AN EASTER MEDITATION

31 Mar

Mike Allen posted an “Easter Challenge” this morning on his PLAYBOOK blog on Politico, one of the most essential blogs out there:

AN EASTER CHALLENGE: DAVID KUO – who opened the first White House faith-based office, under President George W. Bush, and is now faithfully battling brain cancer and other torments – posted this on Facebook before a surgery in January: “Favor? Do something outrageous today — give way more than reasonable to a homeless person, take the family out for an ice cream dinner… And serve only ice cream, call someone you hurt and ask forgiveness, call someone who hurt you and give forgiveness … And send me a pic.”

Christianity too often is equated with righteousness. But wasn’t forgiveness the point of the story about Jesus rolling away that stone from in front of his tomb?

Thinking of Easter as an occasion to celebrate forgiveness might be a meaningful way to look at this day for those of us brought up in a Christian tradition (Episcopalian in my case) but who now are unchurched … follow a different spiritual calling … or muddle through however we choose … yet still hear on this day the faint signal of a transmission from another world in which we once lived.

No body of Christ for us today … but perhaps spiritual nourishment nonetheless in ruminating on forgiveness and its cousin, complexity.

Forgiveness can be a profoundly moving, cathartic experience … granted or received … whether we’ve inflicted hurt or been hurt (and who hasn’t experienced plenty of each?). It’s cleansing. (And let’s not forget that cleaning feet is also a tradition of Holy Week, although kind of yucky.)

Thinking about forgiveness leads me to ponder emotional complexity. We all know pain and hurt, yet we also inflict pain and hurt on others — intentionally or at least knowingly (whether or not we admit it). We can’t help ourselves: we are animated by so many conflicting impulses, emotions and perceived needs.

complexity_network-675x310

I thought of the interplay between complexity and forgiveness today after reading from two very different sources: the lead entry above on Mike Allen’s PLAYBOOK … and a few minutes later when I put down the digital device and opened up the novel I’m reading, Wally Lamb’s “big, shaggy beast” I Know this Much is True:

Lamb’s narrator says of his auto dealer/professed sex addict friend, Leo:

“See, that’s the thing with Leo: he’s sleazy AND he’s decent. He takes you by surprise.”

Complexity is the theme, too, of one of my favorite poems, “Self-Portrait” by Edward Hirsch:

“I lived between my heart and my head,
like a married couple who can’t get along.

I lived between my left arm, which is swift
and sinister, and my right, which is righteous.

I lived between a laugh and a scowl,
and voted against myself, a two-party system.”

And so Hirsch continues, finally concluding that alignment of our conflicting aspects is unattainable (maybe not even desirable):

“I suppose my left hand and my right hand
will be clasped over my chest in the coffin

And I’ll be reconciled at last,
I’ll be whole again.”

Finally, in meditating on the significance of a story about what follows the rolling of a stone away from a tomb, my train of thought chugs along to its final destination, the words of another great poet, Bob Dylan. There aren’t many lyrics in our modern music canon that puncture the folly of self-righteousness as sharply as “Like a Rolling Stone,” from which I excerpt:

“Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?
People’d call, say, “Beware doll, you’re bound to fall”
You thought they were all kiddin’ you
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin’ out
Now you don’t talk so loud
Now you don’t seem so proud
About having to be scrounging for your next meal.

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people
They’re drinkin’, thinkin’ that they got it made
Exchanging all kinds of precious gifts and things
But you’d better lift your diamond ring, you’d better pawn it babe
You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him now, he calls you, you can’t refuse
When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?”

You have to remember to forgive and forget … remember that we are all a mess of contradictions.

WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND?

22 Dec

WHAT'S ON YOUR MIND?

Did you ever stop to ponder what might be lurking in the depths of the seemingly innocuous question posed in grayscale on your Facebook status window?

“What’s on your mind?”

That may seem like a invitation to post a little something frothy — why you think the Chicago Bears suck so badly … the color of your phlegm (esp. pertinent this time of year if you’re harboring a viral infection) …or, where you believe John Boehner goes for his spray tan applications.

But we’re leery of those devious young wonks at FB. What are they REALLY after? For sure, they’re after ever more precise methods of directing marketers to our screens, either through direct FB ads or by selling our data to marketers who beckon us to sample their wares on every web site we visit.

