Sunday, November 27, 2005

A Night In The E.R.

I cried. I silently wept as I heard the news. News that had nothing to do with me or my family. Thanks to this peculiar human trait called empathy, I cried when I overheard the doctor tell a family that their loved one would not survive the night. The doctor suggested that they take turns saying their good-byes. As I checked on my mom, I saw them file in to the exam room one-by-one and walk out in silence.

What it must be like to be that doctor. I would be a blubbering mess if I had to deliver news like that with any regularity. Do they suppress their empathy? Did they ever have it to begin with? There must be some defense mechanism that protects them fr0m the sadness they see everyday. Maybe it is balanced by good news. My sister is a pediatrician who handles emergency room cases. She said that, until our mother got sick, she didn't realize how cold she had been to worried parents. One of my aunts is a radiation oncologist. She cries when she talks about her patients who didn't make it and I am sure that's what makes her such a loving and caring doctor.

We were lucky to have mom healthy and energetic for turkey day to share it with our closest friends and family members. By Friday morning, however, her condition deteriorated. I called home to find her semi-lucid and slurring her speech. Perhaps she took too much morphine, but something didn't seem right. I went over there, got her dressed and headed to the E.R. By the time we arrived, she was hallucinating.

Labs were normal, x-ray was normal. CT scan of the brain showed the possibility that she had mini strokes. The doctor told us that, in her condition, any one of many things could set in. A big stroke, a seizure, heart failure, etc. He offered to keep her overnight for observation but said there would be little they can do if any of these things happen. My father, my sister and I agonized over the decision. Out of their earshot, I asked the doctor bluntly, "essentially, are we choosing between her dying here or dying at home"? "Yes", he responded.

I made the decision. The doctor discharged my mom from the hospital and sent us home with a smile of sadness, as if he could see through a crystal ball things he knew he should not say. It is hard to sleep, wondering if she will be with us in the morning, wanting to make sure everything is okay. I cry for my mom as I see her suffer. I cry for my father, wondering how he will handle the loss of his wife of over 30 years. I don't know if I even cry for my own loss. Thanks to this peculiar human trait called empathy, I cry enough for everyone else.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Happy Turkey Day

Things are slowing down in the blogosphere, so I am going to save all the heavy topics I've been marinating for next week. I am on hiatus from work and hubby is playing hookie, so we have home improvements to do. Anything I can do to advance the cause of our gutted bathroom in the hallway I will do to end the tyranny of sharing a bathroom with him. You see, men and women should not share a bathroom! Anyone who is married will agree and single people take notes -- this is the wisdom of ancients. Really. I am pretty sure it says it in the Bible somewhere - "Thou shalt not share a bathroom with thine spouse." It's the Eleventh Commandment.

I read a really cool article this morning on my favorite Libertarian website, which I will share here and say Happy Turkey Day to everyone.

Life Is Beautiful
by Charley Reese

An astute reader suggested to me recently that people today are no worse than they were in the past, and they will not get better in the future. Now, that's a sobering thought even for a teetotaler – which, by the way, I'm not.

Upon reflection, I believe he is right. After all, human history is a record of folly, war, tragedy and greed. It requires a dark sense of humor to get even a few laughs out of it. We humans have been defiling the planet ever since we arrived and are still doing it. I know it takes 10 acres of rain forest every year just to produce the junk mail I get in my mailbox. That reminds me: If the U.S. Postal Service weren't, like every other institution, a servant of big business, it would cut the price of first-class mail and increase the price of second, third and fourth class.

But let's get back to the story of mankind. I did notice, even in my idealistic youth, that one could read Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, Cicero and Caesar, and it was just like reading contemporary writers. That's because human nature really doesn't change. Poverty and war have been the norms of human existence and still are. But youthful enthusiasm and idealism quickly crowded such thoughts out of my head. Every time I ran into chicanery or tragedy, I thought I was seeing something new, or at least the exception. It took a while to realize that all I was seeing was normal human behavior.
If you review all of human history, you can easily see that the only thing that has changed is technology. Someone gave us this wonderful brain – the best there is among living creatures, so far as we know. It has the capacity to "time-bind," to use the phrase coined by Alfred Korzybski, the founder of general semantics. That simply means we can pass on whatever knowledge or skills we accumulate, and that's what makes technical progress possible.

You can see how it works just by following the path of weapons. It starts with a rock, then a sling, then a spear, then a bow, then an ax, then a knife, then a sword, then a gun, then an explosive, then an airplane, then a missile, then a nuclear warhead. How much indeed have we improved upon the means to kill each other! We can now murder millions of people in seconds and probably will eventually. (Someone asked
Southern comedian Brother Dave Gardner where he would want to be in the event of a nuclear war, and he replied, cupping his hand behind his ear, "Wherever I could say, 'What was that?'")

The odd thing about us humans is that this same time-binding ability allows us to preserve the wisdom of how to live together in peace, harmony and cooperation. Many wise people in different cultures have figured it out, and they or their disciples have written it all down. We tend to either ignore it or allow our emotions and desires to override our reason.

