Wednesday, February 28, 2007

No problem missing yesterday's Beltline meeting, because that presentation will be given again next week.

And I had another Beltline meeting tonight (6:00-8:00 pm), which traffic allowed me to make this time.

And I have another Beltline meeting tomorrow morning (8:00-10:00 am).

Plus, I had a conference call and a flurry of emails about the Beltline's cousin project, the Peachtree Streetcar.

Plus, as could have been predicted, several volleys of email back and forth between myself and the Planning Unit Chairman, with a meeting set up for Friday to discuss our differences. Plus emails from supporters of my position, offering encouragement and advise.

Plus lunch with a client and an ongoing project at work with a very near deadline.

All of this . . . and I still found time to write this for you. Now doesn't that make you feel special?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Irony

How's this for irony? I left work early today to head downtown to an afternoon meeting regarding the Beltline, Atlanta's new transit and transportation proposal, and got stuck in gridlocked traffic. I missed my meeting.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Paranoia and Confrontation

No sooner do I blog that I thought that the neighborhood meeting concerning the trail went well than I learn that there appears to have been a coordinated, behind-the-scenes effort to override public opinion against the trail.

It is not at all surprising to me that certain trail advocates are strategizing and maneuvering to see their vision realized, but I received a series of emails, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, that reveal the very same Parks Commissioner and City Councilperson I met with Sunday have been talking with our elected neighborhood Planning Unit leader on how to "get around" and "beat" public resistance to the trail, which they seem determined to build regardless of how it is received.

A little background: we have a very nice little public park in our neighborhood. It is not very wide, but runs along the floodplain of a tributary to Peachtree Creek. It's basically a long meadow, ideal for walking a dog, a leisurely stroll, or even a touch football game, all of which seem to be occurring every time I visit. It's one of our neighborhood assets, and is of historical significant. The Civil War's Battle of Peachtree Creek was fought largely along this floodplain, and on one day of fighting alone, over 6,000 soldiers were killed (compare that to 3,000 dead over three years in Iraq).

A trail foundation would like to run a 15-foot-wide concrete path through the park and connect it with similar trails they are building along old abandoned railroad lines ("rails to trails") and around (but not through) some larger parks. A nice idea in concept, but in our neighborhood the dream becomes dystopic.

In order to comply with stream buffer rules, the trail would have to be off set from the creek by 100 feet. This would put the trail smack in the middle of the park. If the path were moved to the far end of the park, away from the creek, it would virtually run in people's back yards, a very unpleasant proposition to them as it would effectively cut them off from the park, and bring strangers into their back yards.

A paved trail for joggers, bikers, walkers, rollerbladers and what have you in the middle of the park would effectively destroy its current and much loved character. The remaining greenspace on either side of the trail would not allow the recreational activities now enjoyed. It would diminish the green and natural appeal of the park. It would encourage people to drive into our neighborhood and park cars in front of our houses (and we already have a pretty serious traffic problem). Paving existing greenspace would add to the impervious ground cover in this urban area, worsening flood impacts from which we're already suffering. And the floodplain river-bottom setting is a fragile ecosystem, and the increased use, traffic and concrete will not help it recover one bit.

It basically comes down to this - we will lose a cherished park and a historical resource, with no compensation, so that others will have a thoroughfare for their enjoyment.

So - the battle lines have been drawn. The residents and neighbors v. the trail foundation and its advocates. So who's side do our elected officials align themselves with?

In the released emails, it has become apparent that the Parks Commissioner, our Councilperson and our Planning Unit chairman have been in long discussions with the trail foundation talking about how to get around the community resistance, how to "spin" the facts to us, how to pit the pro-trail neighbors against the anti-trail neighbors, and so on.

In one particularly unpleasant message, the Planning Unit leader dismisses our concerns about the trail, stating that we "have had the same concerns about what the trail should look like for some time. That is something for Parks to deal with later, and is different from the issue of whether there shold (sic) be (a) trail."

"Let Parks be the bad guy as to the reality of what the trail will look like," he advises our Councilperson. "(The Commissioner) knows how to handle that."

"As to the general neighborhood traffic issues," he goes on, "I don't see how they should be part of the discussion."

Our neighborhood Planning Unit leader, as you might imagine, does not actually live in our neighborhood. Last summer, I accompanied him on his first tour through the park. In fact, I have worked with him on issues related to the Atlanta Beltline and had thought that he was a fairly trustworthy man. So after reading through his treacherous and mean-spirited emails, I sent him the following (edited for this public medium) this evening:

"The email messages we have received confirms to me that you have been meddling in the trail issue in a biased and unprofessional way, and have not been at all responsive or sensitive to the concerns and issues of the residents in this part of your Planning Unit. I am informing you of this first to give you the opportunity to explain your actions, but I intend to share this with the rest of the Planning Unit Executive Board to get a resolution to order you to immediately cease and desist any further involvement in the trail issue, and further to adopt an Ethics statement forbidding the Planning Unit Chair or other officers from participating in divisive neighborhood issues in a partisan way. I request that this issue be added to the Agenda at the March Planning Unit meeting, where the email below will be distributed.

"Further, I intend on telling both Councilwoman M. and Commissioner C. that we consider your counsel in the matter of the trail to have been both duplicitous and irresponsible, that you do not represent the interests of this neighborhood, and that you do not have our confidence. I will request that all further discussion on this matter be directed to the individual neighborhood association leaders, and not be addressed at the Planning Unit level.

"I personally am disappointed that things have come to this, but the preponderance of evidence and particularly your words below show that you have brought this upon yourself, for reasons that I cannot begin to fathom."

Angry, confrontational words, but words that actually had been edited to tone down the betrayal that I felt. Beware, they say, the anger of a patient man.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Another Sunday with the Presbyterians, this time at my place. The group that I spoke to last week came by to visit our Zen Center, again as part of their Interfaith Outreach. We talked about various aspects of Zen and Buddhism, and I gave them a brief orientation of meditation techniques.

My friend Arthur was giving the dharma talk that day, and although the Presbyterians couldn't stay, I did.

Later, I met with some neighbors, our City Councilperson and the Commissioner of Parks to look at a property in the neighborhood that the City is going to buy as parkland. A poll of the neighborhood indicates that most are in favor of the park, although there are some vocal dissenters. The probable alternative to parkland is most likely new development, and no one in the neighborhood wants to see new condominiums go up there.

