Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fires That Purify

I've just spent the past 3 days attending a Conference for Change in Vancouver sponsored by the Dalai Lama Foundation. It was attended by 120 invited guests who are involved in humanitarian projects all over the world. (How this Hinjew shrink from Queens got an invite is subject for another time.) During Saturday evening we broke up into smaller groups to have dinner. It was here that I had the great fortune to be able to spend some time with Shawn A-In-Chut Atleo. Chief Atleo is an exquisitely rare instance of humanity at its best. He has recently been elected to be the first National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Canada. He is by no means a physically imposing individual (perhaps 5'8'') nor does he have the appearance of a wise old sage (he looks to be a quite youthful man in his mid 40's).

During dinner the question was asked about a definition of peace and what it would take to finally achieve it. I spoke about my belief that as long as we perceive the world to be divided into "us and them" there would probably always be the ease with which we inflict harm on each other. When I was asked what I thought it would take to end this, my response was an attack on earth from an alien civilization. Then Chief Atleo started to speak. He told us about the "Highway of Tears" that exists north of Vancouver. It is along this highway that indigenous people "disappear". There is sadly little that is currently being done to end this or find the perpetrators. In a rare instance, recently one pig farmer was convicted after they found the DNA of over 30 of the missing people in his pig feed. Chief Atleo is aware of over 500 missing people.

As the evening wound down I asked the Chief for a few minutes of his time. My question to him was why all of his time was not spent either weeping or using an assault weapon. He did admit to weeping. But he then told me that as most of his friends were "no longer with us" at this point in his life he was "just grateful to be able to do the work". His practice is a Buddhist meditation in which he breathes in the evil and breathes out healing and love. What an honor to be in the presence of such magnificence!

The next night I was at a fund raiser. It was attended by 300 people who clearly had a great deal of money. During the evening a 9 year old boy performed by masterfully playing classical music on a piano. His talent was superb and the 20 people who were listening were blown away by both his talent and the profound rudeness of the 280 others who's talking made it almost impossible to hear him. As we rode home some of us were trying to figure out how people could be so insensitive. My response was to comment that for me there was no difference between this crowd and the vast majority of Americans who go about their daily lives while so many of our youth are slaughtered in war every day.

I don't own an assault weapon because I know that if I did I'd probably use it. So perhaps it’s time to breath in the evil and breath out the love.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

There Is No Nobel Prize For Congeniality

When Tiger Woods entered the clubhouse of the Augusta National Golf Club during April of 1997 he was very much aware that he had a very temporary pass. No people of color were allowed to become members. During the next 4 days he pummeled the field and won by 12 strokes. When Fuzzy Zoeller made his unfortunate remarks about Tiger after the tournament he (Fuzzy) was emphatically and immediately silenced. Today there are no signs with Tiger depicted as Hitler or the devil lining the fairways. This is what happens when things are immediately and effectively dealt with.
When Joe Wilson shouts out he is clearly playing to his racist base. This is so evident that even Jimmy Carter can see it. Congressman Wilson appears to not believe it proper to have a man of color running the ship. Yet there is not the same power to respond to him that silenced Fuzzy. When Glenn Beck makes some comments about Van Jones it is Jones that gets thrown under the bus. As a result we lose another marvelously intelligent and articulate voice.
This past weekend in Washington clearly demonstrated the growing racist cancer that the Republican strategy is fostering under the guise of health care reform protest. What was said there and in the town hall fiascos screams how the Republicans are masters at getting people to act and vote in ways that are not in their own self interest. It also demonstrates how pathetic the Democratic party is in mounting any potent response.
When Don Imus made his "nappy haired hoes" comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team he was thrown off the air. It was a rare moment in which decency triumphed. But Imus is an insignificant flea compared to the likes of Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, O'Reilly, and many others who get paid by Rupert Murdoch. To the outside observer it appears that the Obama administration can easily be pushed around. Mr. President, how many times do you have to be spit on before you realize that the answer to your "Can't we be friends pleas?" is a resounding no?
I fear that unless the growing racist tide is stopped we will be heading towards major disaster. I am not advocating any policy that would increase the chances of another civil war. Yet since your adversaries are so fond of Hitler comparisons, the appeasement of the 1930's clearly didn't work. When Vice President Cheney was asked about the growing public dissent about the Iraq war his response was "So?". I am not advocating for his clear indifference and disdain. We may never recover from the Bush administration. But they got their things done! They weren't involved in a beauty pageant or trying to win the Nobel Prize for congeniality.
Your speech to the joint session was eloquent but left me less satiated than a Chinese food dinner. Not only was I hungry 20 minutes later I was disappointed with the chef. What you appear to be advocating for now with health care is a watered down version of what you campaigned on. My fear is that even if you do get a bill passed it will indeed be your Waterloo. Because in the process the message to be learned is not that you won. The message will be that you can be bullied and you can be demeaned. This will embolden your adversaries as they smell the blood of your pyrrhic victory.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


My first visit to Afghanistan was in 1974. Like most Americans, I had no idea where it was before I went there. A few days after I arrived in Kabul I had the great fortune to be able to attend a wedding party for the king's nephew. I have never felt so uneducated as I did that night (despite having my doctorate at the time). The progeny of the diplomatic corps along with the extended royal family had been to the best schools all over the world. They all spoke multiple languages. Further details will perhaps be the subject of a future post.
A 4 hour bus ride from Kabul brought me to a place named Bamian. Bamian would later be in the news after the Taliban spent many weeks dynamiting two glorious 160 foot tall Buddhas that were carved into a mountain there.

(This is a shot of one of the Buddhas in 1975. You can see the scale by the two people at the bottom.) I will never cease to be amazed at the pain and suffering that humans can descend to when they have the certitude of their convictions. Band-e-Amir was three hours by truck on a non-existent road. Band-e-Amir is one of the prettiest places I have ever been. It is a series of 7 lakes in the middle of stark desert like surroundings. Each lake is crystal clear and each is a different color. It was here that I watched buzkazi being played. Buzkazi is played on horseback. The idea is to grab a sheep and carry to your goal. The other team does what it can to stop you and score their own goal. The only way to see the game is on horseback. A full game can take up to 3 days to play. This shot was taken as I stood in the field where they were playing. I was about 20 feet from these riders.