Friday, February 29, 2008

Letting Go of the Bernie Ward Story

The sad, sad story of Bernie Ward has been at the forefront of my mind for the past several days. If he were just anyone, I might not give the matter a second thought. But when you've listened to him on the radio as long and as much as I have, corresponded with him on occasion, and come to feel as though you know him so well that he could almost be a friend or even a member of the family, one can't help but feel virtually consumed with disappointment toward Bernie, sadness for him and his family, and anger toward those who seem to be reveling in his suffering and earnestly say the ugliest things about what they'd like to see happen to him.

There are those who believe that he deserves to go federal prison for a very long time (and to suffer the stereotypical indignities thereof) for briefly possessing and sharing three pornographic pictures involving minors with an online dominatrix while cyber-chatting with her. He claims that he was conducting research for a book. However, the police transcripts of the sordid chats cast this in doubt.

In any case, the law says motives don't matter, and supporters of this strict law, in tandem with Bernie's detractors, say that the government must be merciless with child predators and with those who aid and abet them in any manner.

Is Bernie a child predator? He wasn't charged with child molestation, and his children are still living with him. Did his actions support child predator-pornographers to any degree? I think it would be exceedingly difficult to argue that his reinforcement of child pornography was anything more than vanishingly small.

But that's just what I think. Many if not most of those who've discussed this in public forums disagree, and I guess there's no point in my fretting about Bernie's fate or arguing with others about what it should be. What will be will be. However, I hope it turns out better for him and his family than it now looks like it will.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Cult of Racial Healing

Many dismiss the Obama phenomenon as a mere "cult of personality." It is in some ways a cult, but not one of personality -- it's a cult of racial healing, of racial transcendence. For many whites, voting for Obama is a kind of appeal to one's better self, and the better self of the country. It is, in a way, a promise. It could even be seen as a kind of prayer....Barack Obama is not a savior. But there's every reason to believe that if elected he will be a good president -- and maybe a great one. And every day that Obama is in office, even the bad ones, we'll be able to tell ourselves: We elected a black man president of this country. That thought, with all that it says about where we came from as a nation and where we hope to be going, will be a light that no one can put out.
--Gary Kamiya

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A President's Most Important Role

I briefly tuned in to Meet the Press this afternoon. They were discussing Barack Obama. . Many have argued that he hasn't done that much in Congress and that when you examine closely the substance behind his rhetorical glitter, there's little there there. But one of the panelists in the discussion, a presidential historian, argued that what may be most important in a president is the ability to use his or her rhetorical gifts and charisma to inspire diverse peoples to unite and work together for the common good and that Obama may have the precious potential to do exactly that.

I think this is what I find most promising about Obama and why, unless and until I encounter good reason to do otherwise, I support him for president. He and Hillary may not be that far apart in their politics, but I think they may be world's apart in their ability to inspire "we the people" to make sound political vision reality.

The Merits of Melancholia

Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a Soul?
--John Keats

Chase away the demons and they take the angels with them.
--Joni Mitchell

A person can only become a fully formed human being, as opposed to a mere mind, through suffering and sorrow.
--Eric G. Wilson

English professor Eric G. Wilson argues that the American pursuit of happiness, fueled by Prozac and "positive psychology," has robbed many lives of the "fertility of pain" or "melancholia" that propelled Keats, Handel, Georgia O'Keefe, and countless others to their greatest works. Joni Mitchell calls her bouts with melancholia the "sand that makes the pearl," and Professor Wilson says:
"Melancholia, far from error or defect, is an almost miraculous invitation to rise above the contented status quo and imagine untapped possibilities. We need sorrow, constant and robust, to make us human, alive, sensitive to the sweet rhythms of growth and decay, death and life."

Wilson explains that he's not urging that we "wantonly cultivate depression" or "romanticize mental illnesses that can end in madness or suicide."

"On the contrary, following Keats and those like him, I'm valorizing a fundamental emotion too frequently avoided in the American scene. I'm offering hope to those millions who feel guilty for being downhearted. I'm saying that it's more than all right to descend into introspective gloom. In fact, it is crucial, a call to what might be the best portion of ourselves, those depths where the most lasting truths lie."

Twelve years ago, I became romantically involved with a woman I should never have gone near. When she inevitably left me in the dust a few months later, I went thorough the "best of times and the worst of times." For over a year, I could hardly eat or sleep, and I'd cry at the proverbial drop of a hat, especially at songs of love and loss and when I saw suffering, human or animal.

