Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Turn of Phrase - A Purposeful President and His Policy-Free Opponent

"Has there ever been a campaign with so few major plans on the table?

President Obama’s proposals are small and medium-size retreads, while Mitt Romney has run the closest thing to a policy-free race as any candidate in my lifetime."

- From conservative writer David Brooks, in a recent column in which he asserted that the 2012 presidential election has the potential to be the dullest ever.

I completely agree with Brooks' characterization of the election as monotonous and uninteresting, and in fact, made a similar observation in a post I wrote a couple of months ago (Will 2012 Be Our Most Boring Election Ever?). In that article, my estimation of a thoroughly lackluster campaign was dead on, although my assumption that the candidates would conduct themselves with "refreshing" civility has proven incorrect.

We were all taught in childhood that if we had nothing nice to say, then we should say nothing at all. If our two presidential candidates followed that adage, we'd have not only the most boring, but also the quietest election in U.S. history.

Daily Zen - Tuesday, July 31

If you are going through hell, keep going. 

                  - Winston Churchill

Monday, July 30, 2012

Daily Zen - Monday, July 30

Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward.

                     - Nelson Mandela

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Week in Review - July 28, 2012

I don't remember a week when the adaptability and perseverance of the human spirit was reflected in so many different news stories. 

This week, we remembered the twelve victims of last week's awful shooting in Aurora, and we witnessed the impact of a very different kind of violence in this photo essay that captures the daily lives of refugees from the civil war in Syria. At Penn State, we saw yet another of the many faces of tragedy in the sad but necessary dismantling of the Joe Paterno sculpture installation. 

At the opposite end of the human emotional spectrum, we enjoyed the triumphant return of the Summer Olympics. After Mitt Romney's publicly-expressed concerns about London's readiness, the British PM delivered an Olympic smackdown to Romney and the games commenced successfully. Not surprisingly, we're riveted to tennis coverage on the telly at our house, and I published a short guide to Olympic tennis with TV schedules and fun facts to help you enjoy it too. Olympic bliss doesn't end when the 2012 summer games are over, as this incredibly inspiring ad reminds us that London will host the Paralympic Games at the end of August.

Far away from the Olympic playing fields, there was plenty of inspiration on the dance floor this week, especially in this beautiful and moving contemporary routine featured on this week's So You Think You Can Dance.

In a week when everything felt so serious and important, we must remember to periodically take a full breath, exhale deeply, and smile. Since that's often easier said than done, here's a cute clip of a precious kitten to help you out.

As always, thanks for reading.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Weekend Zen, July 28-29

Thomas Merton
Featured Zen Contributor

      Perhaps I am stronger than I think.

                  - Thomas Merton

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Short Guide to 2012 Olympic Tennis

2012 Olympic Tennis at Wimbledon
The 2012 London Olympics are underway and the tennis competition begins on Saturday, July 28 at Wimbledon.

Here are five essential facts and a few corresponding links to help you make the most out of the time you spend watching Olympic tennis.

(1) Who's playing? All the top-ranked men and women are playing, with the exception of Rafael Nadal who was forced to withdraw due to injury. Fresh from their Wimbledon wins, Roger Federer and Serena Williams are of course the favorites. Complete draws for the men's and women's tennis competitions were announced on Thursday. You can find draws for singles and doubles here, and you can see all the players listed by country here.

(2) Where and when can you watch Olympic tennis? The complete TV coverage schedule for the U.S. is here. In a nutshell, starting Saturday July 28 Bravo will broadcast 56 hours of tennis coverage from the first round through to the semi-final matches on Friday. Finals matches the weekend of August 4-5 move to various other NBC networks.

(3) Which tennis players will be flag bearers for their countries? In 2012, a total of eight tennis players have been chosen to carry their nation's flag during Friday night's opening ceremony (by contrast, in 2008 only Federer - Switzerland and Fernando Gonzalez - Chile were flag bearers). Here are the eight tennis players who will proudly carry flags in London.
    1. Marcos Baghdatis - Cyprus (CYP)
    2. Novak Djokovic - Serbia (SRB)
    3. Max Mirnyi - Belarus (BLR)
    4. Agnieszka Radwanska - Poland (POL)
    5. Maria Sharapova - Russia (RUS)
    6. Horia Tecau - Romania (ROM)
    7. Stephanie Vogt - Liechtenstein (LIE)
    8. Stanislas Wawrinka - Switzerland (SUI)
Bonus Trivia - Why isn't Federer carrying the flag again for Switzerland? Federer carried the Swiss flag at the Olympics in 2004 (Athens) and 2008 (Beijing). He was offered the opportunity again this year, but declined so that his doubles partner Stan Wawrinka could have the honor.

