Friday, April 27, 2007

Hillary Obama

A bitterly cynical friend of mine says she's "sick of the Hillary Obama Show."

"Aren't you?" she pointedly asked.

But recent polls suggest that Democrats are, in general, fairly happy with their choices this round. Maybe the breadth of "serious" candidates makes the field look good. The characteristics of a Kucinich helps an Edwards, an Edwards helps a Biden, and a Biden certainly helps an Obama or a Clinton.

Hillary Obama. There is something to that name, composed of a first name and a last name, perhaps the most famous name of each. Drop the Clinton, and Hillary is better off. As just Hillary, she's her own woman. And Barack Obama, that's just too much exoticism for one candidate. But leave it at Obama, and it's closer to, say, Oprah.

That works. And each of these candidates, along with Edwards in the wings, is making the other stronger. They're not bitter adversaries because I think they both realize that each makes the other stronger. It is a symbiotic campaign. And so why not just be done with it now, and name the ticket Hillary Obama '08?

Too bad the two have to spar over who wants to be on top of that ticket.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Morals of the Imus Story Messed With, So It Goes

I don't think anyone is really crying over losing Don Imus on the radio. Come on, if you are, you're addicted to the rants and ramblings of an old fart. More than any other aspect of American culture, talk radio and especially "shock jocks" have turned this country away from public civility toward raw and rancorous diatribe, more discord than dialog.

Imus had his day, lots of them, years' worth, and he could pull in the big names. He was somehow a shock jock accepted by the moving and shaking elite. The Belt Way Players all gladly yucked it up on his show.

Al Sharpton, a sometimes hero of mine, got some of it right and some of it wrong. He said, "It was about the misuse of the airwaves." Well, not exactly. It may have been a misuse of Imus' role on the airwaves, according to the protocol of his employers and advertisers, but the bottom line is: the public, far beyond Imus' usual audience, didn't like it. They detested it and didn't back down.

Sharpton said, "We cannot afford a precedent established that the airwaves can be used to commercialize and mainstream sexism and racism. But there will be no champagne bottle popping by those of us involved in this. This is not about gloating." Well, maybe not champagne, Al, but no gloating?On his own radio show, after Imus called some white people "old crackers," Sharpton was right to ask Imus not to insult his own race on Sharpton's show. Good one. But the problem is that we now have a culture in which denigrating one's own race is commonly used not only for hurt and for humor but for idle banter as well. It's an age-old form of tribalism that's impossible to outlaw, much less eradicate.

Sharpton went on to say he wants to show the media and the public that it is not necessary to "be misogynist and racist to be creative or to be commercial in this country." No, not necessary, but it sure has made a lot of fortunes for musicians who are especially racist and misogynist, almost all of whom are black. So lots of work to do there, reverend.

In retrospect, the Imus story just shows that anyone wanting a soap box badly enough will step into some pretty tawdry territory and that such soap boxes are VERY popular, but that such off-color tirades -- especially at athletes, held sacred in this society -- have become increasingly tiresome to the mainstream. Speaking of which, former Imus guest James Carville said, "All the elements were there. You had some dry brush, gasoline, high winds, no rain and low humidity and before you know it, man, it was a wildfire."

Look at Imus now. He looks like he's ready to begin his next career as Ebeneezer Scrooge or a Dickensian apparition, The Ghost of Shock Jocks Past. Haunting really, visually a man exuding some sort of 19th century bile. He makes Mel Gibson look contrite, but then Mel Gibson IS an actor. Dom Imus isn't an actor. He's just an old cuss.


Early on, it seemed to me that the main story here was about political correctness -- and the fear of employers and advertisers to associate themselves with a crank, no matter how colorful -- or off color (or, as in this case, about color). But now, after we've witnessed the distraught feelings and urgent defense of the women at Rutgers, players and staff alike, maybe some good really will come of this.

More civility is essential to making this a better nation.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Step It Up 2007

This Saturday, April 14, over 1300 public rallies and other events will celebrate the newly popular awareness of and concern for global climate change. It's called "Step It Up 2007," and it was created by Bill McKibben, the author of "The End of Nature," a seminal book on climate change, which first appeared in The New Yorker and which came out in book form in 1989. Back in the 1980s, only Al Gore's book "Earth in the Balance" attracted as large an audience to what now seems to be the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced.

You can find a "Step It Up 2007" event near you here.

So here's this enormous challenge facing our very own little planet, and Saturday tens of thousands will be walking and bicycling and DRIVING and even FLYING to gather on capitol steps and in houses and parking lots and stadiums and courthouse squares and theaters to show spiritual, political and bodily support for 'stepping up' our legislative, economic, national and personal incentives to stop (and if we are persistent and lucky enough to reverse) the effects of our burgeoning industry, affluence, consumption and population.