The biggest controversy is in the nature of the park. The neighborhood has expressed its preference for passive use, and the existing tennis courts and pool on the property will therefore be demolished. However, there are plans to build a 15-foot-wide, concrete, mixed-use trail through the property for joggers, runners, bikers and rollerbladers that will connect with a planned network of similar trails throughout the area.

Neighbors immediately abutting the park have expressed the expected concerns about crime and of the trail providing a conduit for the "criminal element" into their backyards. I'm sympathetic, but more concerned about the loss of greenspace and the increase of paved ground in this urban environment.

The property we looked at today is actually high ground, but the surrounding parks and public areas that the trail will connect with are floodplains and wetlands. More concrete, more pavement in this sensitive environment will lead to increased habitat loss, less infiltration and hence more flooding, and greater impact on a sensitive ecosystem. My opinion is we should tred gently in the surrounding area and minimize our footprint, and construct a low-impact trail for hikers and joggers built of pervious materials.

These views were expressed and well received, as were discussions regarding the path of the trail to minimize its impact on neighbors. Time will now tell whether we were heard or merely given lip service.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Where's Bill?

It's been an interesting week in politics.

Bill Richardson, whom WDW is still endorsing as the next POTUS, is finally starting to get some press coverage. The NY Times finally, at long last, ran a somewhat in-depth profile of the candidate yesterday, and ran another fairly good article today. Richardson also ran an op-ed piece in the Washington Post today, calling for diplomacy, not war, with Iran.

It's interesting that nearly every article written about Richardson notes that he's clearly the most experienced and qualified candidate, but the only reason he doesn't win more endorsements seems to be that his first name isn't Hillary or Barack.

Meanwhile, funny-named candidate Tom Vilsack dropped out of the race this week. "While I respect and understand Tom's decision," Richardson said in the customary, respectful press release, "He will be missed from the campaign. He is a good friend, and a man of integrity and tremendous ability" and so on.

Hillary, as expected, is getting shrill and will most likely self-destruct sooner or later on the long campaign ahead of her. Thursday, the Clinton campaign called on Mr. Obama to sever his ties to David Geffen and return the portion of the $1.3 million that Mr. Geffen helped raise on Tuesday at a reception in Beverly Hills. “While Senator Obama was denouncing slash-and-burn politics yesterday, his campaign’s finance chair was viciously and personally attacking Senator Clinton and her husband,” Clinton's campaign said in a statement.

The Obama campaign noted that it was “ironic that the Clintons had no problem with David Geffen” when he was “raising them $18 million and sleeping at their invitation in the Lincoln Bedroom.”

And what did David Geffen say that upset Hillary so much? He told Maureen Dowd that the Clintons lie “with such ease, it’s troubling,” that the Clinton political operation “is going to be very unpleasant and unattractive,” that Bill Clinton is a “reckless guy” who had not changed in the last six years, and that Hillary was too scripted.

Okay, so an American citizen exercised his constitutional right to freedom of speech and said that he did not like Mrs. Clinton as a presidential candidate. If Hillary can't take that, how is she going to react down the campaign trail when people start to call her marriage a sham, bring up Whitewater again, ask difficult questions about the death of Vince Foster, and really press her about her pro-war voting record in Congress? She won't last long, and this blogger, for one, won't miss her and her unpleasant and unattactive campaign on the trail one bit.
Meanwhile, over on the other side, Dick Cheney said Britain's decision to pull troops from Iraq is a good sign that fits in well with the strategy for stabilizing the country, prompting Obama to note that "Cheney said this. . . even as the administration is preparing to put 20,000 more of our young men and women in. Now, keep in mind, this is the same guy that said we'd be greeted as liberators, the same guy that said that we're in the last throes."

"When Dick Cheney says it's a good thing," he said, "You know that you've probably got some big problems."

But John McCain noted that Tony Blair sacrificed his political career over Iraq and, with candor unusual for a likely candidate, that he might be doing the same thing himself. Not that he's going to change his position on the war, however.

Yes, watching politics can be fun. Bill Richardson seems to be following a very savvy campaign strategy. Like a smart thoroughbred in a horse race, he's lagging back in the pack while the front runners tire themselves out in the long backstretch. “I’m not going to be competitive in that area with the top-tier candidates,” Richardson said. But come the final furlong, he should have fresh legs and be at the front of the pack.

"I’m going to have enough to win,” he said.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Guess?

She was born Vickie Lynn Hogan but she was never happy with her own identity. She changed her name to Nikki Hart and got kicked out of high school for fighting. She changed her name again and eventually became a famous model for Guess? jeans. But the name she wanted most, from childhood on, was Marilyn Monroe.

But before she became famous, she worked as a waitress at Jim's Krispy Fried Chicken in Mexia, Texas, and married for the first time. She was 17, he was a 16-year-old cook. To make ends meet, she worked at Wal-Mart, danced topless and mailed naked photos of herself to Playboy, hoping to be noticed. The marriage didn't last but they had a son, who later died at age 20 of an accidental overdose of methadone and anti-depressants.

All she seemed to know for sure was that her body would be her ticket out of Texas. She was most famous for her breasts, which were described in no lesser journal than The Economist as follows:

"There were only two of them, but they made a whole frontage: huge, compelling, pneumatic. They burst out of tight red dresses —preferably red — or teased among feather boas, or flanked a dizzying cleavage that plunged to tantalising depths. These were celebrated, American breasts, engineered by silicon to be as broad and bountiful as the prairie. With them, a girl from nowhere — or from Houston, Texas — could do anything. The body behind them waxed and waned, sometimes stout as a stevedore's and sometimes almost waif-like, matching the little-girl voice; but the Breasts remained. 'Everything I have,' she admitted, 'is because of them.'”
She became Playmate of the Year in 1993. In her questionnaire, she confirmed her ambition to be the new Marilyn, and in a dozen ways, from the blonde curled hair to the bright red lips to the gorgeous pouts and poses, she was. But while Marilyn spent her whole life in search of her own identity, she spent her her whole life trying to be someone else's. She couldn't have picked a better named brand with which to associate herself than Guess?.

She worked the gentleman's clubs in Houston, dancing for ancient oil tycoons in the half-dark. She married one of them in 1995, tying the knot at the White Dove Drive-Thru Wedding Chapel. She was 26, he was 89, and the famous breasts were barely contained in white satin. When he died, he left her nothing in his will, an outcome she never believed or accepted and spent the rest of her life contesting.

