Friday, October 31, 2008

More Saxby

According to the Politico, Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss has been trying to boost voter turnout in his predominately white base by claiming, "The other folks are voting."

Just in case anyone was confused about who those "other folks" are, Chambliss told the New York Times, "There has always been a rush to the polls by African-Americans early." He predicted that the crowds of early voters would motivate Republicans to turn out. "It has also got our side energized, they see what is happening," he said.

Former Sen. Max Cleland, who was beaten by Chambliss in 2002, expressed concern in an interview with the Huffington Post about a "white backlash" to Barack Obama in the South. But he also cited the "historic numbers in terms of registration, African-Americans and young people" that is changing the region's political landscape in "fundamental" ways.

Memo to Sen. Chambliss: karma can be a real bitch.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


From my email this morning: "Crispus Attucks fell so that Rosa Parks could sit, Rosa Parks sat so that Dr. Martin Luther King could march, Dr. Martin Luther King marched so that Barack Obama could run, and Barack Obama is running so that our children and grandchildren can fly."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Toxic Times

John McCain called his tactics "worse than disgraceful, it's reprehensible." Republican Chuck Hagel characterized them as "beyond offensive to me."

Who were they talking about? Osama bin Laden? Bill Ayers? Barack Obama? No, they were referring to Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss. Chambliss ran for the Senate in 2002 against incumbent Democrat Max Cleland, and his campaign featured television ads that paired images of Cleland with those of bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, and questioned Cleland's commitment to national security. Cleland, a triple amputee and decorated Vietnam veteran, had opposed the passage of the homeland security bill because of a provision that would have allowed labor unions to organize the Department of Homeland Security.

Chambliss won the election 53 to 46%.

During a November 19, 2001 meeting with emergency responders in Valdosta, Georgia, Chambliss said that they should "turn the sheriff loose and arrest every Muslim that crosses the state line." In 2006, Chambliss was among several congressmen who had to return monetary gifts to convicted fraudster Jack Abramoff.

Now Chambliss is running for re-election in a tough race against Democratic challenger Jim Martin. Poll numbers show him with a lead, but his numbers are slipping (as are McCain's in this once heavily Republican state).

But the reason I'm posting is to call your attention to an excellent essay by Max Cleland over on the Huffington Post. It's written with character, dignity, and grace - traits his former opponent never showed.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Obama Leads In Georgia?

Well, no sooner do I post that Obama is closing the gap in Georgia then Atlanta-based InsiderAdvantage releases a poll showing Obama actually leading McCain 48 percent to 47. Granted, Obama could still actually be trailing, given the 3.8 % margin of error, but it's the first poll of the campaign to show McCain behind in a state that Bush won in 2004 with 58 percent of the vote.
Two other polls show McCain still ahead, although both also show his lead shrinking.
As if in response, Atlanta-area Gwinnett County has announced that 10,000 absentee ballots are "flawed" due to a printing error and will have to be hand-copied by election officials. Optical scanning machines won’t be able to read the votes on Election Day due to a printing error and the votes will have to be transfered onto new ballots so the machines can read them.
Election workers will take the bad ballots, take a look at what each choice is, and then mark that choice on a second ballot. From 200 to 300 election workers will be dedicated to this process, and there will be two sets of eyes on each ballot. The election workers will be sequestered and they won't be able to leave or have contact with other people during the process - no phones, no recording equipment, and no access to the media. Sheriff’s deputies will be assigned to maintain the integrity of the votes, along with auditors from both parties.
Still, it makes you worry about the ability of unscrupulous parties to try to rig the results to their liking.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Georgia Votes

According to a new Democracy Corps poll conducted on October 16-19 among 600 likely voters in Georgia, Barack Obama trails John McCain in this state by just two points (44 to 46%). Over in the Senate race, incumbent Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss holds a four point edge over Democratic challenger Jim Martin (48% to 44%). And Democratic Congressman and civil rights hero John Lewis is once again running unopposed.

