Friday, August 31, 2007

Love, Loss, and Moving On

My wife has been standoffish toward our other two cats since we had Smokey euthanized. She says she doesn't want to hurt so much when their times come.

My psychologist says that when he was serving his internship, he had a client who suffered from severe grief for years after her dog died. He tried to understand why she felt so bad for so long about the death of a dog, and he tried everything to help her, but to no avail. He finally consulted with his supervisor who surmised that her sense of loss over her dog was really her sense of loss over people who had died or left her in some fashion. For some reason, she had been unable to open her heart to the grief she felt over their loss, but the death of her dog brought all of this unresolved loss and grief to a head, and she just couldn't deal with it. It was too much for her.

Maybe that's how it is with my wife, to a much less severe degree. She never cared that much for Smokey when he was alive. He avoided her unless she called him for a snack, and he competed with her and she with him for a place on my lap. But Smokey's death seemed to hit her even harder than it did me. I suspect that it was because his death symbolized all of the other losses she's suffered over the course of her life.

This reminds me of a funeral I attended sometime back for the father of my wife's cousin's boyfriend. During the eulogy, I struggled like mad to suppress my tears for a man I had met only a couple of times and with whom I had exchanged not more than a dozen words. I didn't know him, and I cared about him no more than I did about any other virtual stranger. At least not while he lived. But at that funeral, I wanted to cry like a baby. I'm sure his death represented other losses for me.

Yet, at the same time I say this, I must also say that I don't believe that if one grieves severely over the loss of a pet, it must be because that loss represents the loss of something more and probably human. I believe that we can truly love our pets almost if not as much as we love people and that we can, therefore, suffer almost if not as much over their deaths as we can over the deaths of people we love. I don't know if this is how it should be. I don't know if we should love our pets as much as we do people. I'm not even sure how meaningful it is to talk about what we should or shouldn't feel as opposed to what we do. But I believe that we can love our pets as much as we do people and suffer as much over their deaths.

I'm sure my wife will soon return to hugging, teasing, and playing with our two remaining cats the way she did before Wednesday. It may take a little more time, but she'll get there. As for me, I've gone out of my way to embrace them with my love and attention. Smokey may be gone, but Tau Tau and Jaidee are still very much alive, and I want to love and cherish them for as long as they're here with me. For, as trite as it may sound, death teaches us that life is very short and, therefore, exceedingly precious. We shouldn't waste a moment of it. Especially when one has already wasted as much of it as I have of mine.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Consciousness After Death?

When a cat dies, does it have a soul or consciousness that continues to live? If so, is it a consciousness similar to what it had before it died--feline consciousness? Or after its soul or consciousness is no longer bound by a feline nervous system, does it become something else, something very different, something grander, richer, and vastly more expansive?

And the same questions hold for people. If we are conscious after our body dies and that consciousness is no longer connected to a functioning brain and body, is it a radically different and greater kind of consciousness than what we know in this life?

I've probably wondered this before, but never as vividly as I'm wondering it now. It seems to me that consciousness after death, unbounded by its biological and other limitations in this life, would have to be something far different than we experience in this life, something so different that it is virtually alien to our worldly experience. Yet most of us think of the afterlife as a continuation of consciousness largely as we know it. Maybe a little brighter and wiser, but essentially the same.

I don't know if Smokey's consciousness still lives in some realm of existence or what form it might take if it does. But I find myself hoping, in the grip of my sadness, that if he still lives, so will I after I die and that he and I will be together again.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


This is a very sad day for me. I just returned from having my cat euthanized at the vet's office. Smokey and I had been together for almost eleven years after I adopted him from an animal rescue society. He was a big Russian Blue mix who stood out from the other cats at the shelter with an exceptionally regal and intelligent demeanor. He bonded with me (and I with him) very quickly after I brought him home, and I loved him dearly and considered him more my baby boy than a cat.

We went through a lot together. Two serious bouts of feline urologic syndrome blockage, the deterioration and death of my grandmother, the arrival and departure several years later of my girlfriend and her cat, a garage and house fire, my courtship, engagement, and marriage to my wife, the move to an extended stay hotel here in Sacramento before our new house became available, the move to the new house, the acquisition of two other cats, and, most recently, a run-in with two neighbor dogs.

When I adopted Smokey, he was approximately four years old and weighed almost seventeen pounds. He was big and strong. But over the past few years his weight had gradually dropped until he was only a little over eight pounds three weeks ago. I had had him checked and even had his teeth thoroughly cleaned a year-and-a-half ago, but the vets didn't know what to do with him beyond that. And then, over the past three weeks, his weight plummeted to seven pounds and he looked like loose skin and bones, seemed unable to eat, and was very lethargic.

I took him to the vet this morning expecting the worst, and I got what I expected. The vet said Smokey was severely dehydrated and emaciated and that his prognosis for his age and condition was "guarded to poor" even under the optimal circumstances of us taking him to an emergency clinic immediately and having him infused with fluid and nutrients for a day or two. If he showed any improvement from that, there would be blood panels and x-rays and, probably, intensive, prolonged, and expensive treatment to possibly extend his life and make it better. My wife and I decided that we couldn't afford such an iffy proposition for a cat whose best years were clearly far, far behind him and who was probably better off going to his eternal resting place than lingering through unpleasant tests and treatments and inevitable progressive debility. So I told our vet to put him to sleep.

He offered us the chance to stay with Smokey during part or even all of the procedure, but we couldn't do it. It would have been too much for me and my wife to witness that. We said our goodbyes and then took our tearful leave.

I loved Smokey. My wife has joked more than once that I loved him more her, and it's true that I felt closer to him than I have to most human beings in my life, including some of my family and friends. I think I made the right choice today, but I feel great sadness in my soul. There seems to be something especially tragic to me about snuffing out the light of life of such an innocent creature, especially when his mind remains sound even though his body is a wreck.

