Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Carpe Diem

Take a moment. Breathe. Experience an instant (or several) of simply being. Here. Now. Because that's all we have -- nows. (And heres.)

And in the now in which you currently find yourself, think of something you have been putting off. Something you've been meaning to do but haven't gotten to it because "life interfered." Something good for yourself, or for your family, or your friends or your community -- local to global. Doesn't have to be a huge thing. It could be using kiva.org to lend $50 or $100 to a third world entrepreneur. Maybe it's calling your grandmother or going to yoga or starting bridge lessons.

In the next now that comes along, either do that thing or make a plan to.

Why? Because every thing that has a beginning has an end. Our allotment of nows and heres is limited. The ration of time set aside for my dear friend and neighbor Bill McLeod has ended, suddenly, and far sooner than any who knew him wanted.

Bill had been in ill health due to anemia caused by myelodysplasia for some months now, requiring almost weekly transfusions to maintain something even approaching a normal level of energy. (Myelodysplasia prevents the marrow from making enough red blood cells.) After Bill's wife died of cancer two and a half years ago, we tried to make sure Bill had some fun: we took him to shows and such and often had him to dinner, especially when he became sick himself. When he cooks, Bob likes to leave enough for leftovers, so we'd call and like as not, he'd come and share our platter of barbecued chicken or lamb chops or sole. I remembered how much it meant to my mom when -- coming home after a long day helping my dad in the family business, plus running her own -- she would pull into the driveway and see our neighbor, Mrs. Gundlach, beckoning my mom from her kitchen window. She'd have made too much of something (which happened most nights -- her name is Gundlach, after all) and would we like to come over and help her get rid of it?

Bob said it was a mitzvah -- we were doing something good for someone. A somewhat less than random act of kindness.

After dinner, we'd often watch a DVD. Bill worked in publicity for independent films, so he'd have DVDs of interesting small films, or interesting things to say about the more widely-distributed movies we'd watch. We'd talk about what was up with his daughter, Alanna. She just got engaged, and was planning a wedding at some vague future date (her fiance is still in vet school), until a co-worker convinced her to enter a radio contest called "Bliss or Diss." One person wins a wedding (bliss), the other wins a vacation to get away after dumping their onetime squeeze (diss). Yes, Alanna won -- which meant the bonus of having a 150-person wedding paid for, but also meant her wedding date was fixed. May 17. Knowing that Bill was sick, I thought maybe a little haste wouldn't be a bad thing. I never expected even that wasn't fast enough for Bill.

Which brings us back to you. And my admonition to look for the joy in your life and embrace it. Because it's fleeting, life.

One of my favorite movies is "Groundhog Day." The Bill Murray pic where he relives the same day over and over, seemingly for a near-eternity. An initial shock is followed by a predictable indulging of all passions once he discovers he has the information needed to get away with almost anything. Except with Andie McDowell's character. She won't fall in love with him. No matter what approach he tries, what skill he acquires to seduce her. It's only when he stops trying to impress and decides to simply be himself that she finally falls for him. And the clock radio finally gets unstuck and plays something besides "I Got You Babe."

Bill learns that ultimately he has to be his authentic self, because time is limitless. The lesson for us is that just the opposite is true: we might as well be who we are, at our core, because time is limited.

So go, be good to yourself. Or to someone else. Or both.

Today's Etsy Find

So elegant, so classic, yet so contemporary. Just gorgeous. Would love to see it in person. The "stone" is actually glass. $155. I love the outlet for talent that Etsy provides.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Handedness? Who Knows?

Here's an interesting piece from The Washington Post about the causes of handedness, as well as its cultural and evolutionary implications.

Money quote: "Among the Eipo people in the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya, where the homicide rate is 3 per 1,000 people per year, 20 percent of people are left-handed. Among the Dioula people of Burkina Faso, where the homicide rate is 0.01, 3 percent are left-handed. This does not mean that lefties are more violent. It means that in violent societies, lefties may fare better."

And, just like sexuality, no one knows exactly what determines handedness, but the current consensus is that it's a combination of genetics, environment and culture.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Why Marriage Matters

He married his dream girl...but she had bad credit, so he's stuck, too.