Maybe we are all part of a research project by grad students in psychology to map the mind of America. That’s a scary prospect. Not because of its Big Brother-ish quality, but because we’ll really be bummed by how dull we are.

Or, quite possibly, neuroscientists scanning Facebook status lines are even now making new discoveries about the brain, perhaps researching the region within that gelatinous mass that causes us to believe people really give a shit about what we think about anything.

* * *

Speaking of regions of the brain, I recently came across the work of an associate professor at MIT, Rebecca Saxe, who is exploring the potential application of neuroscience in dissolving longstanding regional/tribal/religious conflicts. While still a grad student at Harvard a few years back, she discovered the small region of the brain, above the right ear, that helps us understand what other people have on their minds (back to this fundamental question posed by Mark Zuckerberg et al).

This is really cool stuff, with intriguing potential for developing interventions to more precisely guide reconciliation strategies. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based The Project on Justice in Times of Transition conducts a “Neuroscience and Social Conflict” program and is collaborating with Professor Saxe and the SaxeLab at MIT.

If you’re interested in diving into this area, check out the interview with Saxe at Edge.org, the self-described “online science salon.” Here’s a small bite:

“The advantage of neuroscience is being able to look under the hood and see the mechanisms that actually create the thoughts and the behaviors that create and perpetuate conflict. Seems like it ought to be useful. That’s the question that I’m asking myself right now, can science in general, or neuroscience in particular, be used to understand what drives conflict, what prevents reconciliation, why some interventions work for some people some of the time, and how to make and evaluate better ones.”

IMAGING CONFLICT RESOLUTION | Edge.org http://bit.ly/TgizML

So what’s on YOUR mind?

(IMAGE FROM SALON.COM)

There are no (gay) children here

16 Dec

Boy, dorm room decorations at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia must be really boring. The chancellor of Patrick Henry College swears there are no gay students on campus. Nada. None.

How does he know?

Because “a gay person could not sign our honor code,” which requires students to remain “sexually pure.”

Seems things got stirred up recently when Chancellor Michael Farris threatened to sue those behind creation of a blog called “Queer at Patrick Henry College.”

http://queerphc.wordpress.com/

In addition to saying there were NO LGBT students on campus, Farris called the blog “a hoax,” to which the blog replied, “Quick! Clap if you believe in fairies!”

As the blog pointed out, sexual orientation is not synonymous with sexual activity. After all, there a plenty of hetero virgins on college campuses.

And binge drinking is not exactly a sexual stimulant.

The most outrageous aspect of this sorry episode may be the statement from Patrick Henry College on December 13th claiming the college has “a God-given right” to restrict students’ speech on gay issues.

Wait! Now I recall who told the Brits back in revolutionary times, “Give me liberty or give me death!”

patrick_henry_low

(Image thanks to Erica Yu)

Quant THIS, fellas …

7 Nov

Gotta hand it to the quants … Nate Silver of the NYT’s 538 Blog, Sam Wang of Princeton and the others.

The GOP pundits dismissed their data, but these guys they were right on the money. As was the Obama campaign apparatus.

But politics is still a high-touch business, with Joe “The Happy Warrior” Biden showing us how it’s played.

For further information, please see “Clinton, William Jefferson.”

Joe and the motorcycle mama at an Ohio tavern …

Joe grabs POTUS at McCormick Place

.

A closing argument

5 Nov

I strongly support Barack Obama for re-election.

I voted for him because I share many of his public values and his understanding that government plays an important role in our society as protector and defender, economic catalyst, promoter of human rights and pursuer of justice on behalf of all Americans.

I would support Obama against any Republican, but the one served up in Tampa provides greater incentive to cross all my fingers and toes in wishing for a second Obama term.

In Romney, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a major party candidate for president who so easily and cynically changes colors to suit the occasion and the audience. Romney should not be allowed to get away with taking credit for Romneycare in Massachusetts and then vowing to repeal Obamacare on “Day One.” And the “Etch-a-Sketch” list goes on and on.

He has no common touch, no feel for people … other than hedge fund guys and Cayman Islands bankers. He is uncomfortable with the notion of women … not just in leadership roles but in the workplace, period. He just wishes they would stay in their binders.

He is inauthentic. Al Gore was stiff on the campaign trail, but he was (and is) a real guy with a great sense of humor behind the scenes. I’ll bet Romney wears crisply pressed jeans with buffed Weejuns and Ralph Lauren shirts when he plops down on the couch to watch reruns of “Big Love.”