Rest in peace, Smokers. I will never, EVER forget you.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

God's Warriors

Christiane Amanpour is doing a three-part series on CNN on religious fundamentalism entitled God's Warriors. More specifically, it is about how fundamentalist Jews, Muslims, and Christians are striving to dominate their societies, cultures, or even the entire world with their religious beliefs and practices. I've seen only a little of one of these two-hour segments: last night's segment on Islamic fundamentalism. I'm not sure if I learned anything strikingly new from it, but I did find it interesting to vicariously immerse myself in Islamic fundamentalism via Amanpour's travels, interviews, and experiences. Judging from what I saw, "vicariously" is the ONLY way I would want to immerse myself in the Islamic fundamentalist experience. I would not want to experience it firsthand.

This morning, I was driving somewhere and listening to Dennis Prager on the radio. He talked about news stories of men and women being publicly flogged in Iran for violating Islamic law against sex outside of marriage, prostitution, and having a Bible in their car respectively. He thought this was "monstrous" and seemed to suggest that this was symptomatic not only of so-called fundamentalist Islam or Islamisn but also of Islam in general. That is, even if some Muslims did not agree with this kind of punishment, the fact of the matter is that Islam and Muslims in general tolerate it because it is so deeply ingrained in the Islamic mindset and its Sharia law. That is, it is indicative of the inherent pathology of Islam in general.

Prager proceeded to castigate Amanpour for her "deep, deep foolishness" in suggesting that all religions and religious fundamentalisms are essentially the same in the sense that none are any better or worse than the others. In other words, Prager seems to believe that Islam in general and Islamism in particular are worse than other major religions and their fundamentalist strains and that Amanpour and other mainstream media people are foolish if not irresponsible in failing to make this clear. Thus, we need to turn to other media outlets that are sagacious or brave enough to tell it like it is.

I do not wish to dwell here on my admitted emotional antipathy to Islam in general and to Islamism in particular or on my more considered negative opinion of them. At this point, I simply want to ask if you, dear reader, think Islam in general and Islamism in particular are worse than their religious counterparts and, if so, by what criteria you judge them to be so, and how you think the mainstream media and reporters such as Amanpour should address this to the public. Is Amanpour not living up to her role as a proper journalist by not coming down harder on Islam and Islamism than she does on the other religions, or is she doing precisely what she, as a proper journalist, should do and present facts as objectively as possible and let the viewer arrive at his own conclusions?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Loving, Knowing, and Acting

When we use the word love, let us use it very carefully, in the deeply spiritual sense, where to love is to know; to love is to act.

If you really love, from the depths of your consciousness, that love gives you a native wisdom. You perceive the needs of others intuitively and clearly, with detachment from any personal desires; and you know how to act creatively to meet those needs, dexterously surmounting any obstacle that comes in the way. Such is the immense, driving power of love.
--Eknath Easwaran

More on Michael Vick

"What Vick did wasn't a mistake. It was a way of life."
--King Kaufman

Here is a telling excerpt from Salon sports columnist King Kaufman's take on the Michael Vick story:

Vick's lawyer announced Monday that the Atlanta Falcons quarterback will plead guilty next week to conspiracy charges in the dogfighting case against him. He'll avoid more serious federal charges, but will likely do some prison time. Speculation ranges from 10 months to something close to the five-year maximum, though most observers are guessing 12 to 24 months. He'll enter the plea Monday.

"Mr. Vick has agreed to enter a plea of guilty to those charges," lead defense attorney Billy Martin said in Monday's statement, "and to accept full responsibility for his actions and the mistakes he has made."

Mistakes? Driving drunk is a mistake, a bad decision. Pulling out a gun instead of walking away from a bar fight. That's a mistake. What Vick did wasn't a mistake. It was a way of life. The illegal interstate dogfighting and gambling operation he's pleading guilty to having run was a going concern for five years.

If we wanted to, we could get into a deep, layered discussion here about cultural values. We could talk about the role of race in attitudes about dogfighting, rural vs. urban sensibilities in the way we look at animals, why it is that this country is home to both a multibillion-dollar pet-pampering industry and entire subcultures built on cruelty to animals, why it is that an athlete's violence against dogs garners a sharper public rebuke than other athletes' far more common violence against women.

We could talk about the cult of celebrity and the cult of the athlete, how someone in Michael Vick's position has been getting his way since he was about 10, how nobody ever stood up to him and told him that he needed to check himself.

But we're not going to. We're just going to talk about what a knucklehead Michael Vick has been.

Vick made Pete Rose look like Albert Einstein here. He has thrown away a career that, even after six years of exciting and occasionally brilliant but overall frustratingly inadequate play, still counted as "promising." He has thrown away the millions he would have made over the rest of his football life, and the Falcons will be coming after some of the millions they've already paid him.

And for what? A dogfighting business. Interstate gambling and cruelty to animals. An enterprise that any idiot -- almost any idiot, evidently -- knows is flamboyantly illegal, that would wreck a professional career nearly instantaneously if uncovered, and that Vick and company took so few pains to hide that authorities collected enough evidence in a raid to get four guilty pleas in less than four months, which is almost fast enough to create a sonic boom.

I don't care about the cultural implications that I can't understand, being a middle-class urban white guy who hasn't been influenced by gangsta hip-hop. Culture can be overcome. If Michael Vick wasn't smart enough to say, "I wish I could do this, but it would cost me my whole career if I did, so I won't," then he just isn't very smart.

It really doesn't matter if his cronies were afraid to speak the truth to him. Some things are just obvious. Vick knew enough to always, except for that one moment when he flipped off a hostile crowd last year, put on a pleasant, smiling face and a charming persona when the cameras were rolling.

If he could figure that out, with or without some Henry Higgins putting him through his social paces, he could have figured out that electrocuting fighting dogs if they didn't fight hard enough, that killing them by slamming them against the ground or hanging them, that training them for the barbarous fights to the death in the first place, was going to end his football career and possibly send him to prison once it got out, and that it would get out.

Vick, who is from Newport News, Va., grew up poor in public housing. He had it rough, but anybody making excuses for him, claiming that he couldn't escape his upbringing, is indulging in the worst kind of noble-savage patronization.

What a rotten shame this is. Not because Vick might have turned himself into an effective quarterback someday and now he won't, but because of the stupidity, cruelty and waste of potential that has become the story of his young life.

