-install Nadal on his clay court throne, there are two important asterisks that should appear next to Rafa's tournament results.

Vote For May's Featured Daily Zen Contributor

Image: Wisdom Quarterly
Beginning in May, we'll identify one week each month when all the Daily Zen quotes will come from a single "featured" source.

I'll come up with a list of nominees based on potential contributor birthdays, historical anniversaries, holidays, or other noteworthy events, and then Readers can vote on whose quotes they would most like to see.

The famous figure who gets the most votes wins, and I will do my best to find and publish a selection of the most inspiring, interesting, and zen-ish things they've said about life.

Here's the ballot for May 2012. There are 5 "featured" Daily Zen nominees to choose from, and a space for you to add your own suggestions for future contributors. Meditate on your choices (but not too long - the survey closes at midnight on Friday April 27), and make your pick!

Daily Zen - Monday, April 23

I take it not only a day at a time, but a moment at a time, and keep it at that pace. If you can be happy right now, then you’ll always be happy.

                      - Willie Nelson

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Week In Review - April 21, 2012

John Boehner and several other members of the GOP establishment have finally jumped on the inevitability bandwagon and announced their support for Mitt Romney. The most widely-reported endorsement of the week came from aging rocker Ted Nugent, whose potentially threatening anti-Obama rant earned him a Secret Service interview.

To mark the annual arrival of the mid-April tax filing deadline, we revealed five completely weird (but totally legal) ways to make non-taxable income in California, and with the arrival of warm spring weather, we introduced the idea of driving less and walking more. We linked a cool interactive chart so you could see how "walkable" your city is.

We explored the awesome power of music, as we witnessed the remarkable transformation of an Alzheimer's patient, and we honored the life and legacy of Dick Clark with a rollicking live Barry Manilow performance of the American Bandstand theme song.

Lastly, just for fun, we enjoyed a video clip of on-air Freudian slips by news anchors that left us wondering what was really on their minds. 

As always, thanks for reading!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Check Out Your City's Walkability Score

With $4.00 gallons of gasoline and radiant 80-degree springtime days, I've been contemplating the benefits of walking more and driving less.

The downtown area of San Carlos, my Northern California city, is robust and compact, and all the businesses I frequent - Starbucks, liquor store, barbecue joint, and bank - are centrally located and just a few blocks apart. 

Unfortunately, this concentrated hub of downtown activity is a three-mile hike from the condo where I live, just "up the hill." I point out that my neighborhood is uphill, because as I recall from the last time I walked home from downtown San Carlos, the incline is approximately 90º (that means completely vertical, right?). 

So, I compromise. I drive the short distance to downtown, and then I walk - like a New Yorker on his way to work each morning, or a Los Angeleno on his way...from the Nordstrom's end of the mall back to the parking garage...I walk. 

How about you? Have sunny days and President Obama's gasoline price conspiracy (calm down liberals, I kid) inspired you to walk a little more? Are there a few places you wouldn't mind walking to, or are you stuck with too many hills and roadside footpaths right in the middle of suburban sprawl? rates cities and towns on their walkability, and not surprisingly, major metro areas get the highest marks. Bigger urban centers, cities with bonafide mass transit options and actual paved sidewalks, are obviously easier to navigate sans auto than smaller towns. On the scale, Boston, San Francisco, and New York scored in the 80s, while the top 2,500 most populous cities received an average walkability rating of 43. 

If you're wondering about your city's rating, check out the very cool "walk score" interactive chart. You can manipulate the results to make comparisons by population or geographic region, and then sort them any way you'd like. 

For those of you who are curious, my tiny city of San Carlos (population: 30,000) scored 51.5, a rating apparently applied to smaller towns that have an urban feel, but that still require a short car ride to pick up a gallon of milk. 

Weekend Zen, April 21-22

A morning-glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books. 

                    - Walt Whitman

Friday, April 20, 2012

Music Brings New Life To Man With Alzheimer's

From the documentary film
Alive Inside.
Henry is an elderly man who has been stricken with Alzheimer's.

When he began to have seizures more than ten years ago, Henry's wife and family made the very difficult decision to place him in the full-time care of a nursing home facility.