And what did I do about it today? I bought toilet paper.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the NYT article, "The Year Without Toilet Paper," about one Manhattan family's experiment in going a year with a minimal environmental footprint. Well, today, I splurged on toilet paper. Yep, splurged. Twelve rolls for $8.99. It's Seventh Generation brand, 12 "double" rolls, 2-ply, 600 square feet, enough to last for months in my me-myself-and-I household. That $8.99 is about $2.00-2.60 more than a similar 12-pack of Scott, Charmin or Cottonelle, but hey, that's only 17-22 cents more per roll, a small price to pay for what you get.

On the front, around a cute cartoon character that looks like a cross between a polar bear and Casper the Friendly Ghost, there's this: "This recycled paper product helps fight global warming" (and it's true, IF you use TP). And on the sides of the package, there's this:


"If every household in the U.S. replaced just one 12-pack of 400 sheet virgin fiber bathroom tissue with 100% recycled ones, we could save:

* 4.4 million trees
* 11.6 million cubic feet of landfill space, equal to over 17,000 full garbage trucks
* 1.6 billion gallons of water, a year's supply for over 12,700 families of four
* And avoid 275,000 pounds of pollution

Now, what I've learned (and you can TOO!) is that what matters is what YOU do. If you make small changes, then you ARE doing your part. Or at least part of your part. But some of these parts are the easiest parts to do, so how about doing them, eh? You can find out more about Seventh Generation here.

That's just one 12-pack a year, and April's a good month to go a little green, right along with the greening of the landscape around you, just in time to say you did for Earth Day.

We've all got pretty good radar on those who shun doing anything altruistic. We can smell a bitter cynic a room away. So really, it's not about them. It's about us.

So if you can, carpool to a Step It Up event, and on the way home, pick up a 12-pack.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

So Vonnegut Goes

The literary rascal and rogue Kurt Vonnegut died today in New York City. He was 84.

This is a guy many of us will REALLY miss!

Even most great novelists think inside the box. Most essayists and playwrights think inside the box. Heavens, most poets think inside the box.

In American literature, no literary lion defines "outside the box" better than Vonnegut.

He was a cross between Thomas Pynchon and Monty Python.

He was a cross between Philip K. Dick and Mark Twain.

He was a cross between your most absurd professor and a sassy school boy.

A crotchety grad student goes to kindergarten and of course the other way around, too.

He was the Cheshire Cat of the counter culture!

Good gosh, I loved the man in print, in interviews, at play. Deep play: you could see the conundrums of depth and play in his craggy face, in his hair, in his cartoonish and curmudgeonly bouncing around outside the box!

Such sadness, even the specters of suicide (his mother's and potentially his own), but at play on the page, poking the eye of convention with a sharp stick or break in punctuation.

Those allegories, slapped together, the seriously absurd full of murderous and circus-like mirrors, reflecting back on our dance from birth ("hello babies!") to the end of it all. All hail the sheer freshness of Vonnegut's putting 2 and 2 together, the bloody, crusty, age-old horror of the human predicament and the sing-songy innocence of nursery rhymes.

Vonnegut kept giving the muckety mucks the finger for all his readers (and the rest of us) who couldn't find such funny voices to say, as he did, 'not only no, but hell no.' He gave it to the establishment as best he could and then said, recently, "I've written books. Lots of them. Please, I've done everything I'm supposed to do. Can I go home now?"

Kurt Vonnegut died today in New York City. So it goes.

Love him. Read him. Read him again.

"The Man Without a Country" is a man we still need in this country and in this life, facing the future we're facing.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

NEWS FLASH: Don Imus No Angel

I don't have a clear take on the Don Imus situation, but then a clear take would be as prejudiced as some say his remarks are.

No situation like this is clear cut, no matter what the "fire him" and "let it go" people on the street say. Most of the coverage is getting such either/or responses, reducing shades of gray to the sound bite convenience of black and white.

Michael Richards, Mel Gibson, and half the God Almighty televangelists in the country say something or do something for which they get a dressing down. It's really hypocrisy we're after, not so much racial slurs. There are such comments in much of private life, don't think that's over with. But no one, not even an R-rated comedian or radio ranter, can make such comments in public?

Well, then the hypocrisy is in us.

It's good to remind celebrities and superstars that they are not invincible. But then there's free speech, too.

The preachers, politicians and public servants who acts so crassly were setting themselves up to be role models, protectors of the very virtues they espoused, innocent of dark desires and wrong doing, slander and sin.

But the Richards and Imus cases are different. These guys dance along the frontiers of free speech all the time. They're rather odd and even nasty adults getting paid a lot of money to riff in ways that feel risky, unpredictable, even dangerous. It's not family hour. It's not church. Some might mistake Imus and others for preachers, but that's their own fault (and a sign of waywardness in this Titanic culture). Let's not forget: that microphone-chewing riffing is what they are paid for. That's their job, for which these guys are popular and well paid. We don't pay them to babysit or teach. Is it love/hate? Do we resent their "success" and thus pounce on them more mercilessly than we do our own relatives and neighbors who say tawdry, old-fashioned things?