Ken Wilber Interviews Sharon Stone

"We are so taught to be good that we never become great."
--Sharon Stone

I was surprised to discover that the actress Sharon Stone was Ken Wilber's interview guest on Integral Naked this week. I was even more surprised that she, despite her reputed intellectual brilliance, didn't have more to say about things relevant to Integral Naked's membership and better ways of saying it. She sounded quite guarded and uncomfortable and not exactly on intimately friendly terms with Ken. Nevertheless, I guess it's a good thing that Ken is willing to branch out and interview people outside the relatively narrow circle of the Integral Naked and I-I community and to even talk with people who don't even seem to be familiar with Integral theory. Or is that just a waste of time?

I did particularly enjoy Stone's recounting of how she got hired for her first film, Woody Allen's Stardust Memories. She says she was waiting in line for a chance to be an extra when Allen walked by and saw that she was reading a book about infinity. He sat down with her and they discussed the book, and then he hired her to play the part another actress had just backed out on.

Unfortunately, Ken didn't ask her about the first film I ever noticed her in--Steven Seagal's electrifying debut film Above the Law. I would guess that neither he nor she hold as high an opinion of that film as I do.

Here is Integral Naked's synopsis of the entire discussion along with some background information. Part 2 will follow one of these Mondays.

A Hollywood star who has refused to limit her shine to any one dimension of her being shares her life experience as a high-profile blonde bombshell who has broken all the rules, and forged a more integral, inclusive path for living, working, loving, sharing, creating.

Who: Sharon Stone, Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner and Academy Award nominee, and Ken Wilber, founder of Integral Institute and the man behind the idea of Integral Actors Studio.

Relevance: The appeal of an Integral Approach spans a truly astonishing number of disciplines, communities, and professions—Hollywood being a perfect example. Sharon has had a rather extraordinary life and career, and together, Ken and Sharon walk through the first segment of this remarkable trajectory, touching in always with the orienting contours of an Integral View….

Summary: Our story begins in Meadville, PA, where Sharon was born. At the age of 15, Sharon was transferred from her local high school to enroll in Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. With an IQ of 154, an honorary doctorate from the aforementioned institution, and ordination from the Universal Life Church, Sharon is just about as far from the "dumb blonde" stereotype as you could possibly get (which is hard to avoid if you live in Beverly Hills).

In fact, Sharon has had a decidedly integral tilt to her life from just about from the word "go." She has been active in independently pursuing her own spirituality since the age of 10, she's extremely intelligent and unabashed about her opinions ("Nice girls aren't supposed to act this way"), she crafted her physique into lean, muscular fighting form for an on-screen brawl with Arnold Schwarzenegger, she has raised $1 million in five minutes for humanitarian aid, and, need we say it, she's simply drop-dead gorgeous (one of the top 25 sexiest women ever to appear in Playboy magazine, one of People magazine's 50 most beautiful people in the world, one of Empire magazine's 100 sexiest stars in film history, etc.). This is a woman who has been intuitively "touching on all the bases" all her life.

After getting her first break when Woody Allen picked her out of a line and she became the "pretty girl on train" in his 1980 Stardust Memories, Sharon's career steadily picked up speed until it simply shot through the roof a short decade later. Starting with Total Recall in 1990, then Basic Instinct in 1992, and then Casino in 1995, Sharon describes those years as something like "hanging onto a rocket while trying to not fall off or get burned." For her role as Ginger McKenna in Casino, Sharon received a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award nomination.

In one of the many fascinating sections of this dialogue, Sharon and Ken discuss what it was like for Sharon to allow herself to truly "become" the bisexual serial killer in Basic Instinct, Catherine Tramell. As Sharon recalls, the prospect of really diving into the darkest aspects of her own being was terrifying, and the actual process of doing so was extremely difficult—but at the end of it all, she looked back and said, "Is that it? Is that all there is?" Ken summarizes that "really good acting is really good psychotherapy," and in the year or so of shooting for the film, Sharon probably got five years worth of psychotherapy.

Why Integral?:

To really discover and learn about the life and work of any person (whether Sharon Stone, or anyone else), you of course would want to touch on as many aspects of their being as possible—otherwise, you might miss something really important. What an Integral Approach provides is a simple, clear, and accurate map of the human experience, one that you can check in on whenever you want to get your bearings. Everyone has body, mind, and spirit in self, culture, and nature. Those dimensions are there whether one acknowledges them or not, so why not take a moment to check in with all of them? It's quick, easy, enlightening, and fun.

An Integral Approach is behind the concept of Integral Actors Studio, where Ken envisions a convergence and integration of manifold modalities brought to bear on the actor's craft and guiding vision. In a dialogue that you can find here, Ken describes what such an "integral package" would entail, and reveals how personal, cultural, and institutional dimensions can be mindfully engaged through psycho-synthesis, yoga, meditation, peer work, technical exchange programs, and other practices. Many people in entertainment have expressed a great deal of interest and excitement about creating an Integral Actors Studio, from Julia Ormond, to Steve Brill, to Saul Williams, and more.

transmission time: 37 minutes

keywords: Meadville PA, feminism, Pussycat Dolls, Carl Jung, Dzogchen, Maha Ati, Dalai Lama, Ford Modeling Agency, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Humphrey Bogart, William Powell, Stardust Memories, Woody Allen, Irreconcilable Differences, Blake Chandler, United Church of Christ, Baptist Church, Scientology, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Casino, Ginger McKenna, Catherine Tramell, shadow work, psychotherapy, Integral Actors Studio, Zen Buddhism, Roy London, Susan Sarandon, Larry Wachowski, Speed Racer, Integral Spirituality, "What Is Integral?," The Integral Vision.

most memorable moment: "We 'barbie dolls' are not supposed to behave the way I do. People like it so much more when you just smile and nod. But I really don't believe in the end that that's doing your best."

Monday, August 20, 2007

What Should Happen to Michael Vick?

Michael Vick is the Atlanta Falcons quarterback recently indicted by a federal grand jury on criminal charges associated with running an illegal dogfighting and gambling business from some of his property in rural Virginia. Some who were involved in this business have admitted their guilt and testified that not only did Vick know about the business and support it, but he also personally participated in the drownings and electrocutions of dogs that failed to sufficiently impress with their fighting ability. Now it is rumored that Vick is on the verge of pleading guilty and that he could spend several years in prison. People are wondering what should happen to him afterward. If he serves time in prison, should he be allowed to return to professional football after he is released?