The problem here is that each of us is born with a blank slate. Civilization itself is literally born anew with each baby. Whatever that baby needs to know must be learned, and that's why education – parental, peer and formal – is so important.

By now, you might be thinking, What's the point? Well, the point is that despite our faults, life is beautiful. This planet is beautiful. People, especially children, are beautiful. People can create beauty, as well as weapons. What we should do is enjoy the moment more and worry less about the future.

I'm not suggesting that we ignore Aesop and go completely grasshopper, but we should recognize that good and evil are permanent components of the human existence, and nothing we do will change that. What we can do is associate as much as humanly possible with the good and the beautiful, and avoid as much as possible evil and ugliness.

The world outside of us is as it is. Whether what we see and experience make us happy or depressed depends on our internal evaluation of it. Going down the highway of life, we can look at the litter and the billboards or the grass and the trees. I prefer the trees.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

It's Not Personal, Really

One of my favorite bloggers, Mr. Sleep, recently was lamenting the rampant rudeness that currently engulfs American society and it got me thinking. Why are people so rude to each other?

I have various thoughts on the subject, although they all are based upon the same thing -- it's nothing personal. Really, it's you, not me.

1. Inferiority Complex

The message that you aren't good enough is ubiquitous. It's there when you turn on the television, open a magazine, or go shopping. Buy this car or you won't get hot chicks. Wear this clothes or you won't be attractive to men. Take this pill or you'll be fat and no one will love you. You don't have time to think about other people because, according to the world, you are so f'ed up that it's going to be light years before you buy enough clothes and get enough plastic surgery to cure yourself of your many defects.

If you carry around the burden of inferiority all day, it's going to be hard for you to love anyone else. You'll be more focused on sizing up everyone else in the world to gauge how you are doing. "I'm not that fat. I'm not that stupid. Maybe it will make me feel smart if I put down someone else. I'll yell at that a-hole who isn't driving as perfectly as I always do EVERY single time I am behind the wheel. I can't believe he didn't use his blinker." You can tell a lot about a person by how they behave in traffic.

2. Starbucks

Although I have never drank coffee, my recent attempts to kick a Mountain Dew addiction renders me sufficiently knowledgeable about caffe-zombies. These are people who start their day with coffee and need periodic injections throughout the day in order to function. These caffe-zombies are drug addicts who do not stray far from the crackhouses popularly known as Starbucks. They stand in line impatiently, shaking, babbling under their breath, waiting for the next fix. Next time someone is rude to you, point her to the crackhouse. She'll probably be sweet as pie after her double tall grande latte.

3. Fast Food

If you don't think the food you eat has anything to do with your moods, try living on twinkies for a week and let me know how it goes. This ties into the Starbucks issue. Your brain is fueled on sugar. Processed foods that have high concentrations of sugar send you on massive highs and burn-and-crash lows. Someone who does not eat good food regularly, which most Americans don't, is going to be a real peach when they are out and about. For more on this topic, watch Super Size Me or read Fast Food Nation. And eat breakfast for goodness sake!

4. Uncharged Batteries

The person who relies on coffee, eats fast food and thinks she isn't pretty because she doesn't look like an air-brushed picture of Jennifer Aniston is the one who has no idea how to take care of herself. Everyone has a spiritual/mental battery that must be constantly charged. Some people require more frequent charging than others, but none of us can allow it to fall to empty. Personally, I maintain the charge on my batteries with blogging, reading loads of thought-provoking books, quality time with my friends and family and, twice a year, I take a crazy vacation for a whole new battery. I am lucky. I know myself. I know when I am hitting critical stress period where I need to re-charge. The red light on my battery goes off loudly and I listen.

How many people do you know who listen to their inner batteries? And, even if they do, can they afford to take a day off, let alone a week off to care for themselves? I look around and see people running from one obligation to another and, often times, it is self-imposed. Wake up first thing in the morning, get the kids to school, sit in traffic to work, work all day, come home to forage for dinner and then pass out from exhaustion to start it all again the next day. And an increasing number of people take on two jobs just to make ends meet. Their day can end at midnight. Courtesy of creative financing, many cannot afford even one day off from work for fear of missing a mortgage payment. They can't afford a vacation because they spent all the money on the new SUV and are spending even more on gas these days. It is a world of uncharged batteries. Everyone is on the edge. The commoditization of ourselves and the resulting disconnect is at its core. We have reduced ourselves to frantic consumers, fearful that the next paycheck will not be enough to cover the car payment.

When I was a teenager, my dad and I were in line at the grocery store when someone cut in front of us. I was about to send the jackass to the back of the line when my dad stopped me. "You will have bigger victories in life. If that's the biggest victory in his life, let him have it. You should feel sorry for him." It's not personal when someone is rude to you. It is a pathetic attempt to feel victorious in one part of their otherwise miserable worlds.