Romney is the quintessential empty suit. People have already voted for him and will vote for him tomorrow because they hate Obama or because they are reflexive Republicans. Yes, some independents and maybe even Obama supporters from 2008 will vote for Romney because Obama did not live up to expectations.

I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m pretty sure Romney is an alien sent to Earth to learn the customs of humans, but he hasn’t quite nailed it yet. He does not know how to be. And please don’t tell me that buying and selling companies at Bain gives him a great understanding of business. Being a small businessperson … or a CEO running a company for years, dealing with expanding markets, workforce issues, regulations, etc. is what being a businessperson is all about.

Enough about Mitt. Let’s talk about Obama.

Sure, I’ve been disappointed with Obama at times. I’ve been disappointed with myself plenty of times. But I’m not kicking myself off the island.

I wish he hadn’t marched in lockstep with the Pelosi crowd in the early days of his presidency. We should have created a more powerful stimulus package focused on infrastructure and direct job creation and jettisoned some of the long-deferred pet Democratic projects that crept into the bill.

Was it possible to pick up the votes of at least a handful of whatever reasonable Republicans remained in Congress in late 2008 and early 2009? I don’t know. But letting House Democrats develop the stimulus package was a mistake, and undercut whatever chance there might have been to at least partially fulfill Obama’s compelling and persuasive campaign pledge to transcend partisanship. It hurts him politically still.

Having said that, when the GOP leader of the U.S. Senate says the top item on the party’s agenda is not helping Americans but defeating Barack Obama, where are you supposed to go with THAT?

Where you DON’T go is to a political version of The Peaceable Kingdom by Quaker painter Edward Hicks.

NOT SO MUCH

Which gets to major disappointment #2 – Obama’s quixotic pursuit of bipartisanship long past its “sell-by” date had come and gone.

This, along with other miscalculations on both sides of the aisle, led to the debt-ceiling debacle that could have been pre-empted by more timely maneuvers by The White House and Hill Democrats. I get a kick out of the GOP “criticism” about Obama’s “Chicago-style politics.” If only.

But while it was sometimes painful to watch, Obama can point to signature achievements:

-With the (flawed) stimulus package, auto bailout and other measures, leading the US away from the brink of true financial disaster toward a slow but steady recovery.

-Recognizing that this isn’t like recessions of the past, and that our economy is fundamentally changed, he has invested in education reforms designed to retool our workers for the demands of the 21st century workforce.

-Seeking fairness in tax policy … although we have a long way to go there, too. Bring back Simpson-Bowles.

-While Obama can come across as arrogant and aloof at times, you still get the sense of someone who by dint of his own experience understands the challenges faced by those of us in the 99 percent. And the 47 percent.

-The most sweeping reform of our health care system since Lyndon Johnson days – one that that guarantees health insurance coverage (public and private) and prevents insurance companies from denying coverage to people for pre-existing conditions. (Personally, I could go for the single-payer model, but that just isn’t happening.) For Romney to insist that ERs are the perfect place to provide not only emergent but primary care demonstrates how clueless he is about health care. We need to be promoting money-saving networks of “medical homes” built around preventive and primary care — not telling people without insurance that it’s OK to just show up at the ER and all will be well – financially or medically.

-With two wars in the Middle East, Obama was handed the ultimate shit sandwich by George W. Bush. And yes it is entirely valid to keep blaming W for the mess we’re still cleaning up. Why do you think all Republicans other than his brother Jeb are keeping W off the campaign trail? Obama is winding down those wars while also dealing with the other major Bush residue – tax cuts that play a huge role in the federal deficit.

-Bin Laden. That took some major cojones. Or “brass,” as Joe Biden might say. The day they got him, I said out loud to anybody who would listen, “OK, he just nailed re-election.” Boy was I wrong. Talk about a short attention span, my fellow Americans.

-Gay marriage and repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Women’s health and choice. Planned Parenthood. Advancement in race relations — even though the White Walkers are still about the land, jeopardizing progress toward true equality and justice.

-And finally, the Supreme Court. We simply must have a Democrat filling the next round of SCOTUS vacancies, or for the next 30-40 years we will have misguided strict constructionists messing with our freedoms and tilting our legal system toward the rights of the powerful and intolerant. The Constitution was intended to be a dynamic document. Knuckleheads like Scalia, Thomas and Alito interpret the Constitution in the same way that Koran-burning, gay-bashing preachers interpret the Bible. And keep an eye on Roberts. He had his reputation-saving moment with the Affordable Health Care Act. Watch him revert to form.

