Friday, October 31, 2008

Question for the Day

"If I go on grabbing and grabbing, at what point do I become secure and feel no more need to grab?"
--Eknath Easwaran

Proposition 8

There is much discussion here in California about Proposition 8. It would amend the California Constitution to recognize or validate "only marriage between a man and a woman." Those who support the proposition call it the "California Marriage Protection Act." They argue that the people of California need this proposition to protect the institution of marriage. But I want to know what they are trying to protect it from. If this amendment doesn't pass and homosexual couples continue to marry, will heterosexual married couples get divorced or stop loving their spouses because of it? Will heterosexual couples not marry who otherwise would, or will they fall out of love with each other? Will people who would otherwise be heterosexual and marry someone of the opposite sex now turn homosexual and marry someone of the same sex?

I don't feel my love for my wife or my commitment to stay married to her for the rest of our lives diminished one iota by homosexual marriage. I think I can safely report that my wife feels the same way. And I certainly don't see homosexual marriage causing us to divorce each other because we have suddenly turned homosexual and now want to marry someone of the same sex.

So, I will be voting against Proposition 8. Why would anyone vote for it?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sunday, Sunday

I picked up my wife at the airport Sunday. She visited her family in Thailand for two weeks. As we left, we got caught in horrendous traffic. It resulted from people leaving the 49'er game. Thousands and thousands of cars spilling onto the freeway at the same time.

Why do people put themselves through this ordeal just to see a football game in person? Even if I liked football, I wouldn't do it. I'd watch it on TV. Or, if it wasn't on TV, I'd listen to it on the radio. What I wouldn't do is get up early on a Sunday morning, drive miles and miles to the stadium, pay God knows how much for parking and a ticket, endure the unpleasantly hot, cold, or wet weather to watch overgrown men run into, over, and around each other on the field for three hours, and then fight my way through the exiting crowd to get back in my car and make an arduous evening drive back home in ridiculously heavy traffic.

I have better things to do on a Sunday. I have better things to do anytime.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Give and You Shall Receive

I listened to a psychiatrist talk on the radio the other night about troubled people in these troubled economic times. She said that many were so fearful for their finances that they were allowing themselves to become ensnared in a vicious downward circle of crippling anxiety causing hoarding causing greater anxiety causing greater hoarding. Her advice was to "tithe" or donate as much as one could afford, even if it was only a minimal amount, to avoid this vicious circle and elevate oneself in a virtuous circle of giving causing a liberating positive outlook and constructive action leading to more selfless giving of one's money and time to benefit the whole community. She argued that this would not only benefit the community but also the giver who is, after all, part of the community.

I think this is sound advice reminiscent of "give and you shall receive."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Certainty vs Freedom?

God does not "compel" acceptance of his authority, or we would not be free. Thus, the typical atheist who asks for miracles in order for God to "prove" his existence is really asking for God to remove his freedom. But that is something he will never do.
--Gagdad Bob

I've encountered Bob's argument above many times and in many places, but I've never understood it. What kind of "freedom" is Bob talking about? I take him to mean that if God doesn't prove himself to us, we have the freedom to either believe or not believe that He exists, whereas if God did prove himself to us, we would be compelled by that proof to know that He exists. There would be no freedom to disbelieve that He exists.

Yet, why is it better to believe in something that may or, for all we know, may not exist than to know that it exists? I've never understood why God would prefer the former to the latter. In fact, it seems to me that He would prefer the former. That is, He would want us to worship only a God whom we know to exist rather than to worship one who, for all we know, may be an illusory God or even a real devil.

Moreover, it seems to me that even if our freedom to disbelieve in God's existence is removed by compelling proof that He exists, we would still have the freedom to either "accept his authority"--i.e., obey His commands--or not accept it, just as a child who knows that his human father exists can choose to either accept or not accept his authority. Why would it be better for the child to only believe that his father exists and commands him to act in certain ways than it would be to know that he exists and that he issues those commands? Can't the child still choose to accept his father's authority and obey his commands or to not do so?

So, again, why is it better to merely believe that God exists than it is to know that He does? And, it if isn't, why doesn't God "prove his existence"?