Which points us to one of the responsibilities of civil marriage -- shared responsibility for debt. Which is an overall benefit to society, no matter what gender the two partners are. When you take on that responsibility, it is an incentive to watch over your spouse and make sure they make wise decisions, which ultimately helps us all.

Those Poor, Tortured Figs

These were distributed at an event where Fred Phelps's Westboro Baptist Church (the "God Hates Fags" people) were demonstrating.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Don't Try This at Home

Here's a new pet peeve for me -- unnecessary warnings on TV commercials. You know the ones I'm talking about: a tiny "do not attempt" as a warning to the mentally deficient who might think it's a bright idea to drop a refrigerator from their apartment or jump from one rooftop to another.

But this one?

I mean, if you have the money to buy several dozen washing machines and rent a monster truck, I say attempt it all you want. (The version above doesn't have the "do not attempt" warning, but it did appear in the broadcast version.)

But this may top them all:

"Closed course"? I would think. If you have the wherewithal to get yourself to the moon, with your moon buggy, no less, tear it up all you want.

Pay TV

The thought occurs to me from time to time, especially when my local PBS station airs yet another of Andre Rieu's concerts, or broadcasts another installment of Dr. Wayne Dyer's self-esteem fests -- why the hell am I paying for this? Not in contributions, because I don't donate anymore, but in taxes. Why should Americans pay anything to "public" TV? It's not that PBS doesn't produce some great shows. "Sesame Street" and "Charlie Rose" come to mind. But other than that, I'm not sure it's a wise use of public funds to try and predict what will be of value to Americans in terms of television programming. Let's leave that to the private sector.

It seems I'm not alone. This article on Salon.com makes a similar point.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Rush Limbaugh as Coyote?

Click here for an interesting take on the appeal of Rush Limbaugh. It's a sort of Joseph Campbell-esque/Jungian take; ultimately, Rush is a trickster, a shit-disturber, not unlike Coyote in Native American myths. He appeals to the shadow side of human nature.

Money quote:

"Like Sarah Palin, his spiritual bride, he lurks in the shadow of the human psyche, expressing the dark anger, resentment, jealousy, and vindictiveness that society can never escape. And yet, the next time you tune into Limbaugh's censorious circus of insensitive scurrility, give him a kind thought. As far back as Mark Twain, the American character has been ornery. We secretly love rascals, bank robbers, tricksters, swindlers, hell raisers, and outlaws. And when we feel so inclined, we laugh at them. Rush Limbaugh may represent a toxic form of entertainment -- and the bile he spews bears no resemblance to true morality -- but the fact that America makes room for him is something to be proud of. I don't pray that he goes away. I pray that we can keep laughing, even if our grin is crooked, at the pranks of the eternal shadow who is our companion for life, whether we want him or not."

Real Estate Porn 2

Not that I'd really want to live in Los Banos, but I'd love to live in a Frank Lloyd Wright house. This one is apparently one of only two Wright homes currently for sale. Price? $2.7 million. Six bedrooms, five baths on 80 acres.

If you can't afford nearly $3 million, you can always rent.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Religion Shouts Louder, Is Heard Less

According to a new survey, religious affiliation in America has declined significantly since 1990. No major religion has seen an increase in membership (except for Islam, whose percentage of adherents doubled from 0.3% to 0.6%), and those professing no religion has skyrocketed from 8.2% of population to 15%.

Why is this? Why, in such uncertain times, with so much chaos and confusion in the world, do people turn away from what professes to be the solution to it all? My guess is that religion has focused so much on political power, turning away from its core principles of love and forgiveness, choosing to focus instead on internecine squabbles and demonizing others that they have turned off their followers. The Catholic church has focused on protecting pedophile priests and encouraging HIV transmission by fighting condom use, and the evangelicals have sealed themselves off behind walls of hatred from which they cast their stones at sinful outsiders (such as myself), that more and more people find their professions of love to be disingenuous.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Thoughts on Yesterday's Hearings

I had the chance to see only a small bit of the oral arguments before the California Supreme Court yesterday, but I've read some of the coverage following it, and the consensus seems clear: the court will likely uphold Proposition 8, but not invalidate the 18,000 same-sex marriages that took place during that brief time when it was legal for same-sex couples to marry.