Over at The Atlantic magazine, Marc Ambinder notes that the early voting numbers look very promising for Democrats. So far, African Americans have made up 36% of the early vote turnout in Georgia and may make up 35-36% of the total electorate, 5 points more than their proportion in the census (29%). In 2004, black voters made up only about 25% of total turnout.

This doesn't mean that Obama's going to win Georgia, it just means that he'll do a lot better here than John Kerry did. George Bush carried this state by 17 points in 2004, and in the last six years, Republicans have replaced Democrats in both Senate seats, and won the governor’s office for the first time since Reconstruction. Yet despite McCain’s popularity in Georgia (54 % favorable – 30 % not so much), he leads Obama by just two points. Despite Martin’s lack of name recognition (55 %), he trails Chambliss by only 4.

The survey results show that the Republican brand is tarnished in this once reddest of red states, and a national wave threatens to carry it over to Democratic shores. Obama and Martin still trail and must make gains to win here, but the fact that Georgia is even close speaks to the powerful political currents across the country.

I'm more excited than ever now that as fate would have it, I'm voting in Georgia now, where my vote might possibly make a real difference, rather than in Oregon, which would probably go Democratic with or without me.

Change apparently is coming. Last night, I attended the first session of a new Zen sitting group in Kennesaw, Georgia. Kennesaw is in Cobb County, the very bastion of the Atlanta-area Republican party. Cobb County was famous for passing some sort of anti-gay resolution just before the 1996 Olympics, and as a result, the Organizing Committee boycotted the County and no Olympic events were held there. Kennesaw had its own notoriety for passing a law that required every homeowner in the town to also own a gun, and threatened to prosecute anyone who didn't have a firearm. And yet, eight people showed up to participate in the meditation service, held right in downtown Kennesaw, virtually next door to the Civil War Museum. It was a beautiful and remarkably profound session.

On another note, I was deeply saddened to learn that my brother-in-law, my sister's husband, was recently hospitalized. No one's quite sure yet what the problem is, and diagnostic tests are proceeding as I write. Only time and prognoses will tell how he will fare. I'm sending him my best wishes for a speedy recovery.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Upon achieving enlightenment, Zen Master Ikkyu wrote the following verse:

For ten years my mind was cluttered with passion and anger.
Even at this moment, I still possess rage and violent emotions.
Yet in the instant that crow laughed, a rakan rose up out of ordinary dust.
In this morning's sunshine, an illumined face sings.

I'll save you the Google search and tell you that a "rakan" is one who has realized nirvana - the Japanese term for the Sanskrit "arhat." He is speaking of himself - in the third person, detached from the ego.

I'm reassured to hear that Ikkyu still possessed rage and violent emotions after his enlightenment, since it's consistent with my understanding of enlightenment - his world was still the same, even he himself was still the same, but he had a new way of seeing this sameness. I'm also reassured because I too feel passion and anger, and as I look into myself I see that these strong emotions are deeply rooted in myself.

These passions have kept me from posting more frequently in this blog as of late. What's the point of writing about my own little problems when it seems the world is on fire with crises and conflict? When our own country is practicing unspeakable acts of extraordinary rendition, waterboarding, suspension of habeus corpus, and unwarranted wiretapping, and Republican candidates are out stating that those who disagree with these tactics are somehow "Un-American"? I try to write about other things, but my conscience screams that other things are more important.

It seems that there are daily outrages to rail against, and yet I had always envisioned Water Dissolves Water to be a calm oasis of wisdom in these troubled times. Is there wisdom in further inflaming these controversies with more rhetoric?

At least Ikkyu would have understood. As, it seems, Rimbaud would have, too.

Arthur Rimbaud, writing his greatest poetry while still an adolescent, was a witness to his own creation of his self, writing, at age 16, "I am present at the explosion of my thought. I watch and I listen to it. I wave the baton; the symphony murmurs from its depths or comes leaping onto the stage.” In a poem, only his second, written at the age of 15, he said,

On a blue summer evening I shall go down the path,
And, brushed by wheat, walk on the fine grass.
Dreaming along, I’ll feel the coolness under my feet
And bathe my bare head in the poetic wind.