But I also experienced some of my greatest joys during that time--mudita over others' good fortune, a sense of sublime connectedness with all living things and with the ups and downs of life, and, finally and overarchingly, an almost constant sense of what I can only characterize as soulful depth that I've seldom even glimpsed before or since.

I don't mean to suggest that I would want to return to those mostly gloomy days and interminable nights, and I certainly don't claim to have accomplished any great things back then. But there was, nevertheless, something deep and magical about that time that I would like to regain something of without plunging forever into a depressive abyss.

In other words, I think Eric Wilson is on to something, and what I'm now trying to figure out is how to reconcile Wilson's "miracle of melancholia" with my essential philosophy that the ultimate goal and purpose of life is to be happy. At this point, I will only and vaguely say that it seems to me that the solution lies in the understanding that happiness is not merely the blind pursuit of hedonistic pleasure or of a life devoid of all unpleasantness, but is an ongoing and much more complex fulfillment of one's divinely human nature.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Revisiting the Bernie Ward Story

I recently posted an entry about local talk radio host Bernie Ward. I complained that the federal government appeared to be trying to railroad him into a lengthy prison term merely for downloading a few images of child pornography that weren't even on his computers when the authorities seized them. I said I was inclined to believe Bernie when he said that he was using the downloaded images for his research for a book about "hypocrisy in America." I believed him because I'd been listening to him for over 25 years on the radio, I liked him, and I had never heard even the faintest hint of a suggestion from or about him that he harbored any sexual interest in children. I admit that I had some dimly conscious doubts about his excuse, but I wanted so much to believe him that I was willing to overlook certain things in the news about his case that seemed suspicious.

Well, now that I've read more details about the case, I have to say that I now have an extremely difficult time buying Bernie's excuse. It definitely doesn't seem to fit the unpleasant facts that have come to light.

But while my opinion of the motives behind his acts has changed, I haven't changed my opinion that someone doesn't deserve to spend years if not decades in prison for merely possessing and distributing, for the briefest of time, a few images of child pornography that he didn't sell or buy or apparently play any role in creating. Yes, child pornography is a very bad thing, and those who make it or otherwise profit from it deserve to be treated severely. But what Bernie apparently did doesn't begin to rise to that level of egregiousness.

After recent revelations about his case, I can't see any way that he could ever return to talk radio. Not just KGO but also anywhere else. His reputation seems forever ruined. His media career seems forever ruined. And I can't imagine that his marriage and family life are ever going to be the same, and they may be ruined too. If the government wants to pile on with extended public service, probation, and, perhaps, even a heavy fine, well, I guess it has to do something because Bernie did break the law, as even he admits, and charges have already been brought. But a long (or even short) prison sentence and permanent status as a registered sex offender seems like an ostensive definition of "cruel and unusual punishment" not only of Bernie but also of his family.

And some of the hateful things I've heard people say about how Bernie deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison being raped, brutalized, and humiliated, or to at least have his life destroyed forever seem more disturbing to me than anything Bernie appears to have done.

I feel very sorry for Bernie Ward, for his family and friends, and for a community that has lost an intelligent, thought-provoking, and influential voice for the poor and middle class. What unfortunate pathology led such a smart and well-read man to bring such ruin to himself and such pain to his loved ones?

Why Men Stop Desiring Their Wives

I was listening to talk radio the other day. They were talking about why men lose sexual interest in their wives. Some say it's because they're too tired from work and other responsibilities. Some say it's because of unresolved anger toward the spouse. Others say other things.

One 49-year-old man called in and said that it could often be the result of men no longer being attracted to their aging and obese spouses. That is, men are biologically programmed to feel attracted to females whose youth and physical beauty imply fertility, because men are biologically programmed to spread and perpetuate their genes.

A female caller immediately after him angrily denounced this man as a "child" who needed to "grow up." She accused him of justifying men wanting young, pretty girls for sex and rejecting their wives. I think she was off-base. I think the man's comments were legitimate and not offered as justification but merely as valid explanation of why many men stop desiring their wives. They don't want to feel that way, but they do because that's how nature made them, and one does not simply flip a switch in one's mind and "get over" this programming.

If that woman caller had been a man, I think she would have understood. How easy it is to condemn those we don't understand. We need to stop condemning so much and start listening and opening our minds and hearts to what we hear.