Before you think I am being self-righteous, I must admit that it is a challenge for me to politely deal with impolite people. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I have no qualms about being exceptionally rude if someone gets out of line with me. I have learned the hard way, however, that answering rudeness with rudeness is more exhausting than it's worth.

Friday, November 18, 2005

A Memo To American Muslims

This was posted on Islam For Today and I thought it would be a good balance to all the hysteria over Islam in the United States and the paranoia that all Muslims are blood thirsty savages who want to forcibly convert Christians. The following memo from Dr. M. A. Muqtedar Khan represents the voice of mainsteam Islam:

In the name of God, the most Benevolent and the Most Merciful.

May this memo find you in the shade of Islam enjoying the mercy, the protection and the grace of God. I am writing this memo to you all with the explicit purpose of inviting you to lead the American Muslim community in soul searching, reflection and reassessment.

What happened on September 11th in New York and Washington DC will forever remain a horrible scar on the history of Islam and humanity. No matter how much we condemn it, and point to the Quran and the Sunnah to argue that Islam forbids the killing of innocent people, the fact remains that the perpetrators of this crime against humanity have indicated that their actions are sanctioned by Islamic values.
The fact that even now several Muslim scholars and thousands of Muslims defend the accused is indicative that not all Muslims believe that the attacks are unIslamic. This is truly sad.

Even if it were true that Israel and the US are enemies of the Muslim World, wonder what is preventing them from unleashing their nuclear arsenal against Muslims, a response that mercilessly murders thousands of innocent people, including hundreds of Muslims is absolutely indefensible. If anywhere in your hearts there is any sympathy or understanding with those who committed this act, I invite you to ask yourself this question, would Muhammad (pbuh) sanction such an act?

While encouraging Muslims to struggle against injustice (Al Quran 4:135), Allah also imposes strict rules of engagement. He says in unequivocal terms that to kill an innocent being is like killing entire humanity (Al Quran 5:32). He also encourages Muslims to forgive Jews and Christians if they have committed injustices against us (Al Quran 2:109, 3:159, 5:85).

Muslims, including American Muslims have been practicing hypocrisy on a grand scale. They protest against the discriminatory practices of Israel but are silent against the discriminatory practices in Muslim states. In the Gulf one can see how laws and even salaries are based on ethnic origin. This is racism, but we never hear of Muslims protesting against them at International fora. The Israeli occupation of Palestine is perhaps central to Muslim grievance against the West. While acknowledging that, I must remind you that Israel treats its one million Arab citizens with greater respect and dignity than most Arab nations treat their citizens. Today Palestinian refugees can settle and become citizens of the United States but in spite of all the tall rhetoric of the Arab world and Quranic injunctions (24:22) no Muslim country except Jordan extends this support to them.

While we loudly and consistently condemn Israel for its ill treatment of Palestinians we are silent when Muslim regimes abuse the rights of Muslims and slaughter thousands of them. Remember Saddam and his use of chemical weapons against Muslims (Kurds)?. Remember Pakistani army’s excesses against Muslims (Bengalis)?. Remember the Mujahideen of Afghanistan and their mutual slaughter? Have we ever condemned them for their excesses? Have we demanded international intervention or retribution against them? Do you know how the Saudis treat their minority Shias? Have we protested the violation of their rights? But we all are eager to condemn Israel; not because we care for rights and lives of the Palestinians, we don’t. We condemn Israel because we hate “them".

Muslims love to live in the US but also love to hate it. Many openly claim that the US is a terrorist state but they continue to live in it. Their decision to live here is testimony that they would rather live here than anywhere else. As an Indian Muslim, I know for sure that nowhere on earth, including India, will I get the same sense of dignity and respect that I have received in the US. No Muslim country will treat me as well as the US has. If what happened on September 11th had happened in India, the biggest democracy, thousands of Muslims would have been slaughtered in riots on mere suspicion and there would be another slaughter after confirmation. But in the US, bigotry and xenophobia has been kept in check by media and leaders.

In many places hundreds of Americans have gathered around Islamic centers in symbolic gestures of protection and embrace of American Muslims. In many cities Christian congregations have started wearing hijab to identify with fellow Muslim women. In patience and in tolerance ordinary Americans have demonstrated their
extraordinary virtues. It is time that we acknowledge that the freedoms we enjoy in the US are more desirable to us than superficial solidarity with the Muslim World. If you disagree, than prove it by packing your bags and going to whichever Muslim country you identify with. If you do not leave and do not acknowledge that you would rather live here than anywhere else, know that you are being hypocritical.

It is time that we faced these hypocritical practices and struggled to transcend them. It is time that American Muslim leaders fought to purify their own lot. For over a decade we have watched as Muslims in the name of Islam have committed violence against other Muslims and other peoples. We have always found a way to reconcile the vast distance between Islamic values and Muslim practices by pointing out to the injustices committed upon Muslims by others. The point however is this – our belief in Islam and commitment to Islamic values is not contingent on the moral conduct of the US or Israel. And as Muslims can we condone such inhuman and senseless waste of life in the name of Islam?