Over the years, as the disease took its toll on him, Henry became increasingly non-communicative and isolated, reaching a point where he didn't recognize loved ones and could barely answer "yes or no" questions.

And then came an iPod, a set of headphones, and the incredible power of music.

This video clip of Henry is from the documentary film Alive Inside, which chronicles the efforts of Dan Cohen, social worker and executive director of the non-profit organization Music & Memory. Cohen and his organization bring iPods to nursing homes, in the hopes of helping patients like Henry re-connect with the world through music.

Alive Inside opened in New York on April 18 at the Ruben Museum of Art.

Daily Zen - Friday, April 20

If I believe I cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. But when I believe I can, then I acquire the ability to do it even if I didn’t have it in the beginning.
                      - Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, April 19, 2012

News Anchors Blowing It On Air

I lost count of the number of times I gasped and chuckled watching this clip!

 There's nothing intentionally dirty in the video (these are newscasts after all), but if you're watching this at work, headphones might be a good idea.

Daily Zen - Thursday, April 19

In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: It goes on. 

                      - Robert Frost

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Turn Up the Sound - Manilow Reminisces About American Bandstand Theme Song

Dick Clark, 1929-2012
With the passing of entertainment icon Dick Clark today, there will be televised tributes-a-plenty. I wanted to acknowledge Clark's passing, but I also wanted to offer something you might not see anyplace else. This Barry Manilow "Bandstand Boogie" video should do the trick.

In the clip, Manilow tells the story of how he came to write and record his own memorable version of the American Bandstand theme song. He also shows off incredible energy as he sings, dances, and repeatedly opens his eyes extraordinarily wide (must be a show biz thing).

I hope you enjoy Barry's story, his song, his modified David Cassidy hair, and his impressively high heels. (And, RIP Mr. Dick Clark.)

Daily Zen - Wednesday, April 18

Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.
                        - Pema Chodron

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Turn Of Phrase - Ted Nugent Threatens Obama

Nugent speaking to NRA crowd.
"If Barack Obama becomes the President in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year."

"If you don't know that our government is wiping its ass with the constitution, you're living under a rock some place."

- From gun-toting elder-rocker and GOP activist Ted Nugent, during remarks he made while stumping for Mitt Romney at an NRA convention last weekend.

In other insightful commentary from Nugent, he noted that the re-election of Obama would ensure America's place as "a suburb of Indonesia."

Look no further, Mitt. You've found the perfect running mate. By choosing Ted Nugent as your VP, you can reassure the Tea Partiers that small-minded extremist fearmongering is alive and well in the GOP.

Here's the full 3-minute clip of Nugent at the NRA convention if you want to enjoy more cogent political discourse.

Daily Zen - Tuesday, April 17

All things are linked together through cause and effect. There is no such thing as an accident.

                     - Swami Prajnanpad

Monday, April 16, 2012

Top 5 Non-Taxable Income Sources In California

Non-Taxable Income Examples
(Question 21, CA State Income Tax Form)
The state government in California has earned notoriety for over-regulating things, and in truth, that reputation is deserved, particularly in matters related to public safety and the environment. As you would expect, a state that is its lawmaking also has some interesting details in its tax code.

While preparing my California state taxes this weekend, I ran across several unique "adjustments" I could legally make to my taxable income, which could have reduced the overall amount of state income tax I was required to pay. Sadly, as I earned income from none of these sources, they didn't apply to me.

Here are the Top 5 Non-Taxable Income Sources In California.

1. Reward from a Crime Hotline
 - Rest assured, if you tattle in California, you won't be taxed for it.

2. False Imprisonment Compensation
 - That's right. If we get overzealous and inadvertently jail you, we'll pay you for your time in tax-free dollars.

3. Ottoman Turkish Empire Settlement Payment
 - I had no idea the Ottoman Turks were still relevant, but apparently they did some awful stuff to Armenians between 1915-1923. Good to know compensation for near genocide is non-taxable.

4. San Bruno Gas Explosion
- Any reimbursement you received because Pacific Gas & Electric accidentally blew up your home and all your belongings is non-taxable. This gives me an idea for a new state motto: California - our generosity knows no bounds.

