Friday, April 15, 2005

What Really Worries Me

Posted by Hello

It is no more surprising to be born twice than it is to be born once.


The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.

---Niels Bohr

A general in ancient China came to see a Zen master. He drew his sword and pointed it at the teacher, and announced: "Don't you know that I am a man who can run you through without blinking an eye?"To which the Zen master responded instantly: "Don't you know that I am a man who can be run through without blinking an eye?"Deeply impressed, the general sheathed his sword and remained for the teaching.

---Zen story

My wife sends me a few emails every day. More often than I like they are about how I can become a better husband for her than I am already. But sometimes she finds a political item or entry as she browses the Net that nails the direction our nation is taking right to the wall. When that happens I find little alternative but to put aside everything I am doing...and really take an inventory. I'm sure she'd like it if I did that with the health and diet articles she sends too, but that is a different essay.

I know people who feel politics deeply. They are my friends. It may surprise you they are on "both sides of the aisle," so to speak. In fact, I often enjoy discussion with a conservative more than a fellow liberal. We all agree on two basic principles: 1) the polis, being humans striving to maintain community, is the best idea the species has come up with for getting along with each other, and 2) open and free political debate is the only way to resolve disagreement.

Since the Election of 2004, which maintained President Bush apparently, I feel that healthy political debate is quieting down among my friends...and being furiously discouraged in the public arena. I sense whatever the political leanings and convictions of my friends that they are troubled by questions they have and a distrust of the world that is growing. And they are suffering this anxiety in silence and maybe denial.

Let me give you a very public example of what I mean. Last weekend Senator Kerry made the following remark before a meeting of the League of Women Voters: "Last year too many people were denied their right to vote, too many who tried to vote were intimidated." Here we have a serious concern. The more tainted with corruption a nation's election process becomes, surely we know the more horrifying existence for those citizens becomes as well. We scold other nations and move our armies to spread democracy and destroy tyranny.

What response did the remark of the former candidate for the presidency of the United States inspire? In an article on Monday entitled "John Kerry tries out a new whine," Republican National Committee spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt is quoted as saying, "While President Bush and members of Congress are working to move our country forward, it's disappointing that some Democrats are focused on rehashing baseless allegations more than five months after the election."

Apparently Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto went even further with 2 columns that brought us into the middle of the week. He surmised that Senator Kerry's sources of concern were actually leftwing satirical pieces...and that the poor candidate couldn't even tell that his own people were joking with him.

I suspect what is wrong with this picture is the same thing that accounts for the increasing silence among my friends, liberal and conservative. There is neither respect shown to the man who conceded the close election, nor quiet deliberation regarding his concern. He is deplored and mocked. His very grasp of reality is questioned. Now honestly, if you are an American reading this, have you felt anything like a questioning of your "attitude" among acquaintances if it is known you have similar questions? Is it better for your popularity at work and sense of job security if you conceal and deny your questions? How healthy is a society that allows itself to get into such a fix...if that is what has happened?

It is at this point that my wife introduced me to a new columnist. I should have bumped into him before because the same piece Dana sent me was referred to last week at The Brad Blog...but I didn't quite see it. The guy's name is Chris Floyd...and he writes regularly for a publication in Moscow...Russia! Now wait a minute, this isn't the Cold War anymore...and their leader and ours have looked into each other's souls and like what they see. But still...there's bound to be a stigma in there somewhere. I think the essay is very well written...and is a good, although alarming, summary of the United States' political path these past 6 months. If you like, see what you think. It begins...

"Let's face the facts. The game is over and we -- the 'reality-based community,' the believers in genuine democracy and law, the heirs of Jefferson and Madison, Emerson and Thoreau, the toilers and dreamers, all those who seek to rise above the beast within and shape the brutal chaos of existence into something higher, richer and imbued with meaning -- have lost. The better world we thought had been won out of the blood and horror of history -- a realm of enlightenment that often found its best embodiment in the ideals and aspirations of the American Republic -- is gone. It's been swallowed by darkness, by ravening greed, by bestial spirits and by willful primitives who now possess overwhelming instruments of power and dominion.

"A gang of such spirits seized control of the U.S. government by illicit means in 2000 and maintained that control through rampant electoral corruption in 2004. The re-election of President George W. Bush last November was a deliberately shambolic process that saw massive lockouts of opposition voters; unverifiable returns compiled by easily hackable machines operated by avowed corporate partisans of the ruling party; and vast discrepancies between exit polls and final results – gaps much larger than those that led elections in Ukraine and Georgia to be condemned as manipulated frauds. Indeed, a panel of statisticians said last week that the odds of such a discrepancy occurring naturally were 959,000 to 1, the Akron Beacon-Journal reported." or

There is a crummy picture of Mr. Floyd here a writeup of his history and credentials here

When I went to junior high and high school, the debate team was among the most exciting extracurricular activities in which to involve oneself. I went to college on a debating scholarship. During political campaigns in my small city in western New York, we had whole school assemblies in which the candidates appeared and debated their views. The hallways were full of imaginative and original posters made by students, who were encouraged to learn to express themselves in a rational manner. I remember an election season in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I went to graduate school in the early 1960's, in which citizens were out on street corners talking politics. It is one of the great memories I have of what America is all about.