Jimi Hendrix's Machine Gun

Evil man make me kill you,
Evil man make you kill me,
Evil man make me kill you
Even though we're only families apart.
--Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix was a genius. He revolutionized electric guitar playing. He may not have had the blinding speed and advanced compositional knowledge that many of today's guitar greats have, but you can bet your house that virtually every electric guitarist who came after him owes a huge debt to him.

Some people say that the legendary solo below is the greatest electric guitar solo ever captured, and I'm not sure I'd disagree. It's called Machine Gun and was recorded in a concert appearance at the Fillmore East in New York City with the group Band of Gypsys on New Year's Eve in 1969.

It's electrifying, in more ways than one--a performance for the ages.

Jimi Hendrix plays Machine Gun

Friday, February 15, 2008

A New Challenge on the Job

I can't say that I ever look forward to going to work, but I look forward to it a lot less than usual today. For the past several weeks, I was beginning to get a little more comfortable because I was doing familiar things and was becoming a little faster at doing them. But yesterday I was introduced to a procedure on the computer that I didn't understand. For most, it's easy. They pick it right up. For me, it's a different story. I didn't know what I was doing or why I was doing it. That is, I kept needing to be reminded of what I was supposed to do, I kept messing up on it even after being told, and when I asked for explanations of why I was supposed to do what I was doing, in order to help me learn the logic behind the procedure so that I could learn that procedure better and apply the procedure to the various contingencies I might be faced with, I didn't understand the explanations.

I think I'm going to be back at that task again today, and I'm going to be expected to make significant progress in learning it. I anticipate a rough time of it. No doubt my pessimistic expectations make matters worse. Yet, how can I, based on a lifetime's experience, not expect things to go badly? They almost always do in cases like this.

I will go there today and do my best. I will also try to take notes if time and other conditions allow. But I feel apprehensive that rougher than usual times lie ahead, and I'm not sure what to do about it if they do. With my wife having quit her job, it's vital that at least one of us is bringing in at least a little money. But how long will I be able to keep the job I have now?

I'm trying to take these things less seriously and not worry so much about what others think of me when I have difficulty learning and performing tasks that come easily to them. I think I'm getting a little better at doing this. I tell myself I'm doing the best I can, and if others look down on me for struggling, their perceptions of me or feelings toward me don't change who I am.

One thing I've told myself more recently is that if I can find a way to handle my struggles gracefully, it might serve as a valuable lesson to others that there are people like me in the world who have these kinds of difficulties, but who nevertheless keep working hard and trying hard to do what's expected of us, and we're good people. Perhaps this understanding will increase empathy and tolerance not only for me but also for people with all kinds of disabilities.

Still, I think the time may be fast approaching when I'll need to sit down with my supervisor and explain to him what's going on with me. It's often said that if one does have an underlying disability or difficulty that isn't obvious but that does impact one's job, one shouldn't say any more about it to his bosses and co-workers than he needs to. In other words, if he's having trouble learning aspects of his job, he shouldn't explain the reason why he's having it. He should simply say something like, "I seem to be having difficulty with this. Could you take a little more time training me on it and allow me to take notes and do everything I can to pick it up?"

However, I'm thinking that, in my case, it might be better to tell my supervisor about the underlying difficulty than, each and every time I'm asked to learn something new, his wondering why I'm struggling so much. Maybe that way I won't need to ask him and my co-workers to allow me more time to learn each and every time I'm given a new duty to learn. They'll already know I'm "slow" and make allowances. Or they won't keep assigning me new tasks and will just let me do the things I've been doing and get better at them so that I still shoulder a respectable share of the workload. Or they'll decide, while I'm still on new employee probation, that I'm not a good fit for them and let me go.

In any case, I will stay on the job and do the best I can with it until they either let me go, I find something better, or my body breaks down from the strain.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

We Don't Want No Stinkin' Superdelegates

As I was driving to work yesterday, I heard progressive talk radio host Randi Rhodes discussing the possibility that superdelegates may very well decide who the next Democratic nominee (an oxymoronic expression if ever I've heard one) for president will be. And, right now, it looks like they could snatch the nomination away from Obama and hand it to Hillary.

Rhodes is not the only one talking about this. It seems that almost everyone in the media is, and I think they should be. I'm very concerned that backroom manipulation within the Democratic party is going to supersede the wishes of the people the party supposedly represents, and if this happens, I will leave the Democratic party and become an Independent. Why stay in a party that doesn't value and trust the will of its members?