5. California Lottery Winnings
- If you're one of the lucky winners (and there must be a handful of you somewhere), you don't have to pay tax on your California Lottery winnings.
Note: You DO have to pay tax on winnings from any other state's lottery.

With so many specific items called out as non-taxable income (including many things I could never have imagined were taxable in the first place), I was surprised to see some income sources not addressed.

For example, do children have to pay taxes on income earned from street corner lemonade stands? If I won American Idol but I'm actually from Oklahoma, is my prize money taxable? Can I keep all those foreign coins I found while beachcombing with my metal detector? And how about the $20 bill I found in the pocket of that coat I haven't worn since last winter? All mine?

Daily Zen - Monday, April 16

You are what your deep, driving desire is.

         - Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Week In Review - April 14, 2012

The Centers for Disease Control released new data this week showing record low birth rates among American teenagers. Ever the skeptic, I compared these teen pregnancy results with abortion rates, and added my thoughts on how to ensure that both stats continue to decline.

Elsewhere in sexual politics, President Obama, arguably the most gay-friendly president in history (hat tip to Tony Meredith for that reminder), disappointed his gay supporters this week with an executive order he didn’t sign.

With new polling showing only a 21% favorability rating, Newt Gingrich may be less popular across America than Marlin’s manager Ozzie Guillen is in Miami's Little Havana. Guillen's praise last week for Cuba's Fidel Castro will surely be the centerpiece in the Stupid-Things-Ozzie-Said Hall of Fame. A man with no popularity issues is Newark, NJ mayor Cory Booker, who rescued a neighbor from a house fire this week, and who, I argue, has achieved at least 10 impressive feats that would make Superman jealous.

On Saturday I reviewed the music of Gotye, the 31 year-old Euro-Aussie sensation whose album Making Mirrors is re-writing the rules of pop music. Later that day, Gotye performed on Saturday Night Live and then showed off his sense of humor in a parody of his hit “Somebody That I Used To Know.”

As always, thanks for reading!

SNL's Backstage With Gotye Parody

Since I raved about Gotye's music yesterday, including his hit single "Somebody That I Used To Know," I had to share this awesome digital short "parody" from last night's SNL. 

Gotye did a nice job with his cameo appearance, playing "straight man" to obsessed fans Andy Samberg and Taran Killam.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Turn Up the Sound - Gotye Reinvents Pop

Photo: Courtesy of
Reinvent (verb): To create anew. To replace with an entirely new version.

**Start the video below now.
Continue reading.**

Gotye, pronounced like Gaultier the French designer, is the professional name of Wally DeBacker, a 31 year-old musician born in Belgium and raised in Australia, whose third album Making Mirrors is dazzling the pop music world and raising the quality bar dramatically.

If you've already heard Gotye's hit single "Somebody That I Used To Know," and chances are you have, you probably initially wondered when Sting reunited with his former bandmates Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers to record a new Police song.

Comparisons between Gotye and The Police are fair and accurate, particularly on tracks like "Somebody" when Gotye sings at the top of his vocal register, but happily, the similarity is just a glimmer on the surface of a deep well of inspired and imaginative pop music.

"Somebody" is firmly entrenched in the 80s, but if you give a listen to Making Mirrors in its entirety, you'll quickly find yourself immersed in a sea of diverse styles and sounds. "State of the Art" blends reggae beats and electronica seamlessly, while at several moments on the track "I Feel Better," the only thing needed to round out the 60's Motown sound is a backup vocal loop from Martha and the Vandellas.

Make no mistake though - Gotye isn't mimicking the past, he is reinventing it.

As you make your way through Making Mirrors, you discover tracks that are simultaneously innovative and familiar, a host of songs rife with recognizable threads sewn together in ways you never imagined. Gotye is like a boy genius who has locked himself in his mother's attic for weeks on end, only to eventually emerge with a stunning original work of art fashioned from boxes of old photos and forgotten family heirlooms.

In a fascinating online documentary short, Gotye described his musical process as stumbling upon the "fortuitous meeting of sounds" that were somehow "meant for each other." Making Mirrors is proof that he has mastered the imagination, instruments, and technology needed to marry those sounds together with awe-inspiring artistry.