By giving work and thus voice to such colorful and off-color entertainers, we take the risk of hearing them go "too far" for a few minutes now and then after, apparently, hearing acceptable ranting for weeks, months, and years come from their mouths.

We're not selling much pride or much to be proud of in this country, and neither the king nor the court jester has any pomp without the circumstance, namely the audience.

Should he stay or should he go? Should any of us stay or go? I'm mindful of the gray areas here and of the audience's own attraction to rants -- as well as its own lurking hypocrisy.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Awe Key to Creativity & Joy

A new biography of Albert Einstein suggests that the key to his creativity was his 'childlike sense of awe and wonder.'

It occurs to me how many of us downplay this enlivening part of ourselves, that indeed, giving up on awe and wonder is why older people are most often older at heart. So if you truly want to be "young at heart," you'd do well to rekindle awe and wonder.

How to do this?

Consider, indeed revel in, the seen and unseen forces of nature. Give these things time, contemplative time. Remind yourself of your impending death, of the fleeting aspects of life and of life's aspects which seem to transcend time.

It all sounds hoaky, but then most of us are not building new windows to the world in our minds, as Einstein was, as Socrates and Galileo and Newton were. We are rather pedestrian schmoes in this realm, but that doesn't mean that some deep dabbling there wouldn't do us and those we know some good.

The bonus is that we'd have more fun, too. Childlike, not childish. In this culture, perhaps in all cultures, we could use less of the childish and more of the childlike.

And more awe and wonder.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Another Lesson This Week

Another thing I learned this week -- or was reminded of in the course of leading a spring bike tour and being around both friends and strangers -- is that most people really don't appreciate, much less LIKE, other people's sensitivities.

If you're known as a "sensitive person," you'll catch a lot more flak and be the recipient or target of bossy advice. No matter how enlightened some people seem to be in other ways, they often seem to sharply resent what they perceive to be the naiveties, vulnerabilities, and sensitivities of others.

It's as if even our friends want us to be tough, tough as they define tough, good at what they are good at, to be, of course, in a phrase, more like them, to think inside their box, to act on their stage. Or to skeedaddle and get out of the way.

And so we're back to an important aspect of the spiritual quest, the quest to become not merely sympathetic but empathetic towards others. Sympathy is like a $25 check you write to a charity. Empathy is getting in there with the cause. Cause and effect. Most of us are just along for the ride, happy to mourn the effects, not wanting to do the work of considering our role in the cause.

And so it is with others' sensitivities. As we shun or ignore them, we belittle ourselves. Mockery makes for good fun, but it leaves a bad aftertaste. I should know: I've done tons of mocking myself. But in memory, I'm tasting that taste.

And to boot, I am a sensitive person, reveling in vulnerabilities as well, even laying them out for others to see because I see great challenges there, great growth to be had in the prickly underbrush. And so I'm ripe for the kind of disdain that the tough throw at the tender, whether to their faces or behind their backs.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Lessons of a Book and a Bike Tour

This week, I've been leading a Pre-Easter bicycle tour in the Texas Hill Country, full of ups and downs, in terms of both terrain and desires vs. the facts. All week, it has occurred to me again and again how hard satisfaction is to attain for a day, much less hold on to for longer periods of time.

As some of you know, I recently read a book called, "Loving What Is." The author uses a dialog technique which is refreshingly straight-forward, challenging and jargon-free. Her direct questioning has gotten me into questioning a lot of what gets said by me and by others.

A bike tour participant might say, for example, "I should be in better shape," or "I am not really a serious cyclist; so-and-so's fast" or "so-and-so's in better shape."

I'm now on the lookout for all uses of the word "should" and all comments of comparison in which a person seems to delude or demean themselves or others.

The first question is, "Is it true?" Is it true that you should be in better shape? Doesn't your current shape accurately reflect reality? Doesn't your physical self NOW represent your body, given what you've eaten and how much you've exercised? Perhaps you'd LIKE to have a different body now. Perhaps you have the desire to be stronger or more trim or fit. But it's reality that is true. Reality is the only truth we know.

And so, if there are any 'shoulds' at all, they are those which recognize and express reality as it is now: I should be in the shape I'm in. This is the body I should have (all things considered). It's only from this awareness based on things as they are that we can really take action for change.

On my tours, it's common for the slow cyclists to say that the fast cyclists are "better" or "more serious." But is it true? This comment has, for years, demeaned the art of recreation and of bicycle travel to me. I've often said that "the best cyclist is the one having the most fun." And often that is NOT the "serious" or fast cyclist.