I won’t speak, I will not even think,
But infinite love will geyser up in my soul,
And I’ll go far, far away, like a Gypsy
Into the wilds – as happy as if I were with a woman.

Not speaking, not thinking, just experiencing the infinite compassion that wells up from the true, unconditioned "self." And directly observing how we create the self, even as our own creation in turn directs us. Rimbaud famously proclaimed "I am someone else." The former punk-rock musician Richard Hell understood Rimbaud, writing recently in the New York Times Review of Books (and what a long distance he's come, based on that statement alone), "One witnesses one’s invention by life, while one plays oneself like a symphonic conductor, in the meantime dreaming a million dreams . . . The statement of it is thrilling, is uncanny, and it’s words. This is what Rimbaud gives us. There is no limit to his reach, and it doesn’t exceed his grasp.”

Ikkyu would have had a deep distrust for words, while Rimbaud revelled in words and language - at least until he abandoned poetry (at age 20!). But the two were not actually that far apart - for Rimbaud, words and language were the fabric of his reality, while Ikkyu saw that words and language were the fabric of the delusion that passes for reality. Perhaps Rimbaud understood this when he rejected poetry for a more "practical" life as a merchant and adventurer. Experience in place of symbols for the experience.

Perhaps Ikkyu understood that the rage and violent emotions rooted in his personality and behavior were his own creation, even as he moved beyond delusion and into enlightenment. But since it was "he" that had moved beyond delusion and into enlightenment, his rage and violent emotions came along with him.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

San Francisco Chicago Atlanta

"Starting in the mid-50s and continuing into the 1960s, a series of events and trends turned San Francisco into a hothouse for new varieties and strains of American Buddhism. As unlikely as it sounds, it started at a cluttered little independent bookshop that itself seems like a throwback to another era."

So writes the New York Times in a travel piece about San Francisco. Interestingly, the article digresses into an informative and fairly accurate history of the beginnings of Zen in America, as I understand it.

"At the busy intersection of Columbus Avenue and Broadway," the Times continues, "which separates Chinatown from the bohemian-style cafes, neon-lit Italian restaurants and the block-long red-light district of North Beach, the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti helped found the City Lights Bookstore in 1953 as the first all-paperbound bookshop in the country. Across from where entertainers like Lenny Bruce worked out new material at the Hungry i (now a topless club) and the Purple Onion (still showcasing comedy), Mr. Ferlinghetti published Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems in 1956. City Lights became an unofficial headquarters of the Beat literary movement, the hangout of Mr. Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen and many other authors who were reading, practicing and writing about Buddhism."

In 1959, Shunryu Suzuki, a Buddhist priest, came to the San Francisco Zen Buddhist Temple from Japan to teach Zen to ethnic Japanese, mostly from the city’s Western Addition and Japantown. I took the photograph of calligraphy in Japantown above during a visit there in 2005. Suzuki later went on to write the English-language book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, in my opinion one of the greatest modern texts on the Zen experience. Much of Zen Mind consists of transcripts of his public lectures to Westerners curious about Zen. in fact, so many Westerners were attending those talks that three years later he established a separate center on Page Street, the San Francisco Zen Center. I had the opportunity to attend a service at the zendo, now called the City Center, during that same 2005 visit.

“It was a time of great foment, when there was enormous interest in one’s inner life,” recalled Yvonne Rand, the resident teacher at Goat-in-the-Road, a Zen center in Mendocino County, who first attended Suzuki-roshi’s meditation classes in 1966 and quickly became his secretary. “Roshi attracted people in the arts, civil-rights activists, and other agents of social change and consciousness — all hanging around the Bay Area.”