With songs that are sometimes reminiscent of so much other music, it might seem that Gotye has stolen something from the music that came before him. If that were true, he didn't steal something - he stole everything. I would make the case, instead, that Gotye has stolen nothing. He has absorbed sounds from the past, allowed them to ricochet and resonate inside his mind, and given them back to us - sometimes as musical cousins of pop music we recognize, and sometimes as something strange and beautiful we've never heard before. Regardless, each track on Making Mirrors is unique and worthwhile.

Don't believe me? Try another.

If you're reading this on Saturday April 14, the day I published this post, you can see more Gotye on television tonight, when he appears as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live.

You can buy Gotye music everywhere, and you can get addicted, as I have, to a wide array of Gotye songs and videos here on his YouTube page.

Weekend Zen, April 14-15

I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.
                       - Helen Keller

Friday, April 13, 2012

10 Feats Mayor Cory Booker Accomplished That Superman Never Even Tried

You've probably heard that yesterday Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker literally ran into a burning building and rescued a young woman.

It's true - as the mayor told the folks at CBS This Morning, he raced into a neighbor's home that was on fire, ran through flames to a second floor bedroom, threw a young woman over his shoulder, and rushed out of the house to safety.

In light of this act of heroism, Booker is being hailed as a superhero by the media. I did some research into Newark's alleged "man of steel," and learned that the mayor does indeed have many remarkable accomplishments, including some deeds that Superman himself lacked the courage and brains to even attempt.

It's true that Superman has saved plenty of people, hundreds or even thousands maybe, from burning buildings. And yes, I know he flew backwards around the Earth to reverse time and stop some pretty traumatic crap from going down.


Here are 10 True and Impressive Cory Booker Feats that Superman never even tried.
  1. Played varsity football for Stanford University.
  2. Formed a lasting friendship with Rachel Maddow (Booker's Lois Lane?).
  3. Received a Rhodes scholarship and attended Oxford University.
  4. Earned a J.D. degree from Yale Law School.
  5. Elected as Newark mayor; vowed to turnaround America's "worst city." 
  6. Achieved a 40% reduction in both murder and shootings in Newark.
  7. Named sexiest mayor by Women's Wear Daily.
  8. Inspired Facebook CEO Zuckerberg to donate $100 million to schools.
  9. Launched Newark's biggest city parks expansion in 100 years.
  10. Gave welcoming announcement at Whitney Houston's funeral.
As if all this isn't enough reason to love Cory Booker...

Daily Zen - Friday, April 13

Only he who is ready to question, to think for himself, will find the truth. 

              - Nisargadatta Maharaj

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Turn of Phrase - Obama Disappoints Gay Supporters

"We are extremely disappointed with this decision. The unfortunate truth is that hard-working Americans can be fired simply for being gay or transgender."

- From Joe Solmonese, president of the advocacy group Human Rights Campaign. 

Solmonese was reacting to today's White House announcement that President Obama will not sign an executive order banning LGBT discrimination by employers with federal contracts. 

Some state and local municipalities, and some private sector companies and organizations, have enacted LGBT anti-discrimination requirements and policies, but with the exception of the recent repeal of Dont Ask Don't Tell, the federal government has not. This leaves gay and lesbian workers in most places completely vulnerable to discriminatory employment practices, including termination.

The Obama administration continues to proclaim its support for ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act), a congressional bill that would "prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by civilian, nonreligious employers with at least 15 employees." Unfortunately, that support has yielded nothing, as ENDA has never had enough support to pass both houses of Congress since it was first proposed in 1994.

The President's unwillingness to sign the anti-discrimination executive order, like his failure to stand up in favor of same-sex marriage, is disappointing, though not surprising. In the United States, lawmakers and politicians often do the right thing, only after the winds of change have generated a substantial enough cultural groundswell for them to safely ride through the next election. 

Maybe in his second term when the pressures of re-election have waned, President Obama will be a courageous leader on the issue of gay rights, rather than relinquish himself to the role of ardent supporter.

Daily Zen - Thursday, April 12

Those who believe they have plenty of time, get ready only at the time of death. Then they are ravaged by regret. But isn't it far too late?
                        - Padmasambhava

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Teen Pregnancy and Abortion Rates Declining

According to new data released from the Center for Disease Control for the year 2010, birth rates for U.S. teenagers are at an all-time low.

