Saturday, May 31, 2008
I know (or, at least, know of) a guy who's absolutely brilliant and stunningly erudite. What's more, he has a one-of-a-kind blog that features some of the best writing I've ever read. And I'm blown away by the fact that he sits down every morning and composes dazzling entries about spirituality, theology, philosophy, politics, psychoanalysis, and popular culture with virtually no planning. It just flows out of him onto his keyboard and into the blogosphere like a Mozart symphony. You may think I'm engaging in hyperbole, but I mean what I say. I'm tremendously impressed by this man's intellect and writing art.
There's only one problem. A lot of what he writes strikes me as the "elaborate falsehood" of a man so smart that his cleverness overwhelms his good sense, and he really believes the systematic nonsense he posts. I guess I'm just not smart enough (or dumb enough) to get taken in by it. But I continue to enjoy it much as one might revel in a great, brilliantly told fairy-tale.
Friday, May 30, 2008
I wrote this entry yesterday during my dinner break at work and am posting it today.
That which offers no resistance, overcomes the hardest substances. That which offers no resistance can enter where there is no space.
I feel better at work today than I did yesterday. After coming off a restful Memorial Day three-day weekend, I felt good at work Tuesday. My mind was clear and quick, at least for me, and my body felt strong and durable. I came to work Wednesday hoping I'd feel the same way, but I didn't. Not even close. My mind felt fuzzy and slow, even for me. When my co-worker called out the numbers of the medical charts I was supposed to pull from the shelves, I had to keep making her repeat the numbers. Sometimes several times. By contrast, the day before, I was often pulling the right chart before she even called out the entire number. And my body felt so tired and old yesterday! The job I do is physically demanding. It fatigues guys half my age. But I still felt way more tired than usual yesterday, and much slower than usual as well. And I felt soooooo bored! If one could die from boredom, I was teetering right on the perilous edge.
Yet, things are better today. Much better. Part of it might be due to some energy fluctuation, random or otherwise, in my bodymind. And part of it may result from a decision I made early on today not to worry about or fight how I feel. Just relax, focus, and think and move with unforced naturalness.
One of my co-workers is a master of this. He's a little Hmong man from Laos, but our supervisor calls him Superman because he can do any job required of him and do the work of two people in one shift with seemingly effortless ease. No matter how much work he has to do, he never seems to be in a hurry, never seems to be forcing anything. And even though he's nearly a foot-and-a-half shorter than I am and probably weighs less than half of what I do, he never seems to strain under the heavy weight of an imposing stack of medical charts as thick as metropolitan phone books, as an almost perpetual smile graces his constantly calm face and demeanor.
A guiding principle of philosophical Taoism is wu wei which I roughly define as "effortlessly efficacious action." It is exemplified by a great surfer who masters the waves with unforced grace. My co-worker is a living example of wu-wei. I want to be too. When I am, for a fleeting moment, I'm as close to heaven as I'm ever likely to be in this life and in the workplace.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
There is no sense in parsing words—what we are talking about here is a very real sort of elitism, a developmental elitism in which leaders more evolved than the majority of the populace are elected to office, for exactly that reason. Of course, it is an “elitism to which everyone is invited,” meaning that anyone can continue to evolve to the highest reaches of human potential, despite the fact that so few do. But merely mentioning the word “elitism” puts us on very dangerous ground in today’s political atmosphere, in which voters seem more interested in electing leaders they can “have a beer with” than ones with the moral, intellectual, and perspectival sophistication required to heal the tremendous cultural schisms that exist in America, and in the rest of the world.
--Corey W. deVois, Integral Institute
Ken Wilber discusses Integral "Third-Way" Politics
On the Larry King show last night, I watched panelists, including neurosurgeons and scientists, discuss the question of whether using cellphones causes head and brain cancer. The gist of the discussion was that the evidence is inconclusive but nevertheless troubling enough that it would be prudent to use cellphones more sparingly than many do now, or be sure to keep them as far away from the head as possible by using the speaker function, or use a headset, preferably a wired one, as much as possible. For it is the electromagnetic radiation emanating from the cellphone's antenna that poses the biggest threat of inducing malignant cellular changes in the brain (gliomas), ears (acoustic neuromas), or salivary glands. The closer the antenna is to the head, the more radiation the head receives, and, therefore, the bigger the threat.
It will be interesting to see what happens years from now after millions of people have used cellphones regularly for decades. Will we see a huge jump in the incidence of head cancer in these individuals? Will using cellphones turn out to be as dangerous, if not more so, than smoking cigarettes, and cellphones will come packaged with a warning from the Surgeon General similar to that found on cigarette packages today?