Unlike Marilyn, she was not favored by high-profile politicians, intellectuals or superstar athletes; she was too much the tabloid queen for that crowd. In later years, she was seen more and more in black. She often looked beautiful in it, but rarely happy. Last September, she had a daughter by no certain father and then lost her ill-fated son, all within three days. Five months later, she collapsed in a hotel room at an Indian casino in Hollywood, Florida, far from the real Hollywood. Her cause of death is still unknown.

But in her young, lonely death, she was not far from the great name she had longed to be. It's now known that Marilyn Monroe had spent her whole life trying to find herself, asking repeatedly, "Who am I?" She spent her whole life asking, "Can I be her?" In the end, both died dreadfully lonely and unhappy amid the relative splendors of their relative successes.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Shokai's First Blogging Rule of Thumb: when in doubt about what else to write about, make fun of Michael Crichton.

As attentive readers will recall, Mr. Crichton has recently published a book and written a Times op-ed piece about genetic patenting. He claims that due to a "bizarre situation" and "a mistake by an underfinanced and understaffed government agency," scientists are now taking out patents on genes, and can in fact "own" the patents on the very genes in your body. He maintains that genetic testing is being hampered because some genes are patented and royalties must be paid to the greedy patent holders, and that these evil scientists can even continue to perform research on your tissue samples without your knowledge or consent.

Well, he may have made a mistake running his mouth in the Times, because its readers have responded with a series of letters in last Monday's paper. As it turns out, patents on genes cover only scientifically isolated genes, not genes as found in living organisms. And patents are irrelevant to the question of who owns tissue samples. A reader from Ann Arbor suggested we consider the alternative: if an individual has a "miracle" component in their genetic makeup, say a gene that could cure AIDS, should permission from these people be required before their tissue can be studied? They didn't "invent" their genes any more than the researchers "invented" the genes they're patenting. Would Mr. Crichton argue that they should be allowed to withhold such information from society?

A patent attorney from San Francisco noted that the patent office has been issuing gene patents for more than three decades without intervention of the Supreme Court or Congress. It's astounding, he wrote, that that could happen for so long if gene patents were merely based on some bureaucratic "mistake." A research professor at George Washington University Law School noted that way back in 1911, Judge Learned Hand established that patents could be issued on the isolated and purified versions of substances occurring naturally in our body. Judge Hand's reasoning has been applied to sustain patents on artificially isolated and purified genes, which is all that may be patented.

Like other patents, those on genes are vital to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. Why would anyone risk the billions needed to transform basic science into lifesaving products if someone else could simply copy these products without risk? Gene patents temporarily increase prices to provide greater incentives for discovery. Although Mr. Crichton argues that people may die because greedy patent holders are stiffling research, the Professor notes it is no less true and no less hyperbolic to speculate that you, or someone you love, could die if genes became unpatentable, because without the financial security of a patent, the necessary genetic research would not be done in time.

"I doubt," concluded the patent attorney, "that Michael Crichton would let others copy and sell his novels and movies for no cost." Of course not. It seems that Mr. Crichton just wants others to turn over the results of their hard work at no expense to him.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Hunter

It was two years ago today that Hunter S. Thompson finally went over that edge, leaving this world a little less interesting.

Although on the one hand, Thompson conjured up visions of a world "where nobody laughs and everybody lies and the days drag by like dead animals and the nights are full of whores and junkies clawing at your windows and tax men jamming writs under your door and the screams of the doomed coming up through the air shaft along with white cockroaches and red stringworms full of AIDS and bursts of foul gas with no sunrise and the morning streets full of preachers begging for money and fondling themselves with gangs of fat young boys trailing after them," on the other hand, he was just "a lazy drunken hillbilly with a heart full of hate who has found out a way to live out there where the real winds blow---to sleep late, have fun, get wild, drink whiskey and drive fast on empty streets with nothing in mind except falling in love and not getting arrested."

He gave a lecture once at Boston University a long time ago when I was a student there. I don't remember a thing he said, but what impressed me was that before he spoke, he emptied over a dozen pills and capsules of various pharmaceuticals from his many jacket pockets and dumped them all into a plastic cup. He then produced a bottle of Jack Daniels, and throughout the lecture would wash down a couple of the pills at a time by chugging on the Jack straight from the bottle, his hands gripping the bottleneck.

I had always wished that he could have collaborated on a work with the late, great William S. Burroughs - now that would have been worth a read.

R.I.P. Hunter, you always were a bad influence.

Let the good times roll.

Monday, February 19, 2007

In case you didn't notice it, the average global temperature last month was the highest for any January on record, climbing to 55.13 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 1.53 degrees warmer than the 20th-century average. According to NOAA, the global reading, an average of measurements taken over land and sea, beat out the previous record set in January 2002 at 54.88 degrees.

The most unusually warm temperatures were measured in large parts of Eastern Europe and Russia, which experienced temperatures more than 8 degrees above average. Temperatures in much of Canada were more than 5 degrees above average. The snow cover in January in Europe and Asia was the second lowest on record.

The warm January was at least partly the result of an El Niño weather pattern that began last September and continued into January, combined with the continuing global warming trend. Although no single weather event or warm month can be blamed on global warming, more extreme conditions are likely as the planet's climate changes, and strings of warm months are evidence of climate change.

If you did miss it, it might have been because the warming was less pronounced in the U.S., where the average January temperature was just under 1 degree above the 20th century average. An upper-level wind pattern brought warmer-than-average temperatures to the East and colder-than-average temperatures to the southern Plains states and much of the West. Hundreds of daily low temperature records were broken during a mid-January cold snap in Arizona and southern California.

Snowfall was below average in most of the Rockies, meaning that water supplies could plummet later this year. Drought is already occurring in 25 percent of the contiguous United States, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Droughts are worst now in southern Texas, Wyoming, the western High Plains and northern Minnesota.

Last year was a record warm year in the United States. The past nine years are all among the 25 warmest on record for the contiguous United States, a streak unprecedented in records dating back to 1896.

2007 could be the warmest year yet globally.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Happy New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year, everyone. Welcome to the Year of the Pig.

This morning, I gave my Zen Buddhism talk at the Covenant Presbyterian Church. They were a very polite and attentive audience, and listened quietly while I talked about lineage and practice from my personal perspective. We even did a two-minute exercise in breathing meditation. It was far from the traditional "Buddhism 101" lecture that I normally give, but the Rev. Jill asked for just that kind of personal insight.