I work in a junior high school. I won't say political discussion and activity is stifled there...but it certainly isn't encouraged either. There was no mock election for the students...and the one political poster I saw in the school was taken down. What does any of this tell us about the health of political freedom as we have moved through 50 years? In our time of positively athletic patriotism, how is the actual inventory in our political warehouse?

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

One's Balance In Spring

Ivy Clear, Donna Silva, and Robert Blankshine show perfect balance in Gloria Contreras' ballet "Moncayo I" for the Joffrey, 1966 Posted by Hello

I have lived on the lip
Of insanity, wanting to know the reasons,
Knocking on the door. It opens.
I've been knocking from the inside!

---Jalaluddin Rumi

After all, if I can't be myself, who can?

---Auntie Mame

Behind Ise Shrine,
unseen, hidden by the fence
Budhha enters Nirvana


Thirty-five years ago, in through April somewhere probably, a tradition of tonic and renewal began in my life, which I continued yesterday---though it appears to have changed drastically. Well I'm 65 now, I was 30 then. In 1970 or so, Ivy Clear and I took a drive into the Catskill Mountains, west of where we were living outside New York. It might have been around Margaretville...or maybe it was further up into the Adirondacks. We frequently were in a celebratory mood when we ventured out into Nature, and usually it didn't matter quite where we were.

At any rate we drove up and down some back road deep in a forest, and as the Spring day was mild and beautiful we parked the car and plunged into the wilderness. The woods seemed dark and ancient...huge trees and boulders planted by a massive glacier. Granite and the new green of another year engulfed us, when suddenly there was a ravine. Deep in the gorge, far below, was a crashing stream---and from one side to the other lay a fallen tree. It had to be an oak, big and sturdy, and the ravine was not all that far across...and we, not being of the soundest mind at the time, decided we should go across. It was far enough down that, had either of us fallen, we'd have been hurt bad---so the only solution of course was not to fall. I'm not sure I remember how Ivy got across, but I think she went first...and probably managed it as I did: sort of hugging and inching along.

The mania just described is not the tradition. What followed was relief and joy...and so of course the only thing for me to do was get to that stream, take off my clothes and jump in. Now, mountain streams in April that far north are a true jolt to the system. I tell you the force and temperature of that water was a reminder of just how alive I really am! After that every year I have tried to get into a stream each April around the time the first butterfly is to be seen. A couple years later it was white water rafting in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts. That dip wasn't planned exactly. Another time I was waste-deep in an underground river while caving. I began to notice the activity was becoming a ritual, and one that was good and that I looked forward to.

And so it was that yesterday I took some kitchen compost down the back path to the garden, a bed of which Dana just had dug to plant peas in a couple days at the New Moon. I tossed the leftovers into another area, set down the container and walked the few feet over to our stream. We have 3 and sometimes 4, when the water really is running, that go through the property. This is the main stream we use for the garden, and which later feeds our well. It has been raining and sleeting and snowing a little for the last week, since we got back from Arizona. It's been cold and miserable...but yesterday things had brightened and though winds blew with March bluster, it was a nice day. The creek was really moving, and it's only a few feet across so I stepped over. Jeroch had helped us build a little bridge across, which I've had to reinforce a couple times. (It only washed away once.)

On the other side is a clearing we've made, where we can picnic in seclusion and I can hang my hammock. No thought of my tradition had entered my mind. At another point down the stream a little, I've thrown a log across. There are blackberries and elderberries in there. I looked at that log and wondered if it was still strong enough. I put my foot on it, just to test it a little, when suddenly the bark slimed off it and I lost footing. My right foot dug for the bank...which was mud, and down I went. A few rose briars went part way and then remained behind, scratching as only they can, when I felt the first swell of water into my trousers. These were new Sunday go-to-meetin' pants I'd worn only once I think. But I was more concerned that I felt my wallet and all my IDs in for the soaking. That was a new Western shirt I'd just bought at Spurs in Tucson, but now Spring water was slushing into the collar and down my spine. Surprisingly the water wasn't that cold...but the papers in my wallet prevented my lounging there, so out I got and up the hill bedraggled I walked.

I've always had some pride in my balance and the fact that I don't fall down much. I only broke one bone about 20 years ago...and that doesn't count. But I've noticed lately my reaction time has picked up a delay. A couple years ago, I was playing baseball and decided to steal 3rd base. I remember distinctly the beat between my brain's command and my body's response. That didn't used to be there. Hmmmm. And as I walked through the living room this evening after a refreshing shower, Dana noticed something else that didn't used to be there. "What are those 2 black and blue marks on your behind, dear?" Reminders, I guess, to change the tradition a little and respect the stream bed more. Well, the story is---er---out so I figured I might as well write it.