Former Green Bay Packer general manager Ron Wolf believes that he should. "Maybe I don't understand something in all of this," he says, "but you're supposed to get a second chance in this country." He goes on to argue the following:

"We've had a lot of people in this league do a lot of bad things, and they still got a chance. Leonard Little killed someone (while drunk driving). Jamal Lewis went to prison (in connection to) selling drugs. Are you telling me that killing eight dogs is worse than killing a human being? … Yes, this is bad, but are you really telling me that he doesn't deserve a chance to play again when other people have committed crimes and come back?"

Some pro football executives apparently agree with Wolfe, but they are said to be in the minority. I do not care much for football at any level, and I know very little about it. However, I love animals and take an extremely dim view of those who abuse them. It sounds to me as though Vick personally abused and destroyed and indirectly participated in the terrible abuse and destruction of many dogs as part of an awful business that profited from horrendous bloodsport and suffering. My emotional reaction to this is, "Fry the jerk, or at least lock him away for as long as possible and never, EVER let him return to football!"

But my more considered response is one motivated by a deep-seated belief in compassion and redemption. I am not sure I agree with Ron Wolf that Vick's apparent crimes were no worse than the others he cited. For instance, it could be argued that, while the life of one human being is worth more than the lives of any number of dogs, inadvertently killing a human being in an automobile accident while driving drunk is, in some ways, not as bad as running a depraved dogfighting business and personally drowning and electrocuting dogs in unspeakably brutal fashion because they aren't vicious enough to kill other dogs in savage bloodsport. I am inclined to make that argument myself.

Nevertheless, depending on the type and length of Vick's sentence, I am not unalterably opposed to him being granted a second chance. But, first, I would like to see him step up and publicly confess to what he did with his business and those dogs, express what appears to be a genuine understanding of the wrongness of it all and genuine contrition for his involvement in this monstrous enterprise, ask the public to forgive him, and actively participate in campaigns for the humane treatment of animals and against animal cruelty.

If he serves his sentence and does all of this, I believe that he deserves a second chance, and I would hope that he would get it.

Karl Rove's Legacy

What is truly striking about Rove's appearances on all the Sunday interview shows was the reminder of how unprepossessing this advocate of torture, scorched-earth warfare and carpet bombing is in person. He once said of his high school days, "I was the complete nerd. I had the briefcase. I had the pocket protector. I wore Hush Puppies when they were not cool. I was the thin, scrawny little guy. I was definitely uncool."

The modern GOP, by contrast, is meant to be the party of resolute action, not pensive, doughy geeks. Does Rove hide the disjuncture between his lack of physical presence and the overt, almost comic machismo of the Republican Party by his single-minded loyalty to a great leader? Rove himself describes his first meeting with George W. Bush as an instant political crush: "Charisma, swagger, cowboy boots, flight jacket ... wow." Does Rove overcompensate for his frailty with a savage commitment to violence and to humiliating and destroying his opponents? If so, he would not be the first specialist in propaganda of whom this has been suggested...

But his most tragic legacy lay in taking something that happened to all Americans, the murderous attacks of Sept. 11, and attempting to turn those calamities into a stick with which to beat his Democratic opponents. In so doing, he desecrated the nearly 3,000 dead for petty factional gains, and wrought enormous injustices on genuine war heroes such as Max Cleland, George McGovern and John Kerry. Long after his permanent Republican majority is forgotten, Rove will be remembered for using his rhetorical gifts to divide instead of unite. As Chris Wallace, of all people, asked, "Was that a mistake?"
--Juan Cole, Salon

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Arthur and Daniel Miller

"An extraordinary man," "very beloved by a lot of people," Daniel Miller, they say, is a "guy who's made a difference in a lot of lives." They also say he is someone who, considering the challenges of his life, has in his own way achieved as much as his father did. The way Arthur Miller treated him baffles some people and angers others. But the question asked by friends of the father and of the son is the same: How could a man who, in the words of one close friend of Miller's, "had such a great world reputation for morality and pursuing justice do something like this"?

After my wife miscarried sometime back, we more or less decided that we would not have a baby. We concluded that we were too old and too poor for it. Actually, it is probably more accurate to say that I decided this and that my wife, albeit reluctantly, went along.

I have many fears about bringing a child into this world. But one of my biggest is that it might have severe mental or physical defects and that I would not be up to the challenge of providing what it needed to flourish.

I did not know this until today, but it seems that the late, great American playwright Arthur Miller faced such a challenge when his wife gave birth to a son in 1966 who was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. Miller promptly institutionalized his son, Daniel, and spent most of the rest of his life acting, at least in public, as though his son did not exist. In private, he seems to have helped Daniel by providing money for his care. But he never spoke of him or visited him until many years had passed and his son, despite the many years he spent in Southbury Training School--which by the early 1970's had become what one former worker there described as "not a place you would want your dog to live" and a leading disability rights lawyer simply called "awful"--demonstrated remarkable resilience and character by becoming largely self-sufficient and is much loved and admired by all who know him.

Here is the fascinating Vanity Fair story of Arthur Miller and his son Daniel, and here is a telling segment from that story:

It would be easy to judge Arthur Miller harshly, and some do. For them, he was a hypocrite, a weak and narcissistic man who used the press and the power of his celebrity to perpetuate a cruel lie. But Miller's behavior also raises more complicated questions about the relationship between his life and his art. A writer, used to being in control of narratives, Miller excised a central character who didn't fit the plot of his life as he wanted it to be. Whether he was motivated by shame, selfishness, or fear—or, more likely, all three—Miller's failure to tackle the truth created a hole in the heart of his story. What that cost him as a writer is hard to say now, but he never wrote anything approaching greatness after Daniel's birth. One wonders if, in his relationship with Daniel, Miller was sitting on his greatest unwritten play.

Today, Daniel Miller lives with the elderly couple who have long taken care of him, in a sprawling addition to their home that was built especially for him. He continues to receive daily visits from a state social worker, whom he's known for years. Although his father left him enough money to provide for everything he needs, Daniel has kept his job, which he loves and "is very proud of," according to Rebecca, who visits him with her family on holidays and during the summers. "Danny is very much part of our family," she said, and "leads a very active, happy life, surrounded by people who love him."