Next week, they're coming to our center for a taste of the actual experience.

Yesterday, Greensmile, commenting on my post about the Georgia anti-evolution, anti-Semitic, anti-heliocentric universe memo, asked, "Aren't Georgians embarrassed? The Onion wouldn't make up a story that far fetched." Steve from Clayton, Georgia said, "At least you get to live in Atlanta. You should try having these weirdos for neighbors," and answers Greensmile's question with his dead-on post, "Nutty Creationist Lawmaker Ben Bridges Embarrasses Georgia."

Actually though, I'm not embarrassed to be living in Georgia, I'm just embarrassed over some of my nutty creationist, weirdo neighbors. Steve from Clayton is right, Atlanta is something of an urban (well, okay, suburban) island in the middle of the state, both demographically, politically and culturally. Sort of like Austin.

But embarrassment is one thing, and alarm another. Rep. Bridges can write his memos (or not, as he claims) all he wants to no great harm, but we have mad dogs like nutty political wack-job Zell Miller to watch, not to mention Arizona's presidential aspirant John McCain ("hey, let's repeal Roe v. Wade").

But what's even more alarming is that we have another creationist nut-job, this one from Texas, in the White House right now, whose proposed solution to America's growing dissatisfaction with the war (and by the way, what took you so long, America?) is, more war. More troops for Iraq, and let's talk about invading Iran as long as we're at it.

There's a great line in the Iraq Study Group Report (yes, I've read it) that says, "America's other security needs and the future of our military cannot be made hostage to the actions or inactions of the Iraqi government") (Recommendation 41, page 75). Here's a President who champions the go-it-alone approach to world diplomacy, who rejected the world's consensus for more negotiation before invading Iraq on the grounds that only America can look out for our own interests, who sends nutty isolationist John Bolton to the U.N., and then turns around and commits the vast majority of our strategic forces and defense to wet-nurse a civil war and a basket-case government until, well, until when?

How will we know when this thing is over? When there's democracy in the Middle East? They've had three elections already. When they have their own government? For better or worse, they've got what they elected, just like us. When there's finally a lasting peace? That simply ain't going to happen.

Make no mistake about it - al Qaeda and the like love having us there. As long as American troops are in Iraq, our presence there is galvanizing Islamic opinion against us and dividing America against itself. They're winning the propaganda war by far, and they'd like nothing more than our troops to be there indefinitely. They've proved that they are masters at agitating the area and preventing any kind of peace, keeping us committed there for as long as they want, while we're more-or-less powerless to do much of anything else anywhere else in the world. You can say our troops and our policies are both already hostages to the terrorists, and the war is just "emboldening the enemy."

My point here is that there's not that great a distance between nutty creationist lawmaker Ben Bridges and nutty political mad dog Zell Miller, and then the distance from nutty political mad dog Zell Miller is not so great to strategic blunderbuss George W. Bush. And since they all claim to be informed and motivated by religion, they're not all that different, at least in principal, from the Islamic extremists they're engaging "over there."

And the Year of the Pig is just beginning.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Just when I thought Georgia lawmakers couldn't be any more stupid, a memo gets distributed under the name of State Rep. Ben Bridges saying that the teaching of evolution should be banned in public schools because it is a religious deception stemming from an ancient Jewish sect.

“Indisputable evidence — long hidden but now available to everyone — demonstrates conclusively that so-called ‘secular evolution science’ is the Big-Bang 15-billion-year alternate ‘creation scenario’ of the Pharisee Religion,” the memo is reported to say. “This scenario is derived concept-for-concept from Rabbinic writings in the mystic ‘holy book’ Kabbala dating back at least two millennia.”

Brilliant. The ignorant, anti-scientific school meets the Anti-Semites. The National Center for Science Education, a California-based organization that defends the teaching of evolution in public schools, said the assertion that evolution is linked to an ancient Jewish sect is “bizarre.” “Evolution is recognized as a central unifying principle of the biological sciences by the scientific community and the education community,” said the center’s deputy director.

The memo calls on lawmakers to introduce legislation that would end the teaching of evolution in public schools because it is “a deception that is causing incalculable harm to every student and every truth-loving citizen.” It directs readers to a Web site which includes model legislation that calls the Kabbala “a mystic, anti-Christ ‘holy book’ of the Pharisee Sect of Judaism.” The Web site also declares “the earth is not rotating … nor is it going around the sun.”

They're not only opposed to Darwin, they haven't even got around to accepting Galileo yet. Check their site out; it would be funny if it weren't so scary, but then it would be scary only if it weren't so pathetic.

The memo directs supporters to call Marshall Hall, president of the Fair Education Foundation Inc., a Georgia-based organization that seeks to show evolution is a myth.

Mr. Hall said he showed Rep. Bridges the text of the memo and got his permission to distribute it to lawmakers in several states, including Texas, California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio. “I gave him a copy of it months ago,” said Hall, a retired high school teacher. “I had already written this up as an idea to present to him so he could see what it was and what we were thinking.” Hall said his wife Bonnie has served as Bridges’ campaign manager since 1996.

Rep. Bridges, who's district is based in Cleveland up in the north Georgia mountains, denies having anything to do with the memo. “I did not put it out nor did I know it was going out,” he said. “I’m not defending it or taking up for it.” However, Rep. Bridges acknowledged that he talked to Mr. Hall about filing legislation this year hat would end the teaching of evolution in Georgia’s public schools. Rep. Bridges said that although he doesn’t necessarily disagree with the views in the memo, they belong to Mr. Hall, not him. However, “I agree with it more than I would the Big Bang Theory or the Darwin Theory,” he said. “I am convinced that rather than risk teaching a lie, why teach anything?”

Rep. Bridges sponsored unsuccessful legislation in 2005 that would have required Georgia’s teachers to introduce scientific evidence challenging evolution.

The Anti-Defamation League’s Southeast regional director noted that the memo conjures up repugnant images of Judaism used for thousands of years to smear Jews as cult-like and manipulative. “I am shocked and appalled that you would send this anti-Semitic material to colleagues and friends, and call upon you to repudiate and apologize for distributing this highly offensive memo,” he said.

In reply, Rep. Bridges said, “I regret that these people have been offended, but I didn’t offend them because I didn’t put the memo out."