The historically low rate of 34.3 births per 1,000 teen women represents a 9% drop from the prior year and a remarkable 44% drop since 1991.

If you're generally skeptical, as I am, the first question that comes to mind when you hear this good new is - maybe the number of births is declining because women are having more abortions? 

I did a little research, and I'm happy to report, that's not the case. An increase in aborted pregnancies is NOT the reason there are fewer teen births in the U.S. In fact, abortion rates among American women have been steadily declining for the last 30 years.

Check out this interactive chart which reflects the annual number of abortions per 1,000 women (aged 15-44) for every year since 1978.

To analyze trends in abortion rates at the state level, select a specific state from the drop-down menu on the chart. You can view an interactive map comparing current state-level abortion rates by accessing this link and clicking on Maps.

The indisputable statistical evidence that teens are having fewer babies and fewer abortions provides enough good news for Americans all across the political spectrum to be happy. The questions up for debate are: who gets the credit for these encouraging results, and more importantly, how do we make sure these trends continue?

Daily Zen - Wednesday, April 11

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes genius to move in the opposite direction.
                       - Albert Einstein

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Turn of Phrase - Best Ozzie Guillen Quotes

Ozzie Guillen
Photo: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
"I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that motherf*cker is still here."

- From Ozzie Guillen, manager of baseball's Miami Marlins, who was suspended for 5 games by the team for comments he made about Fidel Castro during a recent media interview.

You don't need a PhD in cultural anthropology to know that Fidel Castro is literally the worst person for whom you could announce your "respect" in the Miami metropolitan area. Praising the Cuban dictator's longevity in South Florida is about as popular a move as admiring Rick Santorum's unyielding social conservatism in San Francisco's Castro district. 

Guillen has a long history of saying all the wrong things. In fact, the Marlins manager prides himself on bluntly speaking his mind, seldom apologizing to people or groups he offends, and even bragging once to interviewer Bryant Gumbel that he "likes trouble."

It's hard to say whether Guillen's Castro remark outshines his previous controversial best. In 2006, during his tenure as manager of the Chicago White Sox, Guillen referred to a Chicago sportswriter he disliked as a "fag." Given the overwhelming unpopularity of Castro among South Florida's plentiful Cuban baseball fans, versus the unpopularity of the word "fag" among an unknown number of pro-gay Chicago baseball fans, I'd have to say the Castro comment tops Guillen's list. 

You can find some of Guillen's less controversial quotes here

The More You Know Newt...

Newt Gingrich, Former Speaker
and would-be election thief
Can a politician have too much name recognition and publicity? Apparently, if the politician is pompous, self-serving, and generally dislikable, yes.

Based on increasingly negative polling trends, the best thing Newt Gingrich can do for his campaign is disappear from it.

As the Republican primary race has dragged on, Newt has had more than ample opportunity to share his vision for America (moon colony, anyone?), but the more he makes his case for the presidency, the further he gets from the Oval Office. Owing perhaps to the increased awareness of his role as spoiler at best, and election thief at worst, Gingrich's un-favorability rating has escalated from 58% in November, to 64% in February, to 71% by the first of April.

Gingrich should go into hiding now so that he might hold on to the embarrassing 21% favorability rating he has, which no doubt reflects the last of the far right-wing diehards who are still living the "Contract With America" dream from 1994.

Click the graphic to enlarge.

Daily Zen - Tuesday, April 10

Look within. Seek the self.

          - Ramana Maharishi

Monday, April 9, 2012

SNL's Hunger Games with Sophia Vergara

There wasn't a lot of great comedy to pick from this week on SNL, but you can't go wrong when you combine Modern Family's Sophia Vergara, the Hunger Games, and my creepy-good favorite, Bill Hader.

Week In Review - April 7, 2012

Mitt Romney had a very good week last week, despite his wife's queer assertion that we still needed to "unzip" her husband. With a clean sweep in last week's primaries, Romney shifted his focus more toward President Obama. I warned Democrats to dust off their clown shoes and prepare to join the political circus that, until now, has primarily been the domain of the GOP. 