The biggest victims of hate filled politics as embodied in the actions of several Muslim militias all over the world are Muslims themselves. Hate is the extreme form of intolerance and when individuals and groups succumb to it they can do nothing constructive. Militias like the Taliban have allowed their hate for the West to override their obligation to pursue the welfare of their people and as a result of their actions not only have thousands of innocent people died in America, but thousands of people will die in the Muslim World.

Already, half a million Afghans have had to leave their homes and their country. The war has not yet begun. It will only get worse. Hamas and Islamic Jihad may kill a few Jews, women and children included, with their suicide bombs and temporarily satisfy their lust for Jewish blood, but thousands of Palestinians then pay the price for their actions.

The culture of hate and killing is tearing away at the moral fabric of the Muslim society. We are more focused on “the other” and have completely forgotten our duty to God. In pursuit of the inferior jihad we have sacrificed the superior jihad. Islamic
resurgence, the cherished ideals of which pursued the ultimate goal of a universally just and moral society has been hijacked by hate and call for murder and mayhem. If Bin Laden were an individual then we would have no problem. But unfortunately Bin Laden has become a phenomenon -- a cancer eating away at the morality of our youth, and undermining the spiritual health of our future.

Today the century old Islamic revival is in jeopardy because we have allowed insanity to prevail over our better judgment. Yes, the US has played a hand in the creation of Bin Laden and the Taliban, but it is we who have allowed them to grow and gain such a foothold. It is our duty to police our world. It is our responsibility to prevent people from abusing Islam. It is our job to ensure that Islam is not misrepresented. We should have made sure that what happened on Sept. 11th should never have happened.

It is time the leaders of the American Muslim community woke up and realized that there is more to life than competing with the American Jewish lobby for power over US foreign policy. Islam is not about defeating Jews or conquering Jerusalem. It is about mercy, about virtue, about sacrifice and about duty. Above all it is the pursuit of moral perfection. Nothing can be further away from moral perfection than the wanton slaughter of thousands of unsuspecting innocent people.

I hope that we will now rededicate our lives and our institutions to the search for harmony, peace and tolerance. Let us be prepared to suffer injustice rather than commit injustices. After all it is we who carry the divine burden of Islam and not others. We have to be morally better, more forgiving, more sacrificing than others, if we wish to convince the world about the truth of our message. We cannot even be equal to others in virtue, we must excel. It is time for soul searching. How can the
message of Muhammad (pbuh) who was sent as mercy to mankind become a source of horror and fear? How can Islam inspire thousands of youth to dedicate their
lives to killing others? We are supposed to invite people to Islam not murder
them. The worst exhibition of Islam happened on our turf. We must take first
responsibility to undo the evil it has manifest. This is our mandate, our burden
and also our opportunity.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Sanctity Of The Garden

Continuing on the discussion of whether there is ONE Right answer, we are now headed to the Garden of Eden. Put on your seatbelts kids!

The story of Adam and Eve (both from the OT and the Quran) is my favorite religious lesson. It is the story of man's consciousness, of the struggle between right and wrong and the burdens that come with having choices. I believe it is the first story in the Bible because it presents the basic dilemma with which humanity struggles - choice. Everything that follows in the Bible is an attempt to cope with the dilemma.

God created Adam and put him in the Garden of Eden. The garden was full of trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam was free to eat from any tree in the garden, but God told him that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was off limits. Ix-nay on that ee-tray Adam.

Adam was lonely though, so God put him to sleep, removed one of his ribs and created a woman as his wife. She was named Eve because she would become the mother of all the living. What a great addition to the garden. Adam and Eve were chillin', frolicking with no knowledge of their nakedness. Not a care in the world. Until the serpent showed up.

Eve knew the rules about the forbidden tree, but the serpent deceived her. The serpent assured Eve that she would not die from eating the fruit of the forbidden tree, but instead her eyes would be opened and she would "be like God, knowing good and evil." The fruit looked pretty good and Eve thought wisdom and Godliness would be kinda cool, so she grabbed the fruit and chowed down. She even passed some over to Adam. And after he ate, "the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked."

Dude, God was pissed off! He cursed the serpent, he cursed Eve, yelled at Adam for listening to his stupid wife and then banished them from the garden. "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take from the tree of life and eat, and live forever." Cherubim and flaming swords were placed at the east side of the garden to prevent Adam and Eve from returning to the tree of life.


The knowledge of good and evil is to have choice. When you are a child, you have no knowledge of your nakedness. How many pictures do your parents have of you in the bathtub? You have no knowledge of good and evil. The world is your oyster and your biggest responsibility is to read cute stories and play with your friends.