I, for one, intend to be more careful in my use of cellphones from now on.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
In the early 1990's, the South Natomas community in Sacramento spent over $100,000 and used volunteer labor to build a beautiful children's playground in Jefferson Park. It was the first community playground in Sacramento and was the pride of the South Natomas community. A generation of children grew up enjoying the wonderful playground. Then, in June of 2006, someone burned it down. I blogged about it at the time. My wife and I watched a massive, roaring fire reduce beautiful "Ft. Natomas" to a pile of charred wood in a matter of minutes despite the best efforts of firefighters to save it. The arsonist was never caught. But the community rallied and, through fund-raising activities and hundreds of volunteers, the playground was rebuilt in a weeklong labor of love. Children in the community worked side-by-side with engineers to design the marvelous new playground, and its fixtures were brought up to newer safety codes and constructed out of plastic. I remember worrying at the time that someone, perhaps the same deranged person who torched the original playground, would destroy it, but I hoped that no one would.
My hopes were dashed yesterday morning around 1 AM when the playground caught fire and burned down again. There's no way this could have happened by accident. Someone had to have set the fire on purpose. What kind of person could do such a thing? Why did he do it? I've written here before about how everything anybody does is the inevitable product of the entire, unified universe and that people shouldn't be blamed for their actions, no matter how much harm and suffering they might cause. But part of me would like to find the perpetrator of yesterday's burning and beat him to death with my bare hands. Or just put a bullet in his brain with a .44 Magnum. Blow his head "clean off," as Dirty Harry would say. In other words, utterly and irrevocably obliterate the evil in our midst. But, as hard as it is to acknowledge in my current anger and bitterness, such violent retribution would be sicker and more evil than what the arsonist did to that hapless playground.
Yet, if this person is ever caught, and a $5000 reward had been offered for his arrest and conviction, what is the appropriate way to deal with him? As a community leader said, "This is beyond a crime, to take this away from the community," and as someone else commented, "It is acts like these that tear apart our sense of community--and, eventually, civility."
Ft. Natomas--Our Community, Our Story
Ft. Natomas Rebuilt
Friday, May 23, 2008
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
I was also not surprised to hear Kennedy's friends and senate colleagues talk about how tough he is and how he might very well rise up and "beat" the death sentence the medical establishment seems to be giving him. This got me to thinking about the best way for someone to handle a poor prognosis, which, after all, could befall any of us at any time, as I have long suspected that it will me someday.
What is the best way to react if we find out that we have a disease with a poor prognosis? It seems to me that we have two major options. We can resign ourselves to the fact that we're probably going to die soon, or we can refuse to accept this and "stand up and fight." I wonder if any good scientific studies have revealed what effects these differing attitudes and approaches have on longevity and quality of life. Does giving in to a bad prognosis hasten decline and death whereas opposing it produces the opposite effect? Or has no such correlation between these variables been uncovered?
Speaking for myself, if and when I receive the kind of "death sentence" Kennedy has, I think I'll welcome or, at least, resign myself to it more than I'll fight it. Why? Because, I know that I was my parents' mistake, and I truly believe that I and the world would have been better off had I never been born. I'm simply not equipped for this world and am more of a burden than a blessing to it, and I'm constantly frustrated by an intellectual and psychological reach that perpetually exceeds my grasp. That's no way to live.
Tears aren't streaming down my face as I write this. I don't feel depressed. In fact, I don't feel much of anything except weary indifference punctuated by a twinge of sadness for a man who is equipped for this world and who has done something worthwhile with his gifts over his long and fabled political career and could have continued doing so if not for a dreadful disease that will likely rob him of his gifts and the world of his contributions in all too short a time.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Pedophilia is a sickness that is true, but it is a sickness that can not be treated.
I think you're right that pedophilic desires can't be cured, but I think there are treatments that can stop or prevent some people from acting them out. But let's be clear about Bernie Ward. He was not indicted for child molestation, and, indeed, after a thorough investigation, he was allowed to stay in the home with his children. He was indicted for possessing and distributing a few sexually oriented photos involving minors. Having and even distributing a few such images doesn't necessarily mean that someone is a pedophile, much less a dangerous one who must be removed from society for the rest of his life.
Now I'm aware of the recent Dan Noyes report alleging that Bernie came on to a couple of teenage girls years ago when he was a priest. But these are only allegations. He was never convicted of sexual harassment or molestation of children or anyone else. What's more, even if the allegations are true, as bad as it would be for him to have acted as alleged, being attracted to pubescent high school girls is not pedophila. If it were, most adult males would be pedophiles. Pedophila is attraction to prepubescent children.