(4) Who were the 2008 medal winners in tennis?
  • Rafael Nadal won the men's singles gold medal and Elena Dementieva won the women's singles gold.
  • Federer/Wawrinka won men's doubles and the Williams sisters won women's doubles. 
The complete list of 2008 tennis medalists is here.

(5) Of the six players who earned Gold/Silver/Bronze medals in singles in 2008, how many are playing in 2012? Novak Djokovic (2008-Silver) and Vera Zvonareva (2008-Bronze) are the only 2008 singles medalists returning to the Olympics this year. The other four players are either injured (Rafael Nadal), retired (Elena Dementieva, Fernando Gonzalez), or didn't qualify (Dinara Safina).

You can find lots more info including live/daily scores, photos, and a link to the ITF Olympic Tennis Mobile App here.

Enjoy the 2012 Olympic Games! 

Daily Zen - Friday, July 27

Thomas Merton as Buddha
Featured Zen Contributor

Every moment and every event of every man's life on earth plants something in his soul. 
                    - Thomas Merton

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Turn of Phrase - Brits Respond to Romney's Olympic Insult

Romney and Cameron
Photo: Charles Dharapak / AP
"We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere."

- British P.M. David Cameron, gently reminding Mitt Romney that hosting the Olympics in London is a far more complex venture than hosting in Salt Lake City.

Cameron, and for that matter the rest of the British, were appropriately pissed when Romney, who is visiting Great Britain this week, attempted to show off his Olympics executive "expertise," telling NBC's Brian Williams that he had seen "a few things that were disconcerting" with regard to London's preparedness. 

We all know how challenging it can be navigating the treacherous and uncertain waters of American-British foreign policy. If Mitt handles a long-term ally like the U.K. with this much aplomb, I can only imagine how well he would manage relations with China or Russia.

Movement That Moves Us - Chehon and Witney on SYTYCD

A couple of months back I shared an incredibly beautiful and pained solo dance performance by a very unusual dancer named Hampton Williams. Since then, I've faithfully watched So You Think You Can Dance each week on Fox, and waited patiently for that next great inspirational routine.

Last night's contemporary number choreographed by Stacey Tookey, and danced by Chehon Wespi-Tschopp and Witney Carson, was that piece. The routine was about love, or to be more precise about the end of love, and Chehon and Witney completely gave themselves over to it. 

The choreography perfectly captures the devastation and turbulence of disintegrating love, and the bodies of Chehon and Witney, like our own conflicted yearnings during those gut-wrenching moments of life, are simultaneously fused together and forced apart.

Dance = Art.

(The first minute is fun facts about the dancers. The routine starts around 1:18.)

Daily Zen - Thursday, July 26

Thomas Merton
Featured Zen Contributor

We must make the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves. 

                       - Thomas Merton

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Channel 4's Ad for the 2012 Paralympic Games

Passion, guts, penultimate excellence - check out this amazing ad from Britain's Channel 4 for the 2012 Summer Paralympic Games.

(Hat tip to my friend Doug Gonterman for sharing this ad on Twitter.)

Daily Zen - Wednesday, July 25

Thomas Merton
Featured Zen Contributor

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves and not to twist them to fit our own image. 

                      - Thomas Merton

Fleeing Violence and Civil War in Syria

Syrian boy standing on mattresses at
the school where his family lives.
Photo: Jamal Saidi / Reuters
As the violence escalates between brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad and the armed rebel resistance, hundreds of thousands of Syrians are fleeing their country and crossing borders into Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, and other middle east nations.

It's hard to imagine the awful conditions and pervasive fear that must preclude such a mass evacuation.

What would lead people to pack up their entire families and flee their homes, with nothing ahead but the promise of poverty and hunger in hastily-erected tent cities in hostile neighboring countries?

Exodus is a heart-breaking hardship for those who flee their homelands, and a stressful and disruptive burden to the communities that must absorb them, particularly when resources may already be scarce.

This compelling Reuters photo slideshow reminds us of the real impact of civil war on a nation's people, not with graphic photos of war or violence, but with unique images of refugee life, some that capture sadness, and some that glimpse our fundamental human resilience and adaptability.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Daily Zen - Tuesday, July 24

Thomas Merton
Featured Zen Contributor

Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.

                   - Thomas Merton

Monday, July 23, 2012

Couldn't We All Just Use a Kitty Moment?