As you grow up, however, you mature. You learn that things aren't as innocent as they once seemed. Your consciousness starts to grasp that there is good and evil in the world and ultimately, you are deceived into eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. No more photos of you naked in the bathtub (unless that's your thing). No more making nice with anyone and everyone. There is good and evil in the world and you now have to choose between the two. As soon as you eat the fruit, your parents, your church, synagogue or mosque and your peers bombard you with admonitions about what is good and what is evil. You define yourself and shape your values around those choices.

It is tough though. Choices are accompanied by consequences and, in our fear-based society, people live in terror of having to take responsibility for bad choices. They lament their banishment from the garden -- "I wish I was a kid again, I didn't have any responsibilities." "It wasn't my fault, I couldn't help it, I couldn't control that, someone else made me do it." All of these phrases come from people who hate choices and fear consequences. So they get into relationships where the spouse makes ALL the decisions. They get into jobs where they can say "I just work here, it's not my department". When shit hits the fan, they shrug their shoulders and say "it wasn't my responsibility, what is everyone else going to do to fix it?" These abdications of choice and responsibility are their false attempts to sneak back into the garden but the cherubs and flaming swords get them everytime.

Having integrity is yet another way to cope with banishment. As I explained in my last post, integrity is the strict adherence to a moral code. If you convince yourself that there is only one Right answer and that everything else is wrong, you abdicate your responsibility to make choices and to face the consequences. If your religion says things are black and white and there is no grey, then you are not responsible for your choices. You can abdicate all responsibility to God. If Ayn Rand says certain things are right because they make rational sense, you abdicate responsibility for the emotional realm.

The fine line between good and evil is not as clear as those with integrity would like to think. Let's take the "pro-life" camp for example. Abortion is evil because God says it's bad to take another life. Ask most pro-lifers and they are pro-death penalty and pro-war. So much for that turn the other cheek stuff. The qualifications start coming immediately - it's wrong to take "innocent" life. What about the thousands of innocent Iraqis who have lost their lives in the name of "democracy"? "That's war" is their heartless response, without a hint of sadness or empathy. The principle was originally pro-life, it then morphed into pro-innocent life and finally landed on pro-innocent life unless there is a war. So much for strict adherence.

These are the people who get the most upset when you challenge the contradictions. They were frolicking in the garden without a care in the world because they weren't worried about choices - someone else (God, Pat Robertson, Bill O'Reilly, Anne Coulter) already handled that for them. And you disrupted fantasyland with your insolent lack of faith. Damn you reality based people! You must be a stupid, liberal, squishy, godless, flip-flopper with no principles to suggest that the line between good and evil isn't clear.

Is it possible to live outside the garden without making choices? No. Is it possible to be so confident that you have the one sole only Right answer without crossing the line between good and evil? No. The Bible tells us we are like God when we know the difference between good and evil, but God is no consistent fellow. He spared Noah and his family, but gambled with the Devil over Job's life and sent his only son to suffer a gruesome death. Perhaps, as exemplified by Che, the knowledge of good and evil is meant to remind each person that he has the potential to do good and to do evil. As soon as you know you are right, you may lose sight of the line.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Paradox of Integrity

I never learned about Ernesto "Che" Guevara in school. Not even in college. People wear t-shirts with this universally recognized picture on it, but I had no idea what his image symbolized. The name was familiar to me, but I had no idea why.

Then the Motorcycle Diaries came out. It is the story of Ernesto's journey through South America on a motorcycle with his best friend. He chronicled the kind people he met along the way and the oppressive poverty that shackled so many in the countryside. Being from a well-educated family and in the midst of medical school, Ernesto encountered images that were hidden from him in high society of Buenos Aires, Argentina. It shocked him and it changed him forever.

The movie was moving and inspiring. I could totally relate. In South America, particularly Peru, I saw the poverty about which Ernesto complained. Old Cairo, right in the center of Egypt's capital, has a huge cemetery in which people live. A visit to an orphanage in northern Thailand was enough to make me want to adopt children. Cambodia is populated by survivors of horrific atrocities and you cannot visit without seeing the amputee survivors of landmines in the killing fields (Angelina Jolie's humanitarian work was sparked by her trip to Cambodia). You cannot see such things without feeling an overwhelming sense of helplessness and frustration that humanity allows such conditions to exist.

So what to do about it?

Ernesto took a second trip and ultimately landed in Mexico, where he met Cuban revolutionaries who were planning a revolt against Fulgencio Batista, the country's corrupt dictator. Joining forces with the Cubans, Ernesto became politically energized. Books on political philosophy were important tools in shaping the man who would become known as "Che", with Karl Marx and Mao XeDung the favored authors.

Led by a young lawyer Fidel Castro, Castro's brother and Che, the insurgency against Batista gained momentum in the countryside and, after brutal struggles, prevailed in the cities. By the time of victory, Che was an avowed Communist and had grand plans to remake Cuba into a Communist state modeled after China. The victorious revolutionaries murdered Batista's supporters, demanded business owners work for the state and stole private property to be used for the "public good." The man who was inspired to action by the injustices he saw, became a tyrant who inflicted great injustices on Cuba.