Right. He just agrees with it, and who could be offended by that?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Emory University's new adjunct professor, the Dalai Lama, once said, "The true essence of humankind is kindness. There are other qualities which come from education or knowledge, but it is essential, if one wishes to be a genuine human being and impart satisfying meaning to one's existence, to have a good heart."

I would have quit after the first half, and merely said, "The true essence of humankind is kindness. There are other qualities which come from education or knowledge."

The other half, especially "if one wishes to be a genuine human being and impart satisfying meaning to one's existence," smacks of spiritual materialism. We are all already genuine human beings (if you're not genuinely human, how are you reading this?), and the true essence of being human, as already pointed out, is kindness, so why strive to impart satisfying meaning?

But that's an intellectual argument using words and ideas. Zen makes this case practically, through the practice of sitting meditation, or zazen. As we sit quietly, all of the accreted layers that surround our human essence slowly drop away, layers such as our likes and dislikes, our habitual responses to sensation, our intellect and its intellectual arguments using words and ideas. What is your true essence beneath all of that memory, personality, desire and fear?

What we find in Zen is that the essential nature beneath all of this is good, is kind, and can be trusted. To be genuine, to be meaningful, to be kind, we do not have to develop or acquire anything, we only have to strip away and get rid of those accreted layers.

Obviously, this contrasts with the concept in Western religion that we are basically impure and require salvation, or in Western psychotherapy (the other religion) which maintains that we need to be mentally healed (or properly medicated) to find our kindness. But in Zen, it appears that once we stop all searching and all healing, once we just stop, there's nothing there that's not our kind, compassionate original nature.

The weather might be dark and stormy out, but right now, behind all those clouds, is the shining sun. We just need to wait for the clouds to blow away.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Bill Richardson's words from the recent DNC Winter Meeting keep coming back to me, especially "The reality is, we have done in Iraq what we said we would do. We have rid the world of a brutal dictator. We have brought about free and fair elections three times over. The Iraqis now have a constitution, over 200,000 armed soldiers, and they have oil revenue. It’s time for our troops to leave with honor. . . A struggle for human rights is worthy of military intervention. A true threat to our country’s security is worthy of war. But a struggle between a country’s warring factions, where both sides hate the United States, is not worthy of one more lost American life."
War is over, if you want it.

Monday, February 12, 2007

At lunch the other day with my Romanian friend Crinu (how cool is that, having a Romanian friend named Crinu?), the conversation suddenly turned south when he recommended that I read this "great book" about global warming, namely, State of Fear by Michael Crichton.

I told him, as long-time readers of this blog know, that I have read the book and that I have some real issues with Mr. Crichton. But he apparently thought that I just didn't get it, and went on about how the whole Kyoto Treaty is just a plot "by France" and possibly a few other countries to hinder America's industrial strength and prevent us from remaining the lone world superpower.

It got worse. I was informed that the Iraqi war, as it turns out, is a brilliant strategy in that we've taken the battle over to their side of the globe, and created an issue for them to fight about on their soil instead of having the terrorists come here and take innocent American lives. I asked him if it were then moral to overthrow a sovereign nation and sacrifice over 3,000 (and counting) American troops just in order to create a diversion away from a potential attack on U.S. soil, but he had already moved on to his interpretation of Cheney's "1% policy" ("if even 1% of the population of a country is opposed to us, we are justified in invading them").

My Romanian friend's political views actually had me re-thinking my position on immigration.

The next day, he left a copy of Crichton's latest book, "Next," on my desk, and came to my office later that day encouraging me to read it.

"You don't own the organs in your own body anymore," he warned, "because scientists own the patents on your own DNA, and they are allowed by law to come take any organ of yours that they want anytime because they own the rights." He then told me not to raise my eyebrow skeptically, but to read the book and understand.

Oh boy. First Crichton misrepresents meditation as a metaphysical exercise for seeing auras, channelling the dead and divining the future ("Travels"); then he incorrectly predicts that Japan will be taking over the world ("Rising Sun"), when actually it's China; and then he denies the reality of global warming ("State of Fear"). Now he wants me to worry about doctors showing up to claim by kidneys, like the surgeons in Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life?"

Well, say this about Crichton, there's no avoiding the boy. In today's Times, he's got an op-ed piece on bioethics titled, "Patenting Life." According to Crichton, the U.S. Patent Office began to issue patents some years ago on genes. By now, he claims, one-fifth of the genes in your body are privately owned.

Although most patents are granted for human inventions, genes are obviously features of the natural world. "Humans share mostly the same genes," he writes. "The same genes are found in other animals as well. Our genetic makeup represents the common heritage of all life on earth. You can’t patent snow, eagles or gravity, and you shouldn’t be able to patent genes, either."

The results, Crichton states, have been disastrous, as the patent holder can demand extravagant royalties from anyone else using that gene in research. A gene’s owner can in some instances also own the mutations of that gene. And the company that owns the patent on a gene he developed from samples he took from you can keep your tissue and do further research on it without asking your permission.

Yikes! Scary stuff. Almost enough, one wonders, to create a State of Fear?

In his piece, Crichton fails to address the argument that without patent protection, scientists won't have any way to protect the results of their genetic research, thus taking the profit out of beneficial studies on new therapeutic drugs and vaccines (and thus discouraging research on new drugs and vaccines, especially in light of this administration's abysmal non-defense R&D spending). But as we've learned from old Mikey in the past, he never was much good at recognizing two sides of an argument.

Damn, I'm starting to sound like Frank Rich! But worse, it appears that now I'm going to have to make myself read another Michael Crichton novel.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Last Friday, I posted some comments on the Atlanta Soto Zen Center lineage and the discussion of that lineage in the recent book Zen Master Who?. I was concerned that my comments might be misunderstood and was somewhat nervous posting them for that reason, but I had no idea that they would be as misunderstood as they seemed to have been by an anonymous commenter.

(Actually, I have a pretty good idea who the commenter was based on the nature and tone of the comments - he's left similar remarks here last year. His location, Marietta, Georgia, revealed by the Site Meter hit counter, pretty much confirmed my suspicion.)

Even if I disagree or find them offensive, I've long ago decided on a policy of leaving any and all comments up on this blog instead of taking the blogger's prerogative of deleting them, with the only exception of obvious phishing links. The comments are what they are, even if I don't like them, and besides, why worry if they aren't correct anyway? (Zebras don't get ulcers.)