Taking Down Paterno's Statue

In a statement released early Sunday morning, Penn State President Rodney Erickson explained his decision to take down the Joe Paterno statue that stands outside PSU's Beaver Stadium.

The crux of the statement and Erickson's rationale:

"I now believe that, contrary to its original intention, Coach Paterno's statue has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing in our University and beyond. For that reason, I have decided that it is in the best interest of our university and public safety to remove the statue and store it in a secure location."

I selected a few photos that perfectly capture the dismantling of the statuary and the shameful end of the Paterno era.

The original statue as it was built.
(Photo: AP)
Workers erecting a temporary barricade.
(Photo: Craig Houtz / Reuters)
(Photo: Craig Houtz / Reuters)
(Photo: Craig Houtz / Reuters)
(Photo: Patrick Smith / Getty Images)

What Does Tragedy Really Look Like?

It's easy to get caught up in the hype surrounding the mass killing last Friday in Colorado - the bizarre setting at a Batman movie premiere, the eerie proximity of Aurora to Columbine, the killer's booby-trapped apartment.

But what does tragedy really look like? Like this.

You can learn a little more about the victims here.

Daily Zen - Monday, July 23

Thomas Merton and the
Dalai Lama in 1968

Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.

                     - Thomas Merton

Our reader's choice for July's featured Daily Zen contributor is Thomas Merton

Merton was a Trappist monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky, as well as a poet, social activist, writer, and student of comparative religions.

Merton pioneered dialogue with prominent Asian spiritual figures, including the Dalai Lama, Japanese writer D.T. Suzuki, and Thich Nhat Hanh.

We'll feature Merton's words and various images of the monk all week long in the Daily Zen.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Week In Review - July 21, 2012

Senator John McCain delivered a memorable American-style smackdown to former Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann (R - Minnesota) on the Senate floor this week, after Bachmann made baseless allegations against a Muslim staffer who works for Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

In LGBT news, the President of Chick-Fil-A finally came out as a blatant homophobe, inspiring me to write this devastating break-up letter to my favorite chicken sandwich. The Boy Scouts reaffirmed their anti-gay stance this week, and the Twitterverse didn't take the news well, responding with a host of humorous and creative tweets.

Will Ferrell turned 45 this week and we celebrated the occasion with more cowbell.

Next week is featured zen contributor week on the blog. You have until 9pm (Pacific) on Sunday night to click here and vote for which famous figure will give us sage advice all week. Choices this month are Thomas Merton (Trappist monk), Cat Stevens (musician), Pema Chodron (Buddhist teacher), Tom Stoppard (playwright), and Nelson Mandela (activist).

As always, thanks for reading.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Weekend Zen, July 21-22

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.

                    - Frank Lloyd Wright

Click here to vote for next week's featured zen contributor.

Friday, July 20, 2012

California Can’t Afford High-speed Rail

A few weeks ago, Governor Jerry Brown and the California state legislature accomplished something that has only happened three other times in the last twenty years - they passed the state’s annual budget before the fiscal year-end deadline.

The state’s elected leaders faced the daunting task of bridging a $16 billion budget gap, but the legislators ultimately showed courageous and determined leadership, navigating their way through a multitude of ugly dilemmas and gut-wrenching decisions to get the job done.

After such a show of sound governance, why then did they decide last week to do something as fiscally irresponsible as authorizing the allocation of $8 billion to build the first segment of track for the state’s proposed high-speed rail project?

Daily Zen - Friday, July 20

Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.

                      - Henry James

Don't forget to click here to vote for next week's featured zen contributor.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Top Tweets - Breaking Up With Chick-Fil-A

I love Chick-Fil-A sandwiches so much it's sinful.

Not like you love your spouse, and not the way you love your friends or family. I mean...it's more than that.

I'm talking about an intense fiery burning love. A deep unfathomable love, the kind of love that literally grafts itself on to your heart. Immaculate, unshakeable, preternatural love. 

I love Chick-Fil-A sandwiches like Westboro Baptist loves hate, like Kardashians love the NBA, like Rush Limbaugh loves the sound of his own voice.

I love those buttery buns and peppery chicken filets (and on occasion those fried-to-perfection 12-piece nuggets with honey mustard dipping sauce) so much it hurts. Like kittens love catnip, like flowers love rain, like God so loved the world. That's how much.

And that's why breaking up with Chick-Fil-A is hard to do (congrats Neil Sedaka - you were right).

In light of remarks made by Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy this week, I can no longer stick my head in the sand. I must acknowledge that some of the money I spend at Chick-Fil-A supports people and organizations who believe I am less.