How did a man who had great empathy for the suffering he witnessed on his first trip through South America lose that empathy upon arrival in Cuba and callously inflict suffering in the name of the greater good? How did he become the tyrant he had once vowed to fight?

Che was consumed by what I would call the paradox of integrity.

Integrity means the "steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code." In other words, it means that you accept one moral code as the correct code and you unwaiveringly cling to that code. Integrity is a good thing in the life of an individual. Principles, morals, values or whatever you like to call them help you cope with life's challenges and act as a guide through the many mazes we must navigate in this complex world.

At a certain point, however, integrity can become the most destructive part of the individual. Those who are absolutely, steadfastly convinced of the correctness of their code often violate their codes in the cause of preserving it. That is the story of history. That is the story of our current political landscape. Che believed he was helping humanity by liberating Cuba, and became a tyrant in doing so. Bush claims that the U.S. is at war to bring democracy to Iraq, but condones torture and denial of due process as tools to that end. Is it the necessary end that once you believe something so deeply, you must impose it on everyone else?

If a group of people voluntarily agrees to live on a commune and share everything equally, why would a supporter of capitalism and democracy have any objection? A religious person who shares her views is not problematic until she insists that everyone else follow along.

The Republicans have been my target for scorn lately, but admittedly I share many of their values. Democrats too. Libertarians too. Christians too. Muslims too. Buddhists too. Che Guevara too. There are lots of people out there who have profound wisdom, but is any one group the monopolist of the Right answer? I rip at the Republicans because they aren't practicing what they preach, i.e. because they are not perfect. So then, who is perfect? Democrats aren't. Libertarians aren't. Christians aren't. Muslims aren't. Buddhists aren't. Che Guevara wasn't.

I have been a participant in and spectator of several intellectual discussions in the blogosphere recently, everyone earnestly trying to define the Right answer. But is there one Right answer? Perhaps it is the existence of so many competing philosophies that keeps us from self-destructing. There is the extreme fringe on the right and left, but most people fall in the middle. It is the extremes that scare the population away from the edges. Some are Republicans because they don't want communism in America, and others are Democrats because people like Bush and Robertson want to make America a theocracy.

The more I read and the more I observe, I conclude that this philosophical tug-of-war is exactly what makes society healthy. It is balance, the Ying and Yang, about which Buddhism speaks. It is the challenge between God and Satan that makes the Bible so powerful (story of Job). One need only look to places and times where the people were convinced they had the Right answer -- violence, bloodshed and misery -- to see how disastrous it is when we lose balance. Because once you think you are Right, the ends justify the means and humanity, morality and law is thrown out the window. I hope we never find the Right answer. A see-saw is no fun when there is weight on only one side.

Whether you love or hate Che, he is a potent symbol, not of Communism, but of the best and worst we are all capable of being in our quest for perfection.

* For more about Che Guevara, you should read "Che" by Jon Anderson.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Random Musings

Today's Friday and I need to lighten things a bit. The following are thoughts that I have been meaning to share:

  • Since the Bible says it is an abomination for a man to lay with another man, does that mean it is okay for a woman to lay with another woman? Is God saying that gay is bad, but lesbians are okay?
  • Can anyone explain to me why Burger King adopted a mascot who looks like a pedophile serial killer to promote its product?
  • Two religious missionary types came kocking at the house last weekend. I told them I was an atheist, I told them I was Muslim, I told them I was Hindu. None of it worked. They were excited to find a heathen to convert. Lesson from my dad. He invites them in and debates them until they beg to leave. Note to self. Tell them you are an evangelical Christian and thump the Bible until you scare them away.
  • What's up with midwestern teenage White boys coming to school with guns? At least in the ghetto, you know who has guns and who will probably kill you. These trenchcoat mafia types are way too unpredictable. It may just be safer to send your kids to school in the ghetto than in Tennessee.
  • Since Pat Robertson speaks to God, I was wondering if he could tell us if Elvis is still alive.
  • What's the big deal about Roe v. Wade? Even if it is overruled, it would be left to the states to decide whether to outlaw it or not and the predictable array of red and blue states will act accordingly.
  • When news organizations do polls, who do they call? The latest poll says only 4 out of 10 Americans believe GW is honest. Who are those four people? We need to know so that we can better direct educational resources to places where they are obviously lacking.
  • If you haven't seen the movie Crash, you should. There are many opinions on its theme -- I thought it was a powerful exposition on redemption.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Which Boss Do You Like?

At your job you have two bosses. Boss A and Boss B. There are a few other random bosses, but these are the two to whom you must report.

Boss A is a nice guy. He wants to get the job done and believes in getting input from everyone on the team. Even if he doesn't like your idea, he thanks you for your participation and explains to you why your proposal doesn't work. He's a smart guy and likes to mentor others so that they can grow their skills. When he criticizes employees, he does so in a way that inspires them to work harder, never speaking in a condescending tone.