Some wonder why Arthur Miller, with all his wealth, waited until death to share it with his son. Had he done so sooner, Daniel could have afforded private care and a good education. But those who know Daniel say that this is not how he would feel. "He doesn't have a bitter bone in his body," says Bowen. The important part of the story, she says, is that Danny transcended his father's failures: "He's made a life for himself; he is deeply valued and very, very loved. What a loss for Arthur Miller that he couldn't see how extraordinary his son is." It was a loss that Arthur Miller may have understood better than he let on. "A character," he wrote in Timebends, "is defined by the kinds of challenges he cannot walk away from. And by those he has walked away from that cause him remorse."

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Morning Ruckus

This morning, I almost lost it. My temper, that is. I was taking a nap when I heard a commotion outside. It was the sound of barking and growling dogs. I looked out the front door and saw a big dog chasing my fifteen-year-old cat from our porch. I ran outside. One of the dogs came over to me and started sniffing me. The owners, who live across the street, called the dogs and they slowly, reluctantly returned to them. I told my neighbors that the dogs attacked my cat and damaged some flowers. They didn't say anything. They just took the dogs back to their house and went inside. I didn't like that one bit, but I was more worried about my cat at the moment. I walked around calling and looking for him. I didn't know what happened to him. I couldn't find him anywhere. Before I looked out the front door at the beginning of it all, it sounded like one of the dogs, some kind of bulldog, was fighting. It could only have been with my cat. After I went outside and couldn't find my cat, I came back and looked at the porch. A flower pot was knocked over. Some other plants were damaged. Some plant stakes were uprooted. But, thank goodness, I didn't see any blood.

I stayed out in the front, hoping to see my cat, and also wanting to talk to the owners of the dogs. They were loading up their SUV for what appeared to be a trip. I was hoping one of them would ask me how my cat was or about the damage I said their dogs had done to my plants. Neither said anything. They just ignored me. I began to fume.

I'm a shy person, and I don't like confrontation. I've probably avoided it many times when I should have risked it by standing up for myself. Even this time, I was reluctant to say anything to my neighbors. Besides, I didn't know what to say. On the one hand, I understand how easy it is to let a dog (or two) get loose. I used to own dogs, and it's happened to me. And I know that some dogs hate cats. I had a dog that did. So I wasn't as upset over the incident itself, although I was certainly worried about my cat, as I was about my neighbors' reaction to it. It was like they didn't give a shit. It was like they were this young couple who cared only about themselves.

Still, I felt I needed to say something, and I tried to figure out what it should be. For one thing, I wanted to tell them that if their dogs injured my cat, I expected them to pay his vet bills. I also wanted them to know that I was displeased over the way they ignored me after the incident. I stood conspicuously out front hoping that one of them would come over and ask me about my cat and, perhaps, survey the damage to my plants and, at least, offer an apology. That would have pretty much resolved the matter. But no one said anything.

Finally, I decided to initiate things. I walked over to their driveway and began speaking to the young man. I tried to keep myself calm, but when it became readily apparent that he didn't give a damn about my cat or plants or me, I got angry quickly. He argued that dogs get loose sometimes. Shit happens. He asked me what my cat was doing outside in the first place. My cat was out. His dogs were out. What did I expect, and what did he have to apologize for? I said there was no equivalence between my cat being out in our own yard on a quiet cul-de-sac where lots of neighbor cats are out during the day, and two big dogs coming into our yard and attacking my defenseless cat and damaging my property. He didn't agree. I called him a "fucking asshole." He told me to get off his property or he would call the police. I told him to go ahead, since it would save me from having to call them myself to report and document the incident in case I needed to sue them to pay any vet bills.

At that point, his wife came out to talk to me and he went in the house. She seemed a little more reasonable, although I still had the impression she didn't care either. She just wanted me out of there and for peace to prevail. Finally, he came back out. He told me a really didn't give a damn about my cat or my property. If my cat hadn't been outside, nothing would have happened. I told him if I ever saw those dogs loose again in the front, I'd call the police. He said to go ahead, because they wouldn't be outside again. I was getting angrier, and I then said something I regret. I said I "might do more" than just call the police if I caught them in my yard again. That didn't go over too well, and I can understand why. Even when I said it, I didn't mean it, and I would certainly not hurt an animal on purpose unless it was strictly to defend myself, someone else, or my pets. I just wanted to say something that got his goat, so to speak. But that was too much, and I walked away.

Yet, I simmered. And I called him a fucking asshole again, this time from my own yard. I told him to come over to my yard and I wouldn't threaten to call the police. I would just kick his fucking ass. He said he didn't want to waste his time. I guess that was a pretty good response. His wife came out at that point and warned me to "go inside" and leave them alone or she'd call the police. I told her to go ahead. I wasn't doing anything illegal, I was just inviting her asshole husband to come over and get what he deserved. I then walked next door and looked for my cat in the tree the woman had finally told me she saw her dogs chase him up into. He was still up there, just out of reach. I tried to coax him down, but he wouldn't come, and I had no ladder to climb up to get him. Still, he appeared to be OK physically.

He's always been a "tough guy." I saw him once chase a big raccoon out of our garage in the Bay Area and fight him till the raccoon scampered away. Raccoons can tear apart big dogs with their razor sharp teeth and claws. Another time, my cat repeatedly slapped and then chased our gardener's dog that had wandered into our backyard here in Sacramento. However, he was no match at any age, much less at fifteen, for a big, young, snarling bulldog, much less two of them. But I digress.

I saw the young punk neighbor in his driveway again, and I called him an asshole again. Then I decided it was time to go inside and cool off. Later I came back outside to try to get my cat out of the tree and watched my neighbors drive off. When I reached up to try to pull my cat down from the tree, he bit at me. Not hard, just enough to let me know that he wasn't ready to come down. So, I left him alone and came inside to write this entry.