I must say goodbye, Chick-Fil-A. So long my beautiful sandwich, I'll miss you.

In these first difficult days after my split from Chick-Fil-A, I know Twitter will be there to comfort me and make me smile. Here are a few favorite Tweets so far.

Vote for July's Featured Daily Zen Contributor

Next week we'll have "featured contributor" week for Daily Zen quotes. I've come up with a list of nominees, but your votes will determine whose quotes we'll see all week.

Choices for July include Thomas Merton (Trappist monk), Cat Stevens (musician), Pema Chodron (Buddhist teacher), Tom Stoppard (playwright), and Nelson Mandela (activist).

Here's the ballot for July 2012. Take a second to make your pick from the five nominees, and if you'd like, add your own suggestions for future zen contributors.

The survey closes on Sunday, July 22 at 9pm (Pacific), so make your pick soon!

Daily Zen - Thursday, July 19

Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don't have to like it... it's just easier if you do. 

                    - Byron Katie

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Turn of Phrase - The Real John McCain Returns

Senator John McCain, (R - AZ)
Photo: Johannes Simon / Getty
"What makes America exceptional among the countries of the world is that we are bound together as citizens not by blood or class, not by sect or ethnicity, but by a set of enduring, universal, and equal rights that are the foundation of our constitution, our laws, our citizenry, and our identity.

When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it."

- From Senator John McCain, in his eloquent defense of Huma Abedin, Sec. of State Clinton's Deputy Chief of Staff, who faces unsupported allegations that she used her position to exert a pro-Islamist influence over American foreign policy.

In remarks he made on the floor of the U.S. Senate, McCain completely dismissed a letter composed by Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann and four other Congressmen, in which the lawmakers questioned Abedin's loyalty and alleged she has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood organization.

McCain's speech, which you can view a clip of on Politico, is refreshing on two levels.

Daily Zen - Wednesday, July 18

Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get, only with what you are expecting to give - which is everything.

                      - Katharine Hepburn

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Top Tweets About the Boy Scouts Ban on Gays

In a prior post, I shared news of the Boy Scouts of America's decision to continue its shameful ban on participation by gay scouts and scoutmasters.

It's important that the Boy Scouts organization begins to understand how outdated and wrong-headed their bigoted policy is. To that end, the Twitterverse launched a full-frontal attack on the BSA with all the verve and creativity we've come to expect.

Here are a few of my favorite Boy Scout Tweets, which I selected mostly for boldness of message or cleverness of irony. (Please know, I'm not trivializing the BSA's decision - I'm calling attention to it and recognizing good humor!)

Boy Scouts Reaffirm Their Ban on Gays

Boy Scouts of America Logo
After a two-year review of their policy banning gay scouts and gay scout leaders, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has decided to let the ban stand.

In announcing the decision, Boy Scouts chief executive Bob Mazzuca said, "The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers and at the appropriate time and in the right setting."

The ban was previously challenged and upheld more than a decade ago in a Supreme Court case, wherein a gay scoutmaster had been fired from the organization because of his sexual orientation. 

In its June 2000 decision, the Court ruled that the Boy Scouts of America, as a private organization which exists in part to express a particular message, has a constitutional right to freedom of association. This freedom allows the organization to exclude members when "the presence of that person affects in a significant way the group's ability to advocate public or private viewpoints."

The most unfortunate aspect of the BSA's affirmation of its anti-gay policy is that this American "institution" is sending a message to innocent gay kids that says - you are different, you are wrong, you are less. 

The Scouts have a legal right to say those things, and happily, the rest of us have rights too...and responsibilities. 

- It's up to each of us to teach our kids to be tolerant and open-minded. 
- It's up to each of us to vigorously challenge notions of bias and hate. 
- And most importantly, it's up to each of us to make sure the gay kids in our families and neighborhoods hear messages of love and acceptance.

The Boy Scouts of America has made its negative and hateful position known. We must each send our positive message of support for gay and lesbian kids even louder and more clearly.

Daily Zen - Tuesday, July 17

To what shall I compare this life of ours? Even before I can say it is like a lightning flash or a dewdrop, it is no more.

                             - Sengai

Monday, July 16, 2012

Happy Birthday Will Ferrell - More Cowbell, Please

Comedic actor Will Ferrell turned 45 today, and we're celebrating his birthday with one of my favorite SNL moments. Ferrell is his usual shameless best, and Christopher Walken is a treat too. Enjoy.

Daily Zen - Monday, July 16

Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves. 

                        - J.M. Barrie