Boss B is an asshole. He belittles people when they don't meet deadlines, he calls them stupid when he doesn't like their ideas and he does not care if the employees are happy at their jobs or not. There is a job to be done and he wants it done his way, without him needing to explain it, or you're out. He is smart, his way is the right way and your opinions are irrelevant.

We lawyers have an abundance of B's. The law tends to attract a lot of arrogant, self-righteous assholes to the profession. Excuse my language, but there really is no polite way to say it. And I have worked with the spectrum of them. Fortunately, I have worked with more A's than B's, but even one Boss B is enough to make work miserable.

My first week as a lawyer, I was given an assignment from a partner who went to Harvard and thinks that people who didn't go to Harvard are not worthy of being in his presence. I was told to review a plaintiff's discovery requests and draft as many objections as were arguably applicable. So, I went to work and drafted a boatload of objections. When we reviewed my work, he chuckled at my stupidity for overobjecting; he lectured me on how much it angers judges to see too many objections and sent me to do another revision, with the guidance "try thinking next time." I finished the work, returned it and never spoke to him again. Until he needed something. A last minute court appearance came up and he needed someone to cover it because he had a conflict. Although I had very little to do that day, I apologized profusely for being swamped with work and gleefully declined the opportunity to save his ass.

Later in practice, I helped a partner prepare for trial. She asked me to write a motion that had no law supporting it. I told her there was no legal basis, that it really made no sense and that I was having a hard time writing an argument I did not believe. She bad-mouthed me to the rest of the partners for being stupid, not paying attention and refusing to follow orders. Needless to say, she ended up writing the motion, which not only lost, but the judge sanctioned her $1,000 for making a frivolous argument. The judge ended up sanctioning the client on five different occasions for frivolous motions from that partner.

Contrast those experiences with an A boss with whom I worked. I prepared a legal brief for him and he called me into his office to discuss it. "You have great ideas", he told me, "but your writing is unorganized and lacks precision." I really respected the guy so I was devastated. Not because my work was bad, but because I felt like I let him down. For the next hour, we discussed the art of legal writing, he shared similar mistakes he had made and what he learned from them and offered to review all motions I wrote. A few months later, he received a last minute motion from the plaintiffs in a case that required immediate attention. Even though I was busy on other cases, I volunteered to pull an all-nighter with him to make sure he was prepared for court the next day. I am a smarter, better lawyer because of him and we are friends to this day.

My personal story is applicable to any industry. You build up people by teaching them, setting an example and instilling confidence rather than by demeaning them and stunting their growth. When you treat people with respect, they will be loyal to you forever. As the old adage goes, you can sweeten better with honey than with vinegar.

On the politics front, the Republican party has become Boss B. No one respects you, no one listens to you and your beligerence is alienating even the most loyal supporters. Boss B's destroy companies by running out talented people who refuse to be treated disrespectfully. Boss B's dedicate inordinate amounts of energy on blame games instead of learning from lessons. They are the ultimate finger-pointing buck passers.

Anyone who has worked a day in her life has worked for a Boss B -- and wanted to quit the job because of it. If you wouldn't work for a Boss B, why would you vote for one?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Viva California

Pride goes before destruction
a haughty spirit before a fall

Proverbs 16:18

I have never been so pleased to live in California.

The electorate has spoken loud and clear. Enough of the Republican mean-spiritedness. We have sat back while the Republicans tell the rest of us that we are godless communist sinners and that they are the experts on morality. We watched their arrogance as they justified their idol’s stoop to low-brow insults that his opponents are “Girly Men.” We watched in horror as they attacked the people we need the most in our every day lives -- teachers, nurses, firefighters and policemen. We got sick of being called moonbats, kool-aid drinkers, stupid liberals, immoral and all the other brainless insults O’Reilly, Coulter and Malkin tell them they should use against those who disagree with them (whether they apply or not). And we got up out of our apathetic stupor and voted to shut them up.

Voting is always family-bonding time in these parts. I am still registered at my parents’ address (as a Republican), so I go over there, we bat around the issues and head over to the polling station. Since I renounced Republicanism a few years ago, my die-hard Republican parents and I typically disagree on the issues, but yesterday was different. As I walked into the house, my mother declared that the family was voting “no” on everything. She repeated it to my father (who has certificates of appreciation from the RNC in the home office) for emphasis.

Surprisingly, dad agreed. How dare Arnold claim to care about California’s budget and then waste our taxpayer money on an unnecessary election? How dare he attack the same people who respond to our 911 calls and educate our children? How dare he attack public unions, while leaving corporate unions (in which he is a member) unscathed? How dare he use us as a pawn in a vendetta, dog-fight he is having with the public unions? He abused the initiative process and my Republican parents refused to reward him for that. You can't convince people to vote for you or with you by insulting them.