More than an hour after the incident, my cat's still up in the tree. I'm wishing I'd handled things differently and kept my cool, and I'm wondering what I should have said and done instead of what I did say and do. I'm also wondering what, if anything, I should say and do now. I don't think my neighbors and I are ever going to be friends after this. That's an understatement. But I also hope that we aren't enemies. I think the best I can do at this point is to let it go and get on with things and try to make myself into the kind of person who doesn't blow up the way I did today no matter what people say or do. That is giving them control over my emotions and actions that they don't deserve, and giving them reason to think that, because my reaction was more extreme then theirs, they are completely in the right and I am completely in the wrong.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Pedophilia and the Law

Jack McClellan is one of the most notorious people in the land, and he's certainly done more than his share to make himself so by maintaining well-publicized websites extolling his sexual and emotional obsession with prepubescent girls and by openly appearing before the media for interviews that have turned him into a household name and virtually burned his visage into the memory cells of every concerned parent in America if not beyond. But there's one not-so-little catch. He's never been so much as suspected, much less convicted, of molesting any children. He is a self-admitted pedophile, to be sure, but there's not a scintilla of evidence that he's ever acted out his aberrant desire, and, indeed, he maintains that his openness about his desires is "the best therapeutic thing" for him to do in order to avoid molesting children.

Yet, Jack McClellan now sits in a Los Angeles County jail for violating a temporary restraining order forbidding him from coming within ten yards of any child. Police deemed him to have committed this violation when he showed up on the UCLA campus for a TV interview after being cited hours earlier and warned not to return for appearing near the campus' Infant Development Program building with a camera in his possession. McClellan contends that he didn't believe that he was violating his restraining order by stepping foot on a college campus for a public interview where few if any children would likely be present.

I think he's right. Furthermore, I think that those legal scholars are right who say that the restraining order against McClellan unconstitutionally violates his right to free expression, and I hope that a court quickly makes this determination and sets him free.

Yet, there's more to consider here than just the extraordinary case of Jack McClellan. I believe that applying this "ten-yard" law even to those convicted of molesting children is wrong and should be found unconstitutional because of how impossible it is for virtually anyone except a hermit in the woods to obey it and how severely it curtails one's right to survive much less pursue ANY kind of happiness. How can one buy food at the grocery store, eat out at a restaurant, shop for clothes or other necessities, go to a movie, browse or acquire books at a bookstore or library, attend school, use public transportation to get to work, or be hired for any job that places one in contact with the public under this law?

The way I see it, if we need laws against convicted child molesters being around children, these laws should forbid deliberately associating or interacting with children or being alone with them; they should NOT prohibit simply being in the vicinity of children in a public place. And if there are firm grounds for believing that this level of restraint isn't enough to protect our children, then we need to PERMANENTLY incarcerate those convicted of child molestation.

Actually, I believe that "quarantine" is a better term for it, because I believe that pedophilia is a sickness of the mind and not a moral choice deserving hatred and vindictive punishment. Thus, if we find it necessary to isolate all convicted child molesters from the public in order to protect our children or, in some cases, to protect the convicted from vigilante "justice," then I believe that these individuals should be confined to humane institutions or areas of institutions set aside only for convicted child molesters so that their lives won't be imperiled by exposure to general prison populations.

As for the case of Jack McClellan, the supreme irony is that his extreme notoriety probably renders him one of the safest of ALL adults to be in the company of a child in public. For how could he, OF ALL PEOPLE, dare to approach a child in a public place for purposes of having sex with her?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Why They Call Him "Turd Blossom"

"No wonder Mr. Rove's nickname was Turd Blossom. He could put fecal matter on his lapel and call it a boutonniere."
--Garrison Keillor

Maybe Imus Was Right

I don't know why this really pisses me off, but it does. One of the women who played on the Rutger's basketball team is suing Don Imus (and his co-host and CBS Corp and CBS Radio) for defamation. "This is about Kia Vaughn's good name," says her unctuous attorney, Richard Ancowitz. "She would do anything to return to her life as a student and respected basketball player."

You mean that Imus' offhanded comments that didn't even mention Miss Vaughn by name resulted in her being expelled from school and in her no longer being respected for her basketball prowess? You mean that people heard those comments and REALLY believe that Kia Vaughn is a prostitute? Come on Mr. Ancowitz and Miss Vaughn! The tastelessness of Mr. Imus' off-the-cuff remarks of April 4 pale in comparison with the slimy venality of your preposterous lawsuit!

I thought the whole brouhaha over Imus's remarks was ridiculous in the first place, but this takes ridiculousness to a whole different level. As Bill Maher said last night on the Larry King Show:

"I thought it was overblown to begin with, so I'm not surprised. You know, America has a way of just going crazy, out of control, buck wild, bat nuts about everything. We are such a nation of 10-year-old girls. No matter what happens we go oh no, this can't happen. We've got to get rid of that guy, made me uncomfortable for two seconds. Of course what he said was wrong, yadda, yadda. Let it go...You know, I was offended. I'm offended by something every day because it's a stupid country and I read stupid things and, God, that's so stupid. You know what I do. I turn the page and I move on with my life."

I guess I should follow Maher's lead and just "turn the page" on this whole stupid lawsuit issue. But not until I vent my spleen and say that I feel nothing but disgust for Kia Vaughn and her shyster attorney and hope that they not only don't make one red cent off this travesty but that they both suffer a SERIOUS loss of respect and all that goes with it for their actions.

Of course, Imus will settle with them, and the rest of the Rutger's women may well take their places in line weeping crocodile tears over their "damaged reputations" and holding out their hands for their share of the booty. But I hope not. I hope that the rest of these women have the integrity Miss Vaughn and her slimy attorney clearly do not, and that we can all "turn the page" and "move on" from this egregious abuse of the legal system and begin to stem the tide of America's obscene litigiousness.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Do You Agree?

"This guy is a Yale undergraduate and history major, a Harvard MBA, and one of the best-read, most thoughtful people I know. Now, I know he likes to play sort of the Midland/West Texas -- but he is smart."
--Karl Rove on George Bush

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Is It Not Better?