I hope that the superdelegates align with the candidate who receives the most regular delegates through the primary process and that, afterward, the Democratic party ends the use of superdelegates. As it is now, we have Bill Clinton regularly calling one 21-year-old superdelagate I read about, and Chelsea just went to lunch with him. Gee, I wonder if that might have any influence on his vote at the convention!

The Curse of Inflexibility

Yesterday some of us attended a short class on multi-cultural awareness at work. One of the points the instructor made, which had little to do with the subject of the class but was nevertheless extremely important, was that the health system we work for is a great place for those who are very adaptable to the complex, ever-changing nature of the system. Such people can reasonably expect to be in demand and to be able to work there for as long as they desire. However, those who aren't so adaptable, who can't readily learn new skills and apply them don't have a rosy future there.

Well, I suppose this goes for just about any workplace. You've got to be adaptable, flexible, able to understand what's going on and learn the changes that are always occurring and use that understanding to meet the constantly shifting demands placed upon you. But what the instructor said yesterday and the way he said it hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks.

How can someone whose disability prevents him from being adaptable to complex, ever-changing circumstances make it in the place where I work or in almost any job anywhere that pays enough to live on?

Saturday, February 09, 2008

It's Official

My wife saw the GM yesterday. He told her she doesn't smile enough at her present job to fill the open room service position which, somehow, just closed due to the "poor economy." But, he said, if she practices to the point where she can smile all the time and not look like she's concentrating on her job (even when she has to concentrate), maybe she can work room service someday.

She served two week's notice of her resignation immediately afterward.

My wife is Thai. Thais are renowned, and rightfully so, for their smiles, and my wife smiles as much as anybody on and off the job. But it's difficult to impossible to smile constantly when carrying heavy trays or trying to get multiple orders straight. Nobody else does it either.

She was an outstanding employee. She would have been outstanding at room service. And if she had been Caucasian with her record of outstanding service, I don't think her smile or her look of concentration would have been the least bit of an issue. I believe that there is a consistent pattern of discrimination going on at that hotel, and I wonder if anything might be done about it.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Judgment Day

This week, I've had one of the more interesting experiences of my life, which I look forward to describing here as soon as I can find the time to do it justice.

Also, my wife hasn't resigned from her job yet, because she's been waiting for the opportunity to meet with the GM of the hotel where she works to persuade him to give her the chance to try out for the room service position. If he gives her that chance, she will probably stay. If he doesn't, she will resign.

Well, she was supposed to have her meeting this morning, and I'm presuming that she did. So, she has probably already either resigned or resolved to stay on. I'm eager to find out which, but also anxious about it. I fully support her if she decides to quit. She's been doing her present job for almost eighteen months, and it would be too much of a strain on her body and too much stress on her mentally to continue, and there would be no better position likely to ever open to her. On the other hand, if she quits, we'll be without affordable health insurance and possibly without a second income for awhile, and I darn sure don't make enough from my job to support us.

We shall see what happens.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Acoustic Magic

Here is a beautiful version of one of the most beautiful songs ever written.

Carlos Vamos Plays Jimi Hendrix' "Little Wing"

Runaway Train

Today my wife is going to serve two weeks notice that she's resigning from her job. After being jerked around too long and too often by her employers, she's had enough, and I don't blame her. So for now, we'll have to make do with my meager income from my shaky job and with our ever-dwindling savings and pay out-of-pocket for COBRA health insurance coverage that, despite its exorbitant cost, we can't afford to be without.

I feel like my wife and I are locked into a runaway train that we know is bound for disaster, but we can't get off, and our only choice, if we can even exercise choice over such a thing, is whether to relax and calmly enjoy what's left of our ride before the inevitable cataclysm or go to our doom in terror.

Actually, my wife has another choice. She can jump off the train before it crashes. She'd be injured by the fall, but at least she'd survive. But there's no escape for me. My only choice seems to be whether to throw my wife from the train before it crashes or let her stay with me till the bitter end.

This is how I feel today. It's actually how I've felt for a long time. But now I feel it more acutely than ever. Maybe I'll feel different in time. Maybe I'll find reason for hope that I just don't see now.

Yes, I could do as Cousin Dupree suggested and see my doctor about getting a prescription for an anti-depressant. But I think all that would accomplish is to possibly make it easier for me to choose my first option and meet my (and my poor wife's) doom with a little less despair.