It truly is sad that these people do what they do. If you could put them up in a condo complex where they could live and work(without ever leaving the premises of course) I would be all for that. But they can never be allowed out in society. The harm they do is extraordinary.
I agree that child molestation can be extraordinarily harmful and that a case could be made for locking away for life anyone who has shown a pattern of child molestation suggesting that he or she can't prevent himself from continuing to molest children. However, I agree with you that these people are mentally ill and do not deserve the punishment of a life sentence in federal prison for their actions. They need to be placed in another kind of more humane facility, and they should not be blamed and held in contempt for their illness or its manifestations. But, once again, Bernie was not indicted for child molestation.
You also have to remember that most pedophiles do not think they are doing harm. They honestly believe that they love the children and that they are not harming them. How do you treat someone who has those beliefs?
Doesn't your preceding statement imply the answer to your question? If someone molests children because they don't understand the harm it causes to their victims and they can be made to understand it, they won't molest anymore.
I truly feel sorry for Bernies family and friends(especially his childrens friends) but for Bernie I feel nothing but contempt for he of all people should know exactly what his actions will do.
I don't understand this statement in light of what you said previously. You believe that Bernie is a pedophile (even though there's no proof I'm aware of that he is), and you say that pedophilia is a sickness; yet, you feel "nothing but contempt" for him. Do you also feel "nothing but contempt" for someone who breaks out with a rash as a result of having chicken pox? Isn't acting out one's pedophilic desires analogous to breaking out with chicken pox? We may need to isolate a contagious individual until he no longer poses a threat to the public, but we don't hold him in contempt for being sick. Why should we hold Bernie in contempt? If he really knew "exactly what his actions would do," don't you think he must have been awfully sick to go ahead and commit them anyway? And if he didn't know exactly what they would do, then why scorn him? Because "ignorance is no excuse"? Why isn't it? If not an excuse, then at least a mitigating factor?
You also need to do a little research on the case. Bernie actually was storing the images in cyber space on his AOL account and was in possession of at least 30 images.
Thank you for that additional information. But have you seen the images or read detailed descriptions of them? This touches upon an issue I raised in yesterday's post. Not all pornographic images are of equivalent severity, and this should be taken into account. What's more, no matter how extreme these images may have been, Bernie was not indicted for nor did he plead guilty to playing any role in creating these images. I don't believe that someone should spend years in federal prison for merely possessing or even distributing a few such images to consenting adults. He should face some legal sanctions, and, indeed, he already has, along with numerous social ones. But not prison.
He harmed children, some grievously(just imagine his children reading the transcripts of what he was saying to Sexfairy about them and their friends) even if he did not do the actions he describes, the mere fact that he could come up with these alleged "fantasies" should outrage you!
I believe that what he wrote about his own children and their friends was actually far worse than the pictures from a "moral" standpoint and from the standpoint of what is likely to have done the most psychological harm. But this was not illegal and he was not indicted for it. What's more, I don't feel "outrage" over this; I feel great perplexity over why he did it, and I feel great sadness for him and his family that he did it and for the fact that they all are now having to deal with the consequences.
I have a 2 year old daughter and you know what I have never had a thought like that, EVER!
I have suggested, although I don't claim to know for sure, that maybe Bernie posted those things not because he really wanted to do them for real but because he wanted to shock his "mistress" with his naughtiness. But let's say, for the sake of argument, that he really did entertain those fantasies. Now I think it's wonderful that you don't entertain similar ones. But what if you or someone close to you did? It's easy to condemn other people for desiring bad things you're fortunate enough not to desire. But suppose you had these desires. Would you believe that you should be condemned for them? And how do you know that you could control them any better than Bernie did with his online sex chat?
Have you actually sat down and thought about what he did in a logical non emotional way? Unclouded by your personal feelings for the man?
Yes, I think I have done precisely this. Have you? Or are you the one who has let his reason be clouded by emotion and "personal feelings"?
Imagine how outraged you would be if you found out it was Dick Cheney who was doing these things.
I think Dick Cheney has done far, far worse than Bernie Ward. I think he has contributed more than his share to the deaths of countless thousands of people who didn't deserve to die and to the misery of countless millions of others. Compared to that, Bernie Ward's actions are an infinitesimal blip on the radar. Nevertheless, if Dick Cheney had done what Bernie has, I truly believe that I would feel the same way about his having done it than I feel about Bernie having done it.