Peggy Noonan on Sarah Palin

In the past two weeks [Palin] has spent her time throwing out tinny lines to crowds she doesn't, really, understand. This is not a leader, this is a follower, and she follows what she imagines is the base, which is in fact a vast and broken-hearted thing whose pain she cannot, actually, imagine. She could reinspire and reinspirit; she chooses merely to excite. She doesn't seem to understand the implications of her own thoughts.

No news conferences? Interviews now only with friendly journalists? You can't be president or vice president and govern in that style, as a sequestered figure. This has been Mr. Bush's style the past few years, and see where it got us. You must address America in its entirety, not as a sliver or a series of slivers but as a full and whole entity, a great nation trying to hold together. When you don't, when you play only to your little piece, you contribute to its fracturing.

In the end the Palin candidacy is a symptom and expression of a new vulgarization in American politics. It's no good, not for conservatism and not for the country. And yes, it is a mark against John McCain, against his judgment and idealism.

--Peggy Noonan

Friday, October 17, 2008

Debate Revelations

I listened Wednesday night to the final debate between Barack Obama and John McCain. I won't presume to say who won. I wasn't on the debate team in school, and I've never studied how debates are supposed to be judged. What objective standards are we supposed to use to score debates?

However, my subjective impression of the third debate, as it has been of the two previous ones, is that Obama came across as much more presidential in his nuanced understanding of the world, his unflappably calm and self-assured temperament, his pragmatism, his earnestness, and his charismatic vitality. By contrast, McCain came across as doddering, desperate, dismissive, sarcastic, nervous, awkward, overly ideological, and vapid.

I suspect that a growing majority of the American public perceive the two candidates largely the same way and that this, more than philosophical or policy differences, is what's giving Obama his daunting lead in the polls. It's not so much that we think Obama has the better preconceived plans for improving the economy and confronting the innumerable other challenges that face our nation as it is that we believe Obama has the superior intellectual and emotional resources to handle the rigors of the job and solve formidable problems as they arise.

I suspect that this is to what "we the people" are always paying the most attention. Yes, we listen to the candidates discuss and debate their political and economic philosophies and policies, but what we really want to know is who can step into the Oval Office and on to the world stage and best accomplish what a president of the world's most powerful nation needs to for the sake of the nation and the world. And political ideologies and policy proposals are far less predictive of this than are the elusive constellation of qualities that Barack Obama appears to have in abundance and John McCain does not.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tim Dickinson Summarizes "Make-Believe Maverick"

I recently posted an entry about The Real John McCain in which I questioned his selfless service to this country and his suitability to be president. I quoted at some length from a Rolling Stone article titled Make-Believe Maverick authored by Tim Dickinson. I suggested that anyone who endorses McCain for president should read this article and research its allegations before they cast their vote for McCain in November.

I had planned to distill those allegations into a future post. I may still do it. But, in the meantime, I'd like to share with you a video synopsis by the article's author himself of some of its key points. I want to thank my dear friend Tom Armstrong for sending me the link to it.

Tim Dickinsom on John McCain

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hitchens on McCain

On "the issues" in these closing weeks, there really isn't a very sharp or highly noticeable distinction to be made between the two nominees, and their "debates" have been cramped and boring affairs as a result. But the difference in character and temperament has become plainer by the day, and there is no decent way of avoiding the fact. Last week's so-called town-hall event showed Sen. John McCain to be someone suffering from an increasingly obvious and embarrassing deficit, both cognitive and physical. And the only public events that have so far featured his absurd choice of running mate have shown her to be a deceiving and unscrupulous woman utterly unversed in any of the needful political discourses but easily trained to utter preposterous lies and to appeal to the basest element of her audience. McCain occasionally remembers to stress matters like honor and to disown innuendoes and slanders, but this only makes him look both more senile and more cynical, since it cannot (can it?) be other than his wish and design that he has engaged a deputy who does the innuendoes and slanders for him.
--Christopher Hitchens

Quote of the Day

I think Obama's relatively weak but nonetheless real interactions with William Ayers are a legitimate campaign issue. But Obama's best response, after telling the facts of the relationship, is to point out who else supported him. Republican machers Walter and Leonora Annenberg gave the former terrorist $50 million. They also gave money to Rick Santorum, Strom Thurmond and Mitt Romney. Annenberg was Nixon's ambassador to Britain. If Obama is "palling around with terrorists," the Republican Annenbergs are funding them.