Barack Obama. Four more years.

And here’s how it works …

31 Oct

Romney gratefully accepts 8-pack of Gatorade G Series from Hurricane Sandy evacuee, in timely hands-on demonstration of reverse wealth redistribution plank in Romney-Ryan platform.

(PHOTO CREDIT: Reuters)

Dang, if only I’d gone to BSchool

27 Oct

A recent Harvard Business Review daily “Management Tip” cautions about the downsides of taking just any old job even in a crappy economy.

Among other pointers in “What to Expect If You Take a Bad Job,” we are offered this cautionary morsel:

“If you aren’t committed to a job, you’re unlikely to take it seriously. This will further your dissatisfaction and may make it difficult to get good references in the future.”

And we were so hoping taking a bad job would not suck.

BUMMER!

“Sandy, the aurora is risin’ behind us …”

27 Oct

THAR SHE BLOWS!

I’m going to assume that Hurricane Sandy will wreak greater havoc on the Romney campaign than on the Obama campaign, messing up Romney’s chances of carrying swing states in the mid-Atlantic and northeast.

Because surely, as Indiana US Senate candidate Richard “DICK” Mourdock might put it, that would be “something that God intended to happen.”

And you know God. She’s not crazy about right-wing fundamentalists legitimizing rape … the kind of guys distinguished from the Taliban only by their clean shave.

I know that Sandy can sometimes be a guy’s name, but the stronger tradition is naming Atlantic storms after women … which further strengthens my case.

By the way, “Sandy” seems like kind of a benign name for a hurricane, don’t you think? Do the folks at the National Weather Service try to come up with gentle names in the hope the storms won’t be too bad?

Or maybe they just get sadistic enjoyment out of oxymorons like “Hurricane Lily” or “Hurricane Tiffany” or “Hurricane Chantelle.”

Turns out names of really bad hurricanes are retired by the World Meteorological Organization. Guess that’s kind of like having your jersey retired. “Wow, what a storm! MVP!”

Whatever. Here’s hoping everybody in Asbury Park, N.J. and elsewhere on the East Coast gets through Sandy in good shape.

Is Mitt a visitor from outer space?

17 Oct

Don’t you think something is just a little “off” with Mitt Romney?

His interactions are just a little … well … weird. His facial expressions don’t seem quite right for the occasion. Can he read social cues?

His famous chuckle is ill timed. The words he chooses are like the second or third tier definitions listed in the dictionary.

He doesn’t know how to relate to women … to people from different socio-economic strata (which is all the rest of us) … or to average voters he meets out on the road.

He’s like Devo trying to be The Temptations. It doesn’t work.

Maybe Romney is an extra-terrestrial … a visitor from a distant planet who was sent here to study humankind and try to emulate our behavior to mingle among us.

Is the Romney campaign just a sitcom called “Mitt and Mindy?”

Na-nu, na-nu.

Alfred Hitchcock would have loved this: Birds — on a Wire

10 Oct grey_birds_on_wire_xlg

They used to say reporters were like birds on a wire … landing one after the other on the same story angle for fear of straying from orthodoxy and being banned from the flock for weirdness.

Much has changed in the media landscape, but we’ve seen a retrograde story line in the ongoing Obama debate story … or “meme” as we like to say these days.

The guy was off his game. No question. Although his debate “game” has never been playoff-ready.

But are we really going to award the presidency on style points? And to a guy who has totally reinvented himself to appear more moderate than he has positioned himself for the past year or so?

Is this “Dancing with the Stars” or the future of our country?

Remember, Romney said during the GOP primaries that he was “severely conservative.”

But now he’s sweet-talking the electorate, softening the hard edge of the GOP. I don’t know what lies in Romney’s heart. But I do know that he has dissembled. Either he’s “severely conservative” … or a moderate who now embraces his own healthcare plan that was the basis for Obamacare.

These are not times for he said-she said journalism. Call people on their bullshit, Democrats or Republicans. Romney is bullshitting us and he’s getting away with it. The guy does not stand for anything. He is a human Tower of Babel.

Yes, maybe he spun a nice yarn in last week’s debate. But it was a yarn. It needs to be unspooled.

(Artwork by Erica Maule, mychloeflower.com)

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