That's the difference between conservatives and liberals(I am a rational anarchist) a conservative when presented with evidence like this demands punishment for the person involved regardless of political party.
What is a "rational anarchist," and just how "rational" could such a stance be? Beyond that, I mildly agree with part of what you say. A conservative is likely to urge punishment (although I suspect that he's likely to be more punitive toward a liberal than toward a fellow conservative) than is a liberal. And I think this is because so-called conservatives tend to have a more simplistic and false understanding of human nature and behavior than do many liberals who better understand that cultural and social conditions interact with our genes to shape who we are and how we behave and that unadulterated "punishment" is not necessarily the answer to all misbehavior.
Liberals refuse to believe that their people are really bad and make all kinds of excuses for them.
Again, I think, or would like to think, that liberals are more likely to understand the complex concatenation of factors that go into shaping a person's character and conduct and that just blaming and punishing people for "bad" character and behavior is neither fair nor effective.
Or more laughable of all they claim some "government conspiracy" has brought there person down. I mean come on....when are you folks going to grow up?
You folks? When have I said that I believed the legal action taken against Bernie was the result of some "government conspiracy." But I do submit this question for your consideration. If Rush Limbaugh or Dennis Prager had done what Bernie did and the government became aware of it, are you altogether certain that it would have responded as severely as it did to Bernie?
Friday, May 09, 2008
I've posted about this case several times. I've learned more about it since my previous entries. I've come to believe that Bernie has been a troubled man for years and has shown a self-destructive propensity. Furthermore, I agree with those who say that child pornography is egregious exploitation of children and cannot be tolerated.
But the question that comes to mind is how the law should deal with those who are involved with it. I was listening to a talk radio program this morning on KGO, Bernie's old station. One of the guests was a former FBI profiler and child sex abuse investigator. Her stance was that any adult intentionally involved to any degree in child pornography deserves to have the book thrown at him.
I can understand where she's coming from. She's investigated very serious cases of child pornography and seen firsthand the awful and permanent damage that this kind of exploitation can wreak on a child's psyche. And she makes a good point when she says that the child victim continues, in a sense, to be exploited and violated every time his or her image or video is passed along to someone else.
However, it seems to me that the law needs to consider more than it does the motives behind someone's involvement with child pornography as well as the extremity of the pornography and the degree or frequency of one's involvement with it. For instance, the only pornographic image in Bernie's case that I've seen described in any detail is of a topless woman, a naked teenage boy, and a fully clothed young girl, and they were not engaged in any kind of sexual or simulated sexual acts. Contrast this with a video of a prepubescent child being, say, gang raped. Possessing and even distributing the former seems far, far less egregious than possessing and distributing the latter; yet, I'm of the impression that the law makes little or no distinction between the two.
Another issue that came to mind as I listened to this morning's program concerns what kind of sentence offenders in general and Bernie in particular should be dealt for their crimes. The talk show host opined that Bernie appears to be a sick man in need of treatment but that this in no way "exonerates" him for his actions. But the question I continue to struggle with is, If someone commits a crime because he's sick, why does he deserve to be punished for it? Treated? Yes. We treat people for sickness and its symptoms. But punished? Should we punish people for being sick and for exhibiting the symptoms of their sickness?
The only reason I can see for punishing someone for their sickness is if the punishment is either part of the cure or, in the case of incarceration, quarantines the sick person from harming others with his sickness. But then, we're not talking about punishment per se but about aversive conditioning as treatment or about protective confinement, and that treatment or confinement is made as compassionate and merciful as possible while retaining its efficacy.
But is nine or even five years in federal prison merciful treatment (or punishment) for Bernie and his sickness? Not only that, but is it more effective than one year in prison or in a more humane institution of some kind or even under continued house arrest. Think of what this man has already suffered. He will never get to do talk radio again. He will never be able to teach children again in public or private school. He'll have to permanently register as a sex offender and be subject to all of the restrictions and indignities that go with it. He will probably be treated as a pariah by a large part of the community and will feel ashamed in public for the rest of his life. Would increasing his time of incarceration significantly increase the deterrent effect of his sentence? Would a nine year or twenty year sentence do that much more to deter him when he gets out or to deter others from committing this kind of offense, or does increasing the sentence yield diminishing returns of deterrence and quickly become unjustified punishment or vindictiveness for punishment's or vindictivenesses sake? I wonder if any persuasive scientific studies have been done on this question--i.e., the effect of prison sentence length on deterrence.