But the gist of the comment seemed to have been that since some Soto Zen purists don't recognize the Matsuoka lineage, I might as well just abandon it, and further all of the other lineages are even worse, led by scoundrels and thieves, so it's best to just abandon the practice of zazen altogether. As the commenter put it "Why bother with zazen if it doesn't make one a decent human being?"

If one is taking on the practice of zazen for the purpose of becoming a "decent" human being - or for any other purpose for that matter - one has already missed the mark so badly that the practice has already, in effect, been abandoned. If I haven't already made this explicitly clear, making one a decent human being is not the purpose of Zen.

Our dualistic minds, on hearing that statement, tend to leap to the opposite extreme - if the purpose of zen is not to make one a decent human being, then is the purpose to make one an indecent human being? But the Buddha rejected this discriminating mentality - one extreme or the other - for the middle way, which isn't to make one just sort of decent, but is instead about neither decency nor indecency. The easiest way to say it, as stated here before, is that there is no purpose.

Anyone looking for a goal from a spiritual practice is only going to face disappointment and disillusion, like my commenter friend. Self-help books and psychoanalysis can result in material gains, but the spiritual path is different.

The commenter repeated his accusations, stated here before, that this teacher and that teacher had affairs with their students, used the sangha's money inappropriately and other discourtesies. The problems several years ago at the San Francisco Zen Center have been well documented (by the SFZC to their credit). But while I don't know about the veracity of his other claims, calling the Japanese masters "fascists" and all Zen teachers "scumbags" sounds a little over the top. But even if all of these charges are true, what does it say other than the teachers are human?

Zen is not alone in suffering disappointing actions by its teachers. Fundamentalist Christians are rocked by scandal after scandal, as one preacher after the other is caught is seeming ever more outrageous behavior. The problems with the Catholic Church and it's so-called celibate priests have been slowly coming out, finally, over the last couple of years. The whole world is aware of the excesses of Islamic extremists, charismatic gurus the world over have committed grievous sins, and although I can't think of a single example off the top of my head, I'm sure there has been a naughty rabbi or two over the years.

And the problems aren't unique to religion. Power is both an aphrodisiac and a corrupter, and a great many men and women in power have behaved badly. Just ask any CEO. Or Bill Clinton. Or a Russian woman who's had to deal with Soviet border guards ("Miss, there are some irregularities in your papers. Please step into the back room and let's see if we can't straighten this out").

I'm not apologizing for those who've sinned, or making rationalizations for the misdeeds of Zen teachers. I'm just stating that we're all human, and we've all slipped. Plus, accusations about teachers I've never met from anonymous on-line accusers cannot shake my conviction in my own direct experience through six years of zazen practice.

It's not the teacher or even the teaching, but experience that creates Great Faith, cultivates Great Doubt, and provides guidance in the Buddha Way.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

I had almost given up on my friend Nick's blog, even threatening to take it off of my sidebar if he didn't post something new soon, when I see that he's put up a very interesting post about anxiety, the animal kingdom and the human mind. I also see that the post went up way back last January 29, which either means I hadn't visited for a while, or he's taken advantage of the miracle of post-dating (as I'm doing here).

But anyway, one of his points is that the human mind, with its ability not only to think, but to think about thinking, creates neuroses and anxieties unknown in the animal kingdom. "When a zebra is being chased by a lion," he notes, "its body shuts down all non-essential systems and puts all the energy into getting away. When the chase is over, things go back to normal. Because zebras don't sit around all day worrying about the next lion attack, their bodies don't stay in flight mode. Hence, no zebra ulcers."

Obviously, we humans spend a lot of time worrying about lion attacks or the equivalent thereof, which is the source of much of our suffering. The Buddha saw this, pointing out that we create most of our own suffering. Yes, we will get old and die, but right now, this very instant, you're mostly likely not dying (if you are, in fact, dying as you read this, I won't mind at all if you skip the rest of this post for now and tend to your demise).

Zebras may get eaten by lions from time to time, but in the meanwhile, they don't torture themselves getting all neurotic about the next attack.

When I travel, I often worry about my house getting broken into and burgled, although there's not a thing I can do about it from my Holiday Inn or whatever. I sometimes get upset about an argument that I might theoretically have at work next week, even though it's the weekend, my opponent is nowhere around, and there's no rational reason to really believe that the argument will ever likely occur. The Buddha once said that if someone tells a lie about you and you get upset about it, it's as if they threw a spear at you and missed, but you pick up the spear and start stabbing yourself with it.

The mind doesn't make the body sick, because mind and body are one. When something's wrong with your stomach, it may produce acids and other secretions that are intolerable to other parts of the body and make you sick. When something's wrong with your mind, it may produce thoughts and ideas that similarly make you sick. And when something's wrong with your body, it could make something go wrong with your stomach or your mind, which further affects your body and so on in a downward spiral.

Mind and body are not two things - they are one. It often doesn't feel that way, it often feels that our mind merely resides in our body, but the brain is just another organ, and just as the spleen squirts out digestive juices or whatever it is that a spleen does, the body squirts out thoughts, and we are not our thoughts any more or less than we are our bile fluids.

Zebras know this. Baboons show some evidence that they're starting to forget this important truth. Nick points out that researcher Robert Sapolsky uses a blow dart to anesthetize baboons he has been observing and draw vials of blood. He analyzes the blood to track the levels of various stress hormones. Armed with his lab data and field observations about their social behavior, Dr. Sapolsky has mapped out the linkages between social situations, stress, low-level bodily processes, and the resulting impacts on overall health.

Of course, I wonder how much he takes into account the stress caused to baboons by a scientist armed with blow darts who anesthetizes one of the tribe each day. "I hope I'm not next. Where is he now, anyway? Wait, what was that sound? Was that him? Shit, I don't want to be caught next. . . ."

Poor baboons.

Anyway, Nick's point is that we choose how we react to our surroundings, and those choices make all the difference between a healthy, fitful life and a life of anxiety, stress and its consequent effects on our health.

A point I totally agree with. For me, zazen is a technique for directly realizing how most of my perceived world, with its supposed threats and dangers, imagined insults and attacks on my pride and ego and so on, is all just a product of my mind. If we create our own worlds, why do we create one so hostile to ourselves?