The holiday weekend made for a quiet news cycle, so I took time to revisit some favorite remembrances of Easters past, not the least of which included frightful mall bunnies and reflections on an astonishing work of "religious" literature I read one Easter Sunday morning twenty years ago. 

Speaking of dead men coming back to life (he says, preparing for a vengeful lightning strike), we also had fun seeing how zombies might perform as marketing executives in a hilarious Walking Dead/Mad Men video mashup. Lastly, we all loved seeing Maxi the wonder golden retriever attempting to save Timmy from the well, just like Lassie. Or something like that. 

As always, thanks for reading!

Daily Zen - Monday, April 9

Always do what you are afraid to do.

           - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Powerful and Personal Easter Memory

Salvador Dali's
For many of us who are agnostic, atheist, or just not particularly religious, Easter weekend can be a curious and ambiguous time. It's not that we feel left out or alienated, and it's not that we don't still enjoy some of the traditions surrounding the holiday, it's just that we feel kind of...weird.

Maybe, this is because the scriptural subject matter related to the holiday, the text about which we are inherently skeptical, is so incredibly grave and serious.

After all, this isn't just a celebration of any old biblical miracle, we are talking about the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

Maybe we feel strange because, unlike Christmas, the Easter holiday lacks the plethora of accompanying social and cultural trappings that can entice anyone, Christian or otherwise, to get caught up in the spirit of things. Maybe Easter is simply less commercialized and so manages to maintain a more purely religious aura than its Yuletide cousin.

Regardless of the root causes of my Easter discombobulation, here I sit, reflecting on the meaning and memory of Easters past, thinking about childhood baskets and chocolate bunnies, middle-aged mimosa-fueled Easter parties, and Jesus.

I imagine that my childhood memories of the Easter season are not too different from those of most Americans who grew up in a Catholic household. I remember the forty days of Lent - complete with ashes on my forehead, fish dinner Fridays, and frightening shopping trips, steering myself as far away as possible from the terrifying, wild-eyed, man-sized bunny who sat in the middle of the mall.

And then there were Easter Sunday mornings. Waking up early to eagerly search for a not-so-well-hidden basket of goodies, attending Easter Sunday mass in my finest button-down shirt and maybe a clip-on tie, and then joining aunts, uncles, and cousins for delicious ham and potato salad, and a warm springtime afternoon spent searching for hidden eggs in my Aunt Millie's manicured backyard.

Whether in traditional celebration with family or in slightly less than wholesome revelry with friends, I hold dear a variety of pleasant and gratifying Easter memories, but the most powerful of these about Jesus.

Weekend Zen, April 7-8

Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love. 

                     - Mother Teresa

Friday, April 6, 2012

Best Mashup Ever - Walking Dead Mad Men

Cable networks have been working overtime to produce some unbelievably great weekly television series, many of which seem to air on Sunday nights in competing time slots. Sure, you can watch some when they are originally broadcast, and DVR the rest for later. Or, you can just combine them into one awesome megashow.

Best. Mashup. Ever.

Daily Zen - Friday, April 6

What is to give light must endure burning. 

                    - Viktor Frankl

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Daily Zen - Thursday, April 5

Peace is all around us—in the world and in nature—and within us—in our bodies, and our spirits.

                    - Thich Nhat Hanh

Play Time Is Over for Obama and Democrats

The Way We Were
Photo: Getty Images
For nearly a year, we Democrats have lounged comfortably on our sofas, munching our popcorn and writing our snarky blogs, while the GOP circus came to town each day and entertained us.

Big top performers like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum amazed and amused us, while unforgettably freakish sideshow acts like Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and Michelle Bachmann, sent us wildly retreating in horror and befuddlement. Until now, a good time was had by all.

As the primary race nears its inevitable conclusion though, and the Republican party finally moves forward through the stages of grief (Romney "denial" seems to have been an inordinately stubborn phase), those hilarious political barbs we've seen the GOP contenders toss candidly at each other will now be sharpened and hurled with increasing force at President Obama and his policies.

Remember how much fun those televised debates were? Rick Perry stumble-fucking his way through almost every argument or response, Herman Cain sound-biting his way to shooting star-like brightness and burnout, Ron Paul sounding measured and reasonable - pushing his thoughtful agenda of actual ideas as if someone in the GOP really cared, and Michelle Bachmann, that wacky Minnesota congresswoman, just plain scaring the crap out of all of us. Oh, the memories. Letting go is hard, but we can't let ourselves live in the past. We all have to move on eventually.