The teacher’s enthusiasm for integrating Zen practice into everyday life spawned several offshoots: Greens, a gourmet vegetarian restaurant at Fort Mason overlooking the bay; Tassajara Bakery, several blocks from Haight Street; the Zen Hospice Project, which has become a national model; and three other Bay Area meditation centers, including Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, a three-hour drive south of San Francisco near Carmel Valley, which opened in 1966 as America’s first Zen monastery.

Not to take anything away from Suzuki's contributions to Zen in America, it should be noted that he was not the first or the only Japanese teacher to bring Zen to this other shore. In 1939, Soyu Matsuoka-roshi traveled to the United States as one of the very first Zen priests to reside in North America just prior to World War II and became an assistant minister at the Los Angeles Zen Buddhist Temple and later at the San Francisco Zen Buddhist Temple, where Suzuki later lectured.

Matsuoka-roshi later attended Columbia University where he undertook further graduate study under Dr. Daisetsu (D.T.) Suzuki (not to be confused with Shunryu Suzuki). Immediately following these studies, he moved to Chicago, where he founded the Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago. In addition to teaching zazen, Matsuoka-roshi lectured extensively at high schools and colleges, addressing Zen practice as well as the social issues of the 1960s. In 1971, he established the Long Beach Zen Buddhist Temple. Matsuoka-roshi died in November 1997.

One of his disciples from the Chicago era, Taiun Michael Elliston, founded the Atlanta Soto Zen Center in the mid-1970s to carry on Matsuoka's teaching. I am now a student of the buddha-dharma at Elliston-roshi's Atlanta center.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

A Calmer Rant

Part of the problem with posting a rant like last week's on the gas shortage is that if you don't follow up quickly, the words just hang out there in cyberspace until something new is posted. Life goes on and I've been going with it, and haven't been preoccupied or even particularly inconvenienced by the shortage.

The gas shortage and the associated lines have eased up as the week progressed. By Tuesday, several stations were still closed, but those open no longer had long lines, although they were certainly busy. By Thursday, one could actually see avaialable pumps that didn't have plastic bags over them. No one's really much talking about it anymore.

The reason for the shortages here in the South has officially been given as the failure of the Gulf Coast refineries to recover from hurricanes Gustav and Ike - a disruption in the supply line. Unlike other parts of the country, Georgia gets all of its gasoline from refineries on the coast. However, Georgia's Republican Governor has requested that the President, that reclusive fellow holed up in the White House, release some petroleum from the National Reserve to help the shortage. Hwoever, since the petroleum in the reserve is unrefined crude, it would take several months for operable refineries to process it and to see the product at the pump - long after the effects of the shutdown have passed. Thanks, Guv.

But Purdue must be sad, because a wingnut group that sued to challenge Hartsfield Airport's ban on handguns, despite the Governor's recently sponsored law allowing concealed handguns on public transportation, got shot down in Federal court. No pun intended. U.S. District Court Marvin Shoob said, in effect, "Are you frigging kidding me? Guns at the airport? No way!" A short sigh of sanity in a topsy-turvy political season.

Meanwhile, I've been subjected to daily tirades at the office about how Obama's going to tax us all into indentured servitude, how the whole country's going to be ruled by a Soviet-style politoboro, and the particularly offensive idea that the whole subprime mortgage mess is all somehow the fault of previous Democrateic Presidents (Carter and Clinton) who pushed so-called "equal opportunity" in lending and housing. Logic and informed comment don't alleviate their anxieties or quiet their arguments, but if I calmly hold my ground and remind them of the facts, they eventually walk away, muttering things about Bill Ayers and crypto-Islamic fanaticism under their breath.

For the next two days, I will be attending a conference of retail developers in the hope of scaring up some brownfield redevelopment work. At last year's conference, I heard a panel conclude that if Hillary Clinton got elected President, which seemed quite plausible at this time last year, there would be no available capitol for investment, and all bets for the retail development industry would be off. Well, heh, heh, there were half right - I wonder how those loans from Lehman Brothers and Merrill are flowing?

I can't wait to learn how this is the fault of the Democrats.