(Let your mind relax for a few minutes. Be aware of what is actually happening in this very moment, not what your baboon mind imagines might could happen. Drop your anxieties and fears and prejudices and hostilities and see what your real nature is like underneath all of that. Interesting, no?)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

James Ishmael Ford has recently written an interesting book called "Zen Master Who?" about American Zen teachers and their lineage. Ford, according to the author's biography, is a Unitarian Universalist minister, currently serving as senior minister of the First Unitarian Society in Newton, Massachusetts.

I'm not sure, but I may have met him. Two years ago or so, someone came through the Zen Center interviewing Zen students as part of his research on a book about American Zen. L. and I talked with him for a while, and he seemed quite intrigued with the Atlanta Soto Zen Center and our lineage back to Soyu Matsuoka.

According to Zen Master Who?, Soyu Matsuoka was a Japanese Soto Zen teacher who spent the last half of his life in America. Of all the Zen lineages in North America, Ford notes, his is perhaps the most difficult to interpret. "Soyu Matsuoka ranks with Nyogen Senzaki and Sokei-an as one of the first teachers to make his home and life work in North America," Ford writes. "He also seems to be the first teacher to clearly and unambiguously give Dharma transmission to Western students."

Matsuoka was born near Hiroshima in 1912 and was one of the Zen priests who came to serve Japanese immigrants in the United States. He was interred during the Second World War, but in 1949 founded the Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago. In 1970, he moved to Long Beach. At some point of his life, Ford notes, he became estranged from the Japanese organization. During the years subsequent to this estrangement, her ordained numerous students, some of whom had very little formal or informal training. "As a result," Ford notes, "few teachers in the Zen tradition today, and fewer still in the Soto school within which Matsuoka Roshi taught, accept his heirs to be authentic Zen teachers."

"Regarding the Matsuoka lineage, Taiun Michael Elliston and Kongo Richard Langlois were indisputably two of Matsuoka Roshi's long-time senior students, and each has established himself, by many standards, as a legitimate Zen - if not properly Soto Zen - teacher. . . Taiun Michael Elliston founded the Atlanta Soto Zen Canter in 1977, which he continues to lead. As a footnote, it should be mentioned that Elliston Roshi has been working hard to reconcile with the Soto mainstream. It is possible that within a few years, this one branch, at least, of the Matsuoka line will rejoin the normative Soto tradition."
Great, but if not, so what? Is anyone questioning the authenticity of our practice or our understanding? Zen has always had its heretics, its radicals, and its iconoclasts, from Bodhidharma himself, down through Hui Neng and Dogen. The American instinct to want to "brand" what is or isn't Zen shows, I believe, a misunderstanding of what the term "Zen" actually is pointing at, and smacks of provincial fundamentalism of the worst kind.

I respect my teachers, I'm proud of our lineage, and I have Great Faith (cultivated with Great Doubt) in our practice. What more needs to be said?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Theology

While at work today, I went out to grab a quick lunch and soon found myself at an Atlanta Bread Company shop, just me, a tuna-salad-on-sourdough sandwich and the New York Times.

There were several young people around me, presumably students of nearby Kennesaw State College. Soon, while I was reading about the Senate's inability to even stage a meaningful dialog about the war, two young women sat down at a table so close by that I could not help but hear much of their conversation. They were talking about religion.

"But one thing I don't understand," one was saying, "is how could it be that if someone grew up in a non-Christian culture, say they were Islamic and that's all they've ever known their entire life, why would they have to go to hell?"

She didn't seem to be baiting or testing her friend, she sounded genuinely distressed at her inability to resolve this issue. I had forgotten that fear of hell still held such a strong grip on some people, even in this day and age.

As a youth, I had questions about that same issue myself, and was told that if someone had never had a chance to hear Jesus' teaching, but had lived a good and virtuous life, he would still be allowed into heaven as a naive pagan.

That didn't help things at all, because then I wondered if all of those "heathen" people were going to heaven anyway, why were missionaries being sent out to "save" people who are already, essentially, saved? In fact, aren't missionaries doing more harm than good by spreading the gospel, because once one of those already "saved" heathens hears the Word but rejects it, isn't the missionary, in effect, then condemning him or her to hell?

Alternately, if they were going to hell because they had never heard the Word, but God never allowed a missionary to reach them with his teaching, wasn't God then, in effect, flushing them down the celestial crapper without ever having given them a chance?

Or did God know, in his infinite wisdom, the choice that person would have made if the choice between acceptance and rejection were offered, and either admitted them to heaven or banished them to hell accordingly? But if that were the case, and it will all sort itself out in the end anyway, why again with the missionaries, and in fact what's up then with the whole church and religion thing? Seems kind of pointless from that perspective.

At that point I was usually told to shut up and not worry about these things, but the issue was never really resolved for me. And although I never thought much more about it after that, I never much relied on "heaven or hell" dogma as a spiritual reference thereafter, either.

The young women at the next table didn't get it figured out either, but by that point I had finished my sandwich and left.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

But meanwhile, what about Bill Richardson?

Based on the lack of media coverage, you would hardly even know Bill was running for President. While Clinton, Obama and Edwards were getting all the media attention, Richardson spoke at the Democratic National Committee's winter meeting in Washington last Saturday morning, and several standing ovations later, the crowd walked away dazzled.

Richardson drew enthusiastic applause for his calls to exit Iraq, to boost public school teacher pay and to use tax cuts to reward companies that create jobs, not to reward the wealthy. "The Congress passed a resolution authorizing war," said Richardson. "They need to pass another that overturns that authorization and bring our troops home by the end of this year."

Richardson leaned heavily on his own résumé during his speech, and especially touted his experience as a former ambassador and diplomatic troubleshooter. Over the years, he has negotiated the release of U.S. hostages and prisoners in North Korea, Iraq and Sudan. "I know the usual rap on governors — that we don't know anything about foreign affairs," Richardson quipped. "Well, maybe you can say that about governors from Texas, but not this governor."

Richardson brought the audience to its feet when he told them New Mexico has a new hate crimes law. He was the first candidate during the conference to mention hate crimes as a key issue. "In New Mexico, our fight for equality extends to sexual orientation," Richardson said. "We've extended civil rights protections to include sexual orientation and we're providing state health insurance for domestic partnerships."