Here we are at last, with a clear frontrunner and a nearly presumptive Republican nominee. Beware Democrats! I warn you - this one is not like the others. While the rest of the field has been sloppy, undisciplined, and slightly lunatic, Mitt Romney has proven himself to be a well-oiled machine (sorry, as soon as I thought of it, I had to use it).

Romney is prepared and organized, and with more than five years of practice under his belt, he is finally a formidable foe in the world of presidential politics. He's a master of deception, capable of deftly shifting positions right before your eyes, a man who can appear to be passionate about nothing while caring deeply about representing his own interests.

Here's a look at the clever trickery we have to look forward to from the Romney campaign.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Daily Zen - Wednesday, April 4

Just as fire is covered by smoke and a mirror is obscured by dust...wisdom is hidden by selfish desire. 

                     - Bhagavad Gita

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

"What's the Matter, Boy? What Is it?"

I imagine this is how Lassie got her start saving Timmy from the well.

(Hat Tip to my friend Beth for sharing this clip of her adorable golden retriever Maxi. That's Maxi's trustworthy companion Baudrillard who makes the cameo appearance at the end.)

Daily Zen - Tuesday, April 3

All the powers in the universe are already ours. It is we who have put our hands before our eyes and cry that it is dark.

               - Swami Vivekananda

Monday, April 2, 2012

Turn of Phrase - Mitt's Wife Wants to Unzip Him

"We better unzip him and let the real Mitt Romney out because he is not."

- From Mitt Romney's wife Ann, in response to a question about the common perception that her husband's personality is "too stiff."

In a related story, Rick Santorum commented that because Mitt and Ann are a married heterosexual couple, unzipping is permissible.

Daily Zen - Monday, April 2

Great understanding is broad and unhurried; small understanding is cramped and busy.
                         - Chuang Tzu

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Week In Review - March 31, 2012

This week we presented a serious, dare I say harsh, examination of why Newt Gingrich won't quit the presidential race (I think I spelled elephantine egomaniac correctly). We then took a slightly less critical, dare I say humorous, look at the top 5 signs that George W. Bush is planning to endorse Romney for president. We had some fun with European politics, exploring politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn's less-than-convincing denial of involvement in a French prostitution ring.

Away from presidential politics, the killing of Trayvon Martin dominated headlines. Believing there were already too many partially-informed opinions being expressed about the Martin case, I have stayed away from the topic. That changed this week when I felt compelled to weigh in on filmmaker Spike Lee's potentially catastrophic Twitter blunder

Two personal passions, books and tennis, were well-represented this week. We saw a clever 2-minute video that artfully showed how physical books are born - the old-fashioned way, with the help of glue and human hands, and we received an update from Paul Gagne on the finale of the Tournament of Books. As for tennis, world #1 Novak Djokovic was featured on 60 Minutes, and we shared a behind-the-scenes clip of Novak serving up aces to journalist Bob Simon.

Of course we also offered the just-plain-silly for your entertainment. Anglophiles will absolutely love this Downton Arby's spoof, and for animal lovers, it doesn't get any better than this video of an angry goose striking back.

As always, thanks for reading!

Mad Men Is Back - It's Zou Bisou Bisou Time

Millions of people have been waiting a year and a half for new episodes of the series Mad Men to return to television. Last Sunday, the wait was over as AMC launched the show's new season with a 2-hour premiere.

With a plethora of complex characters working at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, all of whom lead complicated and disparate personal lives, the creators of Mad Men used the premiere episode primarily to catch us up on where we stand with the bounty of different story lines.

The most memorable scene from last week's season opener was undoubtedly the musical performance of a 60's French cocktail number by Don's new wife Megan at his surprise 40th birthday party.

Those of you who saw the episode last week are probably still humming "Zou Bisou Bisou" and visualizing Jessica Pare's mini-skirt clad song-and-dance seduction of her husband (hopefully, the video clip below will stop that ear worm once and for all - if you want it to, that is). For those of you who didn't see Mad Men last're in for a treat.