Although the Court will not hand down their decision for another 90 days, if the consensus is correct, I have to say I'm not entirely disappointed. Although I hate the idea of a majority being able to strip rights from a minority, I'm confident that sometime in the next ten years a majority of Californians will vote to repeal Proposition 8. We simply have to continue to educate people that same-sex marriage is good for California, good for America and good for marriage. We also have to wait for a few of the most die-hard opponents to equality (primarily seniors) to stop voting. As more and more young people come in to the ranks of voters, we will be able to achieve the majority we need.

I suppose it's possible that recent suits (or those still to be filed) will make it to the US Supreme Court, but I would far prefer that we win equality at the ballot box. Andrew Sullivan said it well, as usual.

Here is another interesting point of view, this time from a major paper in the South. Money quote: "The religious right was right after all. Civil unions have weakened the institution of marriage. But gay people aren't to blame -- straight people are."

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Two Related Stories

I don't mind having a debate on issues where the wisest course of action is unclear, and open, intelligent discourse can help illuminate the best path to a desired outcome. That's assuming the desired outcome is one shared by all parties in the debate. For example, if we are debating how best to handle dealing with a crazy dictator somewhere, no discourse -- no matter how intelligent -- is going to be effective if one party wants to achieve freedom through democracy and another wants to maintain a chaotic structure in order to further their own ends. But if, for example, we all share the goal of a democratic, self-governing state in Iraq, our debate about how to achieve that goal can be much more productive.

However, there are issues where the right thing to do seems so clear, that I am surprised there has to be any debate at all. Same-sex marriage is one of these. Our Constitution establishes equal treatment under the law. Gay couples do not currently have equal access to the benefits of civil marriage. The right thing to do is to extend equality. It doesn't hurt heterosexual couples. It doesn't impinge on religious freedom as it's entirely a civil matter. So why is there even an argument about this?

Another subject where the solution seems crystal clear (at least to me) is drug laws. I know there are people still alive who were around during Prohibition. Has no one learned that lesson that even though a substance might have deleterious effects, if it alters consciousness in a way people experience as pleasurable or desirable that it's almost impossible to stop them from seeking it out? And that leaving the production and distribution of that substance in the hands of a criminal element only leads to more crime?

The Drug War has failed. Miserably. One of its especially miserable side effects is that one in 31 Americans is currently under the control (or attempted control) of the criminal justice system. This is from a new Pew study, which you can read more about here. In Federal prisons, more than half the inmates are jailed for drug offenses. In state prisons, about 20% of inmates are incarcerated for drug crimes.

What's the solution? Well, for marijuana at least, it seems the height of foolishness not to legalize/decriminalize its use, and to regulate and tax its production, sale and distribution. By any measure, marijuana is less harmful than any other legal or illegal drug. It's impossible to overdose, it is not physiologically addictive, and it has several health benefits, including reducing the effects of glaucoma and possibly staving off Alzheimer's. It's also one of the best anti-nausea remedies available.

This is why California legislator Tom Ammiano has introduced legislation to decriminalize and regulate and tax marijuana. Marijuana cultivation and sales is California's biggest agricultural business -- yet the people of the state receive no benefit from it because it's not taxed. Ammiano estimates the state could rake in more than $1 billion in tax revenue from his proposal.

And that's not even figuring in the reduced costs for law enforcement if pot were legalized. Imagine if we didn't have to let violent criminals out of jail because there isn't enough room in our prisons. Imagine if cops had more time to focus on property crimes because they weren't pre-occupied by trying to find and arrest pot growers and users.

Of course, some of the criminal element involved in the marijuana trade might have a hard time finding honest work if their criminal activity ceased to be profitable. (Though many of those growing marijuana are doing so strictly for personal use.) But if they stepped into other areas of criminal behavior, there'd be more cops to deal with that bad behavior because they weren't dealing with drug "crime."

It seems so logical and common-sense -- why aren't we doing it?