It seems to me, as it did to another guest on today's talk show, that Bernie's sentence is "draconian". In other words, it's far, far more harsh than what he deserves or than what is needed to bring optimal benefit to society.
What do you think?
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
All people are not created with equal abilities or opportunities to pursue happiness and achieve the successes that Gagdad and many others of similar persuasion naively (or disingenuously) say we are. And I believe that when we reject this obvious fact, all kinds of political and economic mischief follow. I agree that people who are struggling should do more to help themselves to succeed. But I also agree that government can play more of a legitimate role in empowering people to do this. Gagdad, with all his intellectual brilliance and education, may not need much of this kind of help. But not all of us are "created equal" to Gagdad Bob.
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
--Fr. Joe Maier, from his daily journal
I'm studying for a career in which I have grave doubts about my ability to succeed because I have even graver doubts about my ability to succeed in any other worthwhile career. As I pursue this questionable career, I find Father Joe Maier's words, a paraphrasing of Thomas Merton, to be invaluable. There's no assurance that all the time and effort I lavish on my studies will lead to success in my career aspirations. And if I were to focus on this uncertainty, I could readily succumb to discouragement and give up, as I have done so many times before. But when I find value in the "rightness and truth" of the effort itself, I can keep on keeping on in spite of my doubts.
Sunday, May 04, 2008
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told Leslie Stahl that torture for interrogation purposes is not prohibited by the "cruel and unusual punishment" clause of the constitution. His argument, as I understand it, is that when government representatives torture people to extract information from them about illegal or terrorist activities, they aren't inflicting "punishment," they are simply seeking information. We may not like torture on moral grounds, and we may even pass enforceable laws against it, but the "cruel and unusual punishment" clause doesn't prohibit torture because torture isn't punishment.
I tend to disagree. It seems to me that punishment is the infliction of suffering or hardship on someone for wrongdoing, and that when people are interrogated in a manner that causes them extreme suffering or hardship--i.e., when they are tortured--they are not only being interrogated but also punished, in a "cruel and unusual" manner, for the wrongdoing of deliberately withholding important information. For if it were believed that someone wasn't deliberately withholding information but was doing it subconsciously, torture would not be employed as a means of extracting this information. Torture is generally used when someone is deemed to deserve punitive interrogation if they don't divulge information voluntarily.
Scalia interview regarding torture.
Saturday, May 03, 2008
My wife likes to watch American Idol. I used to watch it with her when I could. Some of the contestants are pretty good in the sense of being able to sing with nearly perfect pitch and general vocal control. Some of the songs they sing, often interpretations of old standards, are even pretty entertaining. But I've been listening to Billie Holiday lately, and she is/was just incredible with the depth of feeling and meaning with which she suffused her singing. And now when I watch clips of American Idol or of performances from just about any pop or even jazz vocalist, the singers sound like mere pretenders. Billie Holiday was the real deal. And below is a clip of her singing with an awesome array of jazz talent. It was from a CBS program that aired in 1957, only a couple of years or so before she died, ravaged by drugs and disease. But she is still luminous and transcendently beautiful in body, soul, and voice in this remarkable video. I don't think I've ever seen a better music video or found a singer so captivating.
Billie Holiday sings "Fine and Mellow"
Friday, May 02, 2008
And what is the function of a guru? He's the man that looks you in the eye and says 'Oh come off it. I know who you are.' You come to the guru and say 'Sir, I have a problem. I'm unhappy, and I want to get one up on the universe. I want to become enlightened. I want spiritual wisdom.' The guru looks at you and says 'Who are you?' You know Sri-Ramana-Maharshi, that great Hindu sage of modern times? People used to come to him and say 'Master, who was I in my last incarnation?' As if that mattered. And he would say 'Who is asking the question?' And he'd look at you and say, go right down to it, 'You're looking at me, you're looking out, and you're unaware of what's behind your eyes. Go back in and find out who you are, where the question comes from, why you ask.' And if you've looked at a photograph of that man--I have a gorgeous photograph of him; I look by it every time I go out the front door. And I look at those eyes, and the humor in them; the lilting laugh that says 'Oh come off it. Shiva, I recognize you.' When you come to my door and say `I'm so-and-so,' I say `Ha-ha, what a funny way God has come on today.''
Thursday, May 01, 2008
I agree. But who or what is "the One" who's been waiting for us? Do we find it in a Judaism, Christianity, or Islam that is not so esoteric as to be unrecognizably Jewish, Christian, or Muslim? And do we find it in Gagdad's One Cosmos unless we look very hard and overlook a lot of what we find there?