The spin machine is already at work, but the Republicans only have themselves to blame. I can’t wait to hear Pat Robertson speak for God as he likes to do and tell us who is being punished for what. Maybe he’ll convince the Republicans they weren’t Christian enough. Or maybe, just maybe, Robertson’s insanity will reveal itself for what it is and remind Republicans that Jesus’ admonition to love your neighbor as you love yourself applies to everyone.

Jesus got followers by being an example of humility and love, something the Republicans sorely lack. Perhaps they should pay more attention to the God they claim to worship instead of blindly mimicing the false idols of the party.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Did The U.S. Use Chemical Weapons In Fallujah?

Democracy Now hosted an intense debate this morning among an Army Lieutenant stationed in Baghdad, a U.S. soldier who fought in Fallujah and an Italian film producer about the American Military's use of White Phosphorus in Fallujah in the siege one year ago.

The Lieutenant was the kind of opposing witness every lawyer loves having on the stand. His evasion is subtle, but the conclusions are startling. He admits that the U.S. Military used white phosphorus, but then argues it is a legal weapon. He then claimed that it is not a chemical weapon. When that doesn't work, he says that they used it to destroy buildings, not against people.

But he never offers a credible explanation of how Fallujah was littered with dead bodies that had been dissolved to the bone, but with clothes intact. You can watch or listen to the debate.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Random Photos From My Vacations

Machu Picchu, Peru

Bled, Slovenia

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Moscow subway station

Suzdal, Russia

Lake Baikal, Siberia
Terelij National Park, Mongolia

Shanghai at night

Tienanmen Square

Sunset on the Nile just south of Cairo

Thursday, November 03, 2005

One Big Pile Of Salt

Continuing on the theme of being stuck in the past, I am going to connect two seemingly unrelated authors -- Thomas Friedman and God.

I just finished reading The World Is Flat by Friedman, an incredible book and a must read for anyone who cares about the state of the world. A brilliant friend already wrote an in-depth review of the book, so I direct you to his blog for that. Of interest to me in this post is Friedman's concluding chapter (sorry to spoil the ending kids) in which he discusses the differences between "dark societies" and dream factories like America.

In societies that have more memories than dreams, too many people are spending too many days looking backward. They see dignity, affirmation, and self-worth not by mining the present but by chewing on the past. And even that is usually not a real past but an imagined and adorned past. Indeed, such societies focus all their imagination on making that imagined past more beautiful than it ever was, and then they cling to it like a rosary or a strand of worry beads, rather than imagining a better future and acting on that. It is dangerous enough when other countries go down that route; it would be disastrous for America to lose its bearings and move in that direction.

America's role since its inception, Friedman remarks, has been to be the country that looks forward, not back.

Looking forward, not back, is of such psychological importance that even God gave this same advice to his followers. One of my favorite Biblical stories is that of Lot's wife.

According to the Book of Genesis, God was upset with all the shenanigans in Sodom and Gomorra so, in his oh-so-characteristically angry, Old Testament way, he sent in Al Qaeda to blow up the place. There were, of course, a few good souls in the city and the angels warned them to leave post haste. "Flee for your lives! Don't look back, and don't stop anywhere in the plain" was the admonition to Lot and his wife.

As with her predecessor Eve, Lot's wife did not heed the advice and looked back (what's with all the obstinate females ignoring the Lord's commands?). She instantly became a pillar of salt.

Biblical scholars continue to ponder the moral of the story, so I will throw in my $.02 on the topic. Looking back = salt. Salt is an apt metaphor for bitterness, regret, doubt and guilt. The story is a great allegory (I do not believe it is literal) about not wallowing over the past, not keeping your head stuck on things that have happened and how important it is to let go of the past so that you don't become a bitter pillar of salt. Lot's wife may have been attached to her life in Sodom and looking back indicated she had doubts about the unknown new life toward which she was heading. Since it is physically impossible to look backwards while you are moving forward, she became a pillar -- a structure anchored to the earth in one spot, unable to move.

The wisdom of this story is compelling. It is easy to become comfortable with what we have and with what we know. Think about the rigidity with which so many people approach life; the safety blankets to which they cling because they are terrified of the unknown. "I have always done things that way" or "because that is our tradition" are phrases used by people who are anchored. Many Republicans proudly declare that they never waiver from their opinions, but when they speak you can't miss all the bitter salt oozing from those rigid pillars. They offer undying loyalty to the allegorical Sodomites of their party, citing their goodness of the past rather than the sins of the present.

Michael Hammer, a business organization consultant, told Thomas Friedman
One thing that tells me a company is in trouble is when they tell me how good they were in the past. Same with countries. You don't want to forget your identity. I am glad you were great in the fourteenth century, but that was then and this is now. When memories exceed dreams, the end is near. The hallmark of a truly successful organization is the willingness to abandon what made it successful and start fresh.

Is America willing to start fresh or will the Monkey-in-Chief and his cult followers continue to mourn the loss of a fictitious Christian past? Are the dreams exceeding the memories or are we doomed to be become a nation of salt pillars?

Forget the former things
do not dwell on the past
Isaiah 43:18