Yesterday, the McCain campain put out a press release boasting that Leonore Annenberg had just endorsed him for president. Why is McCain happy to accept the endorsement of a funder of terrorism?
--Andrew Sullivan

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Lost in Confusion

I took my wife to the airport today. She'll be spending the next two weeks with her family in Thailand. I don't like driving to the airport. San Francisco International is eighty miles away and is an intimidating maze for me. Even though I worked there for almost two years, I still get lost in that place. And even though I worked there most of the time as a baggage handler and have subsequently flown out of there myself once and taken my wife and others to fly out of there several times since, I still get confused about check-in and boarding procedures. I simply don't know what to do or how to do it. If I didn't have someone with me who does know, I'd be lost in confusion, even if I somehow eventually managed to muddle through. This is one manifestation of the learning difficulty I've often written about here.

Another example happened last night. At work, I wear a badge attached to a lanyard. Last night, the lanyard became entangled with my headphones that I use to listen to my Walkman. I spent over ten minutes struggling to untangle them but only made matters worse. I looked at the tangle and tried to figure out how to resolve it, but my brain just couldn't make sense of it. So, at quitting time, I ended up throwing my tangled badge and headphones in my backpack, bringing them home, and asking my wife to untangle the mess.

I could have struggled with it more at home, but I wanted to see how quickly my wife could undo the tangle. She looked at it for no more than a few seconds and took only a few more seconds after that to extricate the headphone cord from the lanyard. It was no problem for her whatsoever. She could instantly "see" how to do it before she began. By contrast, when I'd looked at it, all I could see was a tangle that I had no clue how to resolve, so I tried haphazardly to untangle it and only made it worse.

When I venture outside my comfort zone of narrow routine, this is the sort of thing I deal with constantly. So I've lived a very circumscribed life that has spared me all the wasted time and frustration of trying in vain to untangle life's knots and navigate life's mazes. If I had believed that taking on these challenges more often would make me better at resolving them, I would have done it. But lifelong experience has told me that practice not only doesn't make perfect but seldom results in significant improvement of any kind.

Yet, I'm now trying to disregard voices speaking of the past and focus on creating a different present and future.

Sonny Rollins and Leonard Cohen

I've seen some great musicians playing great music on television. But here is some of the best of the best. The immortal Sonny Rollins in a sublime duet with Leonard Cohen that sent chills of awe up my spine when I saw it over twenty years ago on David Sanborn's amazing program Night Music. Thanks to the divine blessings of YouTube, I joyfully present it to you here.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Gagdad At His Best

I never imagine that my life will change in any fundamental way, no matter what happens. I realize that the environment I live in is in my head, and that the only way to really change things is to change my head. Here again, this can be confused with solipsism or narcissism, but it's quite the opposite. I just mean it in a very concrete, experience-near sense. You must be very, very careful about the ideas you allow to take up residence in your head, because they will end up sharply limiting your ability to know the Real, which always transcends any idea you have about it. Life is impossibly rich, with hundreds of little daily pleasure that will pass you by if you do not heighten your awareness and hone your ability to appreciate them. Never imagine that getting what you want will satisfy you so long as you cannot appreciate what you have.
--Gagdad Bob

The Real John McCain?

I didn't decide to run for president to start a national crusade for the political forms I believed in or to run a campaign as if it were some grand act of patriotism. In truth, I wanted to be president because it had become my ambition to be president. I was sixty two years old when I made the decision, and I thought it was my one shot at the prize.
--John McCain from Worth the Fighting For

Dennis Miller thinks John McCain is a "great man," and he's voting for him in the upcoming election. Not because of what McCain's done in the House or Senate, but because he's a "war hero" and a principled man who has selflessly loved and served his country his entire adult life.

No doubt Miller speaks for many McCain supporters. But I wonder how many of them have read Tim Dickinson's Rolling Stone article Make-Believe Maverick. If what that article says about McCain is true, is McCain even close to being the selfless hero and man of principle he and his campaign make him out to be? Or has he been a spoiled, undisciplined, impulsive, tantrum-throwing, narcissistic, self-serving, and venal individual from childhood on?