"Is it not better to see yourself as you truly are than to care about how others see you?"
--Master Kan to Kwai Chang Caine in Kung Fu

I have spent most of my life being far too concerned with how others perceive me. I have wanted them to see me as bright and capable to make up for my seeing myself as dumb and inept. But if I was truly dumb and inept, the only way I could hide this from others was to hide from them as much as possible and to avoid placing myself in public situations that revealed my stupidity and ineptitude to the world. The result is a man who has confined himself for decades to a prison of his own making and is now being forced to leave that prison and make his way in a world for which he feels ill-prepared by both ability and experience.

It seems to me that the only hope he has of succeeding is to take fully to heart Master Kan's advice, see himself as he truly is, and strive to be himself at his best without the paralyzing concern that others will not see him as more or better than he is.

Paradoxical as it may seem, the only way I can be and do better than I have been and done is to stop trying to make others think that I am and can do better than that now even as I try my best to be my best.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Thank You, Salon

I was living in Alice's Wonderland -- if Alice was a little kid lost in a suburban shopping mall, petrified by the knowledge that she will never be able to find her way back home. I never outgrew that feeling of constant disorientation. Rather, it never outgrew me.
--Sloane Crosley

There are times when I contemplate canceling my longtime subscription to Salon. It's not that I don't like this online cultural magazine or that I want to eliminate it from my life. It's just that there is so much to read and do these days, with more and more on the horizon, that I wonder if I'll be getting my money's worth by keeping it. Then I stumble onto articles like the one I read today and all doubt is erased. I'm keeping my subscription.

The article is titled Lost in Space and is about one woman's constant struggle with what she calls "spatial disability" and others call nonverbal learning disorder or some such thing. Whatever it's called, she seems to have a pretty severe case of it, and so do I. I've made references to this in the past, but I've tried to turn this blog into less of a pity party than into something more upbeat.

Yet, I want to point out, to anyone who's interested, that the disorder in question is more prevalent than many might realize and that it can have a profound impact on people's lives. I know it has impacted mine to an almost devastating degree. Fortunately, I'm getting some help with it. But if I had gotten that help decades ago instead of now, I might have accomplished far more and suffered far less than I have. I hope and pray that every child afflicted with some variant of this disorder or with any other learning difficulty receives the help he needs as soon as possible so that he might live as productive and happy a life as possible instead of floundering in failure, frustration, and a crippling sense of inadequacy.

After reading the article, I posted the following letter to Salon:

I'm extremely grateful for Sloane Crosley's article and for all of the accompanying letters from readers who share some type or degree of this disability or know someone who does. For while I wouldn't wish nonverbal learning disability on anyone, it's comforting to know that I'm not alone with this problem. And believe me, it HAS been a problem in my life. So much so, in fact, that I have been profoundly crippled by it.

As a child, I quickly realized that I couldn't find my way around, follow or give directions or instructions, assemble models or fix my bicycle, learn to play chess or numerous other games, or do countless other things that came easily to my peers. In junior high, shop class was torture. In high school, I gave up a promising future in basketball, the sport my life had revolved around and that had provided me with just about my only sense of capability and competence, because I couldn't learn the drills or plays and endure the unending frustration and humiliation of team practices. All through school, I took aptitude tests with resulting graphical profiles of towering verbal peaks next to gaping nonverbal or visual-spatial valleys. I came to unshakably believe that I was stupid in every way that mattered, so I hid from the world and shied away from taking on challenges, became a proverbially "perpetual student" in college because I believed that I lacked the ability to turn any major into worldly success, and, afterwards, wrapped myself in an adolescent cocoon of homebound television, books, the Internet, and aimlessness rather than apply for jobs or engage in other activities I was certain I couldn't do or socialize and face the dreaded, "What do you do?" question.

And since I've been married, I've eschewed fatherhood because I don't want to be a hapless provider and teacher for a child, I fear traveling to new places and getting lost and overwhelmed by their unfamiliar complexity even though my wife is bored to tears staying home so much, I can't repair anything around our house or offer any suggestions or assistance for home improvement projects, and I hate our trips to Home Depot because I feel utterly and completely out of my element and distressingly unmanly there. At 54 years of age, I have accomplished virtually nothing worthwhile, am a dismally inept husband, and am seeking entry-level work in what seems to be that impossibly rare field that requires virtually no nonverbal ability or the need to learn an even moderately complicated set of procedures.

I marvel at how others here, some with what sound like even larger cognitive deficits than mine, have managed to accomplish so much more than I have. For my part, I have tried to explain my situation to those who need, or I need, to know about it. And I'm receiving help from the state Department of Rehabilitation and from a clinical psychologist specializing in neuropsychology who has diagnosed me as having mutually reinforcing nonverbal learning disorder and ADD. I would like to think I'm making progress, and I feel more hopeful than I have in the longest time that I can still do something with my life. But it has been and continues to be very difficult. I'm a poster boy for how psychologically as well as intellectually disabling this condition can be and how vitally important it is to get help as soon as possible for children plagued by it before it does to them what it has done to me.

And then I followed one of Salon's links to this blog entry by a wonderful writer named Laurie Edwards that eloquently describes her lifelong struggle with this problem. Here is a quote from that entry:

Similar to the author’s experience, I got tested for the disability when the humongous gap between my verbal and non-verbal reasoning standardized test scores was too big to ignore any longer. I could read before I was three, I read on an eighth-grade level when I was five, and used my photographic memory to learn all the answers on every card in Trivial Pursuit so I could beat my older brothers that same year.

Yet when the educational psychologist asked a 14-year-old me to put together a basic 7-piece puzzle of the human face in three minutes, I could not do it.

I know what a face looks like. I know seven pieces—a mouth, a nose, two eyes, etc—is not a hard puzzle. So why, in 180 painstaking seconds, couldn’t I put even two pieces together? Or match up a tree to its shadow, or any of the other basic spatial things most people can do?

Thank you Salon, Sloane Crosley, and Laurie Edwards for helping me to realize that I am not as freakishly defective as I used to believe and that one can still make a decent life for oneself despite this disability.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Religious Belief and Political Office

Mitt Romney was not happy Thursday morning when a conservative radio host in Iowa grilled him about the tenets of his faith and insinuated that he was not faithful to some of them when he was governor of Massachusetts. The host also argued that Romney was making a mistake distancing himself from his Mormon beliefs in order to woo conservative Christian voters in Iowa and elsewhere, because what mattered more to them than his Mormon beliefs was whether he had the integrity to embrace and live those beliefs regardless of whether or not it was politically expedient. A visibly irritated Romney replied that his views and actions as governor and as a presidential candidate were consistent with his Mormon faith, and that he was getting tired of being questioned about his Church and faith when he was not campaigning as a representative of the Mormon Church but as a man who has the right stuff to be a good president.