After his speech, dozens thronged around Richardson seeking photos, autographs, hugs and handshakes. It took him and his aides 20 minutes to travel about 150 feet from the Washington Hilton's banquet hall to a bank of elevators across the lobby as they departed. By comparison, Joe Biden, who spoke immediately before Richardson, and Wesley Clark, who spoke on Friday, drew only a handful of well-wishers and reporters as they left the hall after their pitches to the top tier of Democratic activists. But the audience had leaped to its feet numerous times during Richardson's talk, which meant he managed to impress the savvy political crowd that might have been ambivalent about the governor before Saturday morning.

Richardson — a former congressman, United Nations ambassador and U.S. energy secretary — said Saturday's speech gave him a crucial, early chance to elevate his profile among the grass-roots activists who comprise the DNC. Many are the same delegates who will ultimately decide the party's nomination in August 2008.

"I just tried to get myself introduced," Richardson said afterward. "I know I'm low in the polls, but I just started. We're getting a lot of volunteers. I'm fine. I'm exactly where I want to be."

Clinton (don't like her), Obama (don't know him) and Edwards (too insubstantial)spoke Friday and drew perhaps double the audience that Richardson (vote for him), Biden (too old) and Vilsack (funny name) did on Saturday. Howard Dean said the speaking order for the meeting was chosen by a drawing, but come on, who really believes that?

And for that matter, who really believes me? Why should you believe me? Perhaps all of this is just Internet hyperbole, blogospheric hype. Well, don't take my word for it, you can check out the video of his speech right here and see for yourself.

Richardson is scheduled to be the featured speaker at the Concord City Democrats "3rd Annual DemSocial" on Saturday, February 17 at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers' (IBEW) Hall in Concord, New Hampshire. If you're in the area, go listen to him. Because after the voters get to know him and he starts rocking the early primaries, the press won't be able to keep him a secret for much longer.

Monday, February 05, 2007

An Announcement

"The Dalai Lama has been named a presidential distinguished professor at Emory University in Atlanta. It is the first time he has accepted a university appointment. He will deliver his inaugural lecture during an Oct. 20-22 visit where he will participate in a conference on science and spirituality, and an interfaith session on religion as a source of conflict and a resource for peace building.

"'I look forward to offering my services to the Emory students and community. I firmly believe that education is an indispensable tool for the flourishing of human well-being and the creation of a just and peaceful society, and I am delighted to make a small contribution in this regard through this appointment,'" the Dalai Lama said in a statement.

"A Nobel Peace Laureate and leader of the Tibetan exile community, the Dalai Lama will continue to provide private teaching sessions with students and faculty during Emory's study-abroad program in Dharamsala, as well as provide opportunities for university community members to attend his annual teachings. He also visit Emory to participate in programs. Emory will establish a fellowship in the Dalai Lama's name to fund annual scholarships for Tibetan students attending Emory undergraduate and graduate schools.

"The Dalai Lama also is scheduled to make public remarks Oct. 22 at Centennial Olympic Park."


Given that the Dalai Lama has accepted a University post here in Atlanta and that Rep. Hank Johnson, a practicing Buddhist, is from Georgia's 4th Congressional District, it kind of makes you re-think your old stereotypes of Bible-Belt Georgia, doesn't it?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

(Associated Press) - Arizona Sen. John McCain, a 2008 presidential candidate, contended the bipartisan nonbinding resolution amounted to a demoralizing "vote of no confidence" in the U.S. military because it criticized Bush's plans to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq without offering concrete alternatives.

"I don't think it's appropriate to say that you disapprove of a mission and you don't want to fund it and you don't want it to go, but yet you don't take the action necessary to prevent it," McCain said. "In other words, this is a vote of no confidence in both the mission and the troops who are going over there," he said, noting the proposal does not seek to cut off money for troops.

"I do believe that if you really believe that this is doomed to failure and is going to cost American lives, then you should do what's necessary to prevent it from happening rather than a vote of "disapproval," which is fundamentally a vote of no confidence in the troops and their mission," McCain said.


I agree with the Senator to the extent that a non-binding resolution expressing "disapproval" does not go nearly far enough. A far better measure has been proposed by Christopher Dodd (D - Connecticut) and Russell Feingold (D - Wisconsin), who want to see binding legislation to cap troop levels and force a new vote to authorize the war or to begin bringing troops home.

As for alternative courses, they were spelled out quite clearly by the bi-partisan Iraq Study Group, a commission put together by the President himself, who then proceeded to ignore their very recommendations for a greater diplomatic mission, something at which this president has never been very good, and a phased troop withdrawal. Instead, Mr. Bush has largely abandoned the diplomatic route and has called for an escalation of troops, not a withdrawal.

If the president and the Republicans are embarrassed by Monday's vote on the non-binding resolution and consider it a vote of no confidence, they have only themselves to blame for ignoring the very solutions that they themselves had commissioned.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

"Quite simply, I am a forty-five-year-old Muscovite who observed the Soviet Union at its most disgraceful in the nineteen-seventies and eighties. . . . Putin has, by chance, gotten his hands on enormous power and has used it to catastrophic effect. I dislike him because he does not like people. He despises us. He sees us as a means to his ends, a means for the achievement and retention of personal power, no more than that. Accordingly, he believes he can do anything he likes with us, play with us as he sees fit, destroy us as he sees fit. We are nobody, while he whom chance has enabled to clamber to the top of the pile is today Tsar and God. In Russia, we have had leaders with this outlook before. It led to tragedy, to bloodshed on a vast scale, to civil wars.”

- Journalist Anna Politkovskaya. On october 7, 2006, Ms. Politkovskaya was murdered in her own apartment building by four 9 mm shots, the first two bullets piercing her heart and lungs, the third shattering her shoulder, and the fourth and final shot point blank into her head.



This blog is not about the criticism of other sovereign nations, especially when there are such profound problems right here in the United States. However, I was moved by the frank candor of Politkovskaya's words and I was shocked by the brutality of her death.

I was also struck by the similarity of her description of Putin to a certain other world leader. I dislike George W. Bush because he also has gotten his hands on enormous power by chance, and has abused that power to catastrophic effect for this nation and the world. I dislike him because he does not like people. He despises us and sees no problem with torture, suspension of the Geneva Convention, and "extraordinary rendition." He sees people as a means to his ends, a means for the achievement and retention of personal power, no more than that. Accordingly, he believes he can do anything he likes with us, play with us as he sees fit, destroy us as he sees fit. We are nobody, while he whom chance has enabled to clamber to the top of the pile believes himself to be an "imperial" president above the law, and the conduit of God's will.