McCain said during his nomination speech that his POW experience radically transformed him into a man who has put country and principle above himself ever since. But Dickinson's article recounts the following, which, if true, casts McCain's alleged "transformation" in a very different light.

t Fort McNair, an army base located along the Potomac River in the nation's capital, a chance reunion takes place one day between two former POWs. It's the spring of 1974, and Navy commander John Sidney McCain III has returned home from the experience in Hanoi that, according to legend, transformed him from a callow and reckless youth into a serious man of patriotism and purpose. Walking along the grounds at Fort McNair, McCain runs into John Dramesi, an Air Force lieutenant colonel who was also imprisoned and tortured in Vietnam.

McCain is studying at the National War College, a prestigious graduate program he had to pull strings with the Secretary of the Navy to get into. Dramesi is enrolled, on his own merit, at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in the building next door.

There's a distance between the two men that belies their shared experience in North Vietnam — call it an honor gap. Like many American POWs, McCain broke down under torture and offered a "confession" to his North Vietnamese captors. Dramesi, in contrast, attempted two daring escapes. For the second he was brutalized for a month with daily torture sessions that nearly killed him. His partner in the escape, Lt. Col. Ed Atterberry, didn't survive the mistreatment. But Dramesi never said a disloyal word, and for his heroism was awarded two Air Force Crosses, one of the service's highest distinctions. McCain would later hail him as "one of the toughest guys I've ever met."

On the grounds between the two brick colleges, the chitchat between the scion of four-star admirals and the son of a prizefighter turns to their academic travels; both colleges sponsor a trip abroad for young officers to network with military and political leaders in a distant corner of the globe.

"I'm going to the Middle East," Dramesi says. "Turkey, Kuwait, Lebanon, Iran."

"Why are you going to the Middle East?" McCain asks, dismissively.

"It's a place we're probably going to have some problems," Dramesi says.

"Why? Where are you going to, John?"

"Oh, I'm going to Rio."

"What the hell are you going to Rio for?"

McCain, a married father of three, shrugs.

"I got a better chance of getting laid."

Dramesi, who went on to serve as chief war planner for U.S. Air Forces in Europe and commander of a wing of the Strategic Air Command, was not surprised. "McCain says his life changed while he was in Vietnam, and he is now a different man," Dramesi says today. "But he's still the undisciplined, spoiled brat that he was when he went in."

According to Dramesi, McCain was no more heroic or exceptional as a POW than anyone else. McCain told the North Vietnamese soon after his capture that his father was an Navy admiral so that they would tend to his wounds. He then disclosed to them a variety of other information about his and Navy operations in general, and he turned down a typical offer for early release because, had he accepted it, he would have had to make disloyal statements about America that could have subjected him to condemnation and even court martial when he returned home. As another fellow POW said, "Many of us were given this offer. It meant speaking out against your country and lying about your treatment to the press. You had to 'admit' that the U.S. was criminal and that our treatment was 'lenient and humane.' So I, like numerous others, refused the offer."

The article proceeds to cite many other incidents and details about McCain before and after his POW experience that make him sound to me like one of the last politicians I would want as president. I don't know if all of these things are true, and I suspect that, even if they are, there are also positive things to say about John McCain that Dickinson's article doesn't. But I believe that anyone who supports McCain and, like Dennis Miller, considers him to be a great hero owes it to himself and this nation to read the article and then do some fact-checking before casting his vote for McCain in November.

And if anyone can show me where anything in Make-Believe Maverick is false, I encourage them to do it. So far, I've seen many scathing denunciations of Dickinson's 'contemptible hit-piece,' but I've seen no refutation of what he cites as facts.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Quote of the Day

Locate your center -- your psychic being -- which is "behind" the empirical ego, and is the blueprint of your true self. It is like a bead in a celestial string that descends from God to you. Find the divine language, the logos, that speaks to this true self; in a sense, the two cannot be separated, for to find the idiom is to locate the Self. Then it's just a matter of deepening the conversation.
--Gagdad Bob

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Quote of the Day

There was a time when conservatives lamented the dumbing down of American culture. Preservation of basic standards in schools and workplaces compelled them -- or so they said -- to resist affirmative action for women and minorities. Qualifications mattered; merit mattered; and demagogic appeals for leveling were to be left to the Democrats.

Not anymore.
--Joe Conason

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Quote of the Day

We are, just now, stuck between eras. The old order -- the Reagan-age institutions built on the premise that the market can do no wrong and the government no right -- is dying. A new order, in which Wall Street plays a diminished role and Washington a larger one, is aborning, but the process is painful and protracted.
Harold Meyerson