For instance, Romney argued, the fact that his church forbids him to drink alcohol does not mean that he, as a public official, should seek to deny other people the right to drink alcohol. He, like any good public official of faith, is able to separate his faith from the duties of his office without being untrue to either. Furthermore, he argued, the fact that his church forbids its members to encourage or participate in abortion does not mean that he, early in his term as governor, violated his church's prohibition by vowing to uphold existing law allowing abortion.

I do not like the underhanded way that much of this exchange was recorded during commercial breaks in the radio program and then subsequently released, presumably without Mr. Romney's permission, to the media when Mr. Romney apparently did not know that he was being taped. However, I think Romney--despite the fact that I do not want someone with his views on abortion, gay rights, universal health care, the Iraqi war, and other matters to be president--handled himself rather well, and it was interesting to get a behind the scenes glimpse of what he is like when he is upset and thinks the camera is off. The fact that he can disagree with someone without becoming irrationally and unpleasantly disagreeable speaks positively for his character and, I think, his capacity to exercise judicious self-control under the pressures of the presidency.

Nevertheless, I question Mr. Romney's view that the teachings of the Mormon Church, which he claims to embrace, are irrelevant to his suitability to be president, and I further wonder whether we should not give more consideration to the religious beliefs of ALL political candidates before we support or vote for them.

If someone, no matter how accomplished he might be, were running for president who claimed to believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, or Zeus, we would surely consider him much more of a candidate for the mental ward than for the presidency of the most powerful nation on Earth. There is no way he could get elected, and, I would think, rightfully so. For who but a fool or a nut could, as an adult, believe in such ridiculous fiction?

But then, how much less ridiculous is it to believe, among other things, that in 1830 a man was guided by an angel to a book composed of golden plates buried in the ground near his home in upstate New York, that this book chronicled the history of pre-Columbian Israelites who settled in the Midwest and became the principal ancestors of the American Indian peoples, and that Jackson County, Missouri was the Garden of Eden? Well, the Mormon Church teaches this, and Mitt Romney, as a self-professed devout Mormon, presumably believes this and many other equally if not more dubious teachings. Should such beliefs disqualify him from high (and, for that matter, low) political office? Why would the believer in the Tooth Fairy be disqualified by his belief and not Mitt Romney by his?

And why wouldn't a fundamentalist Christian who believes, among other things, that Satan, disguised as a snake, tempted Eve to eat the Forbidden Fruit which led to the corruption of humankind and all of nature; that God drowned the whole world except for the contents of Noah's Ark; and that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, never did anything wrong in his whole life, walked on water, materialized food out of nowhere, raised the dead and performed other genuine miracles, died on the Cross to atone for our sins, and bodily rose from his tomb to visit his disciples and then ascend to heaven; and that a domain of unimaginably excruciating eternal agony awaiting those who disobey divine commands is compatible with a Supreme Being of perfect love, justice, and mercy be disqualified for the presidency or any public office by his or her beliefs?

Clearly we do not disqualify fundamentalist Christians from elective office on account of their incredible beliefs, and it is remotely possible that Romney could be the Republican nominee and eventual president of the United States despite his equally if not more incredible Mormon beliefs. But is this how it should be? I really do not see an essential difference between belief in a literal Tooth Fairy and belief in the literal God of the Bible or Book of Mormon. Yet we, the public, draw a huge, if poorly articulated, distinction between the two. Even those of us who think the Bible and Book of Mormon are literal nonsense accept this distinction. But on what basis? And is it, perhaps, time that we stop doing so? And if we do, what then? Do we refuse to vote for any candidate who claims to believe in the literal teachings of any mainstream religion? If so, would the candidates who remain be any better qualified for political office?

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Eknath Easwaran: Perfect Joy

Where there is injury, let me sow pardon.
– Saint Francis of Assisi

Once, in wintertime, it is said that Francis and his disciple Brother Leo were making a hard journey on foot through the snowy countryside of Italy. They had been walking along in silence for a long time when Brother Leo turned to Francis and asked him, “How can we find perfect joy?” Francis stopped and replied, “Even if all our friars were perfect in their holiness and could work all kinds of miracles for others, we still would not have perfect joy.”

He turned and walked on, and Brother Leo ran after him. “Then what is perfect joy?” Francis stopped again, “Even if we could speak with the birds of the air and the beasts of the field and know all the secrets of nature, we still would not have perfect joy. Even if we could cure all the ills on the face of the earth, we would still not have found perfect joy.”

Brother Leo was practically shouting: “Then please, Father Francis, what is the secret of perfect joy?”

“Brother, suppose we go to that monastery across the field and tell the gatekeeper how weary and cold we are, and he calls us tramps and beats us and throws us out into the winter night. Then, Brother, if we can say with love in our hearts, Bless you in the name of Jesus,’ then we shall have found perfect joy.”

--Eknath Easwaran

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Eknath Easwaran: Dealing With Disagreement

Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.
– William Blake

Though I have lived in this country for many years now, there are still many American expressions that I don’t understand. I remember trying to explain meditation to a young fellow who kept shaking his head and saying, “Man, I just don’t hear you.” In all innocence, I started over again a little louder. Finally it dawned on me what he really meant: “I just don’t want to hear you. I don’t like what you’re saying.”

This is what most of us do when there is disagreement. We carry around a pair of earplugs, and the minute somebody starts saying something we don’t like, we stuff them in our ears until he or she is through. Watch with some detachment the next time you find yourself quarreling with someone you love. It won’t look like a melodrama, but like a first-rate comedy – two people trying to reach an understanding by not listening to each other!

An effective way of dealing with a disagreement is simply to listen with complete attention, even if we don’t care for what the other person is saying. We are showing how our respect won’t waver no matter how vehemently we may disagree.

--Eknath Easwaran