By saying this, the slower cyclist, perhaps a bit "out of shape," perhaps struggling up the hills, is putting two things at the top of the totem pole: muscular strength and SPEED. But as Gandhi said, "there is more to life than merely increasing its speed."

"Fun" is, of course, a short hand, accessible and immediately attractive way of saying "finding pleasure and/or enrichment," even of experiencing "growth" or that elusive "bliss." The fast cyclists often are in a race they can't win. They're pumped up and proud of their speed, but they're smiles are often hollow and short-lived. They're literally on the fast track and often don't know what other alternatives might exist. Fast cyclists, I am here to confirm, often miss seeing much that's right beside the road, much less things on the far horizon. They're what one old gentleman rider I met called "white-liners," referring to the white stripe down the outer edge of the road. He'd ask if we'd seen this or that and then say, "Don't be a white-liner."

Well, as a tour leader, I have to be more diplomatic than that. I used to try to broaden the scope of the most narrow-minded, but people don't change... much. Some do, and so I offer the joy I feel from riding, no matter what the pace and no matter with whom.

Many people like to say they "have their own pace," but they're either riding too hard -- too close to their aerobic threshold -- or they're really just being defensive, not wanting to enter into the give and take of togetherness and compromise every group ride is all about. Perhaps I'm gifted, and I have always been able to ride faster and farther than it seems my general lack of "training" would allow, but I don't feel I have a pace. I have freedom instead. And joy, as in enjoyment. I want to be with others, to share and experience WITH them, not against them. To me, the joy of life, of living in our bodies as they are, of pushing ourselves or easing back, is about
letting go of competition and the sooner the better.

In competition, many of us get suckered in to challenges thrown down by others. When we let go of competition, we gain a whole slew of great things: free-spiritedness and whimsy, play and cooperation, time to ourselves and time to see what's beside the road and out there on the far horizon.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Movies I Haven't Seen/Would Like To

I've found all these scraps of paper on which I've jotted down movies I'd like to see. I am sure there are hundreds more, but I've decided to consolidate what I've found and offer them up for your perusal. Let me know what to add. Thanks.

By the way, this list is limited to movies I have not seen (or as with a few, have seen only clips). There are some pretty good classics that I'd like to see again, but I don't watch movies alone (and don't have a TV at home), so I wait for the right venue and audience so that every movie night IN or OUT is a social experience.

Here you go:

All About Eve
Aurora Borealis
The Aviator
Baby, the Rain May Fall
Benny and Joon
Best of Youth
The Best Years of Our Lives
The Big Lebowski
Black Hawk Down
Boogie Nights
Broken Flowers
Casino Royale (the new version, seen the original)
Charlotte's Web
The Cider House Rules
The Constant Gardener
The Doors
Ed Wood
El Norte
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
Finding Forrester
Finding Nemo (!)
Finding Neverland
Fried Green Tomatoes
Garden State
Gentleman's Agreement
Girl, Interrupted
Grand Hotel
Half Nelson
Home at the End of the World
Hotel Rwanda
How Green Was My Valley
I Am Sam
In the Company of Men
In the Heat of the Night (clips only)
Jesus Camp
The Last Kiss
The Last Temptation of Christ
The Late Show
Leaving Normal
Little Children
Lorenzo's Oil
Lost in La Mancha
Lost in Translation
Lost Weekend
The Lover
The Man From Elysian Fields
Maria, Full of Grace
Memoirs of a Geisha
Merros Perros (title? sp?)
Monster's Ball
The Motorcycle Diaries
Mr. & Mrs. Bridge
Mrs. Miniver
Mutiny on the Bounty
My Cousin Vinny
Mystic River
Natural Born Killers
Ocean's Eleven (original and remake)
The Painted Veil
The Passion of the Christ
The Perez Family
The Pianist
Requiem for a Dream
Roman Holiday
The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone
The Sand Pebbles
Sense and Sensibility (have I?)
Something's Gotta Give (don't like Jack but I will for Diane)
Steel Magnolias (hmmm, not sure)
Sunset Boulevard
Tequila Sunrise
Toy Story
Training Day
Trip to Bountiful
Twelve Monkeys (I've seen just a bit)
Ulee's Gold
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Under the Tuscan Sun
United 93
Walk the Line
What's Eating Gilbert Grape (okay, just saw this)
White Men Can't Jump
Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe (yes, I've only seen clips)
Wicker Park
You Can't Take it With You
Y Tu Mama Tambien
Your Friends and Neighbors

Many more, to be sure. What to add?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Most Adaptable Creatures on the Planet

Regarding global warming and the other huge challenges we face:

"We hold our children's future in our hands.... As the most adaptable creatures on the planet, it is time for us to adapt."

-- Nancy Pelosi