Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Baba Who?

Five Fingers Not the Same
Baba Who?
Baba Mucktananda

  I woke up in a tangle of wet bed sheets with the afternoon sun shining on my face and the telephone ringing.  My head was in a fog and I found myself too weak to get out of bed to answer the phone.  I grabbed the cord, dragged the phone, crashing off the shelf, toward the bed and answered.
  “Where are you? We were worried when you didn’t come to work this morning or call...what’s up?”  I gathered my thoughts, explained I was sick and would call back...I hung up and tried to figure out where Saturday and Sunday went.
  I began to remember waking up sweating, waking up into bizarre dreams, dreaming, calling out, trying to get up, wandering around my small apartment, lost. I began to realize that I had been in a fevered delirium for almost two days.  When I got the yellow fever shot they had mentioned that I might experience a mild fever, what they didn’t tell me is that I also might get a very realistic sample of what getting yellow fever would be like....minus the dying.
Ram Dass aka Dr. Richard Alpert
  As I showered and came back into reality one thing became clear...I definitely was going to India...this was real and now I better figure out when, how and why.  Around the same time a name started coming to mind, Mucktananda.  I wasn’t sure what it meant, or where I had heard the name, but I began feeling that it was somehow connected to the insistent voice I heard saying “come here” a few weeks earlier.  I began going through books where I might have seen the name and finally found it in a book by Ram Dass.  Ram Dass began his life as Richard Alpert...later Dr. Richard Alpert, a psychology professor at Harvard where he did LSD experiments with Timothy Leary, went to India to try to figure out what it all meant, found his guru and became Ram Dass a spiritual teacher and author. In one of his books he mentions another guru who he visited on one of his later journeys to India...Baba Mucktananda. Baba who? I knew that he was a guru, a teacher, and that Ram Dass had some amazing experiences with him... and that’s all I knew about him. I didn’t know if he had a western following, if I could find him or if I’d be welcomed if I did.  I did know that eventually that’s exactly where my journey would take me.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Five Fingers Not the Same...a journey begins

A journey begins…

“Come here.”  a voice said from…behind me?  I stopped my razor mid-stroke and looked in the mirror, away from my lathered face, and over my shoulder to see who might have been the voice of that rather insistent command.  No one there.  Not that I really expected to see someone else in my small apartment bathroom with me…I knew I was alone.  But if I was alone then that meant I was hearing voices and I wasn’t ready to go down that path of thought.  I resumed shaving.
“Come here!”  This time more insistent.  I looked around again, now worried that if I’m truly hearing voices it was time to check into the nearest psych ward for evaluation.  As I sat on the bathtub edge to collect my thoughts I heard the command for a third time…”Come here”, this time with a clear image accompanying the voice.

I’m a young boy in my parents’s garage,  hammering nails into a board…bending most of them and occasionally making my thumb the unintended target of my clumsy hammering.  After a while I hear my father’s voice saying “Come here”…not angry, not judgmental, just… “Come here and let me show you how to do that right.”
Over the next few days I kept replaying the voice and image in my head.  The voice didn’t return, but the image wouldn’t quite go away.  As I worked to complete the research project I was writing for the Missouri Epilepsy Federation I was often distracted by the meaning of the words and image.  The publication was now in its final stages of editing and I would soon be once again unemployed and looking for my next project.   
When I arrived late for work the next Monday one of my friends in the office inquired as to why and I replied that I had just been to the health department for a cholera shot.  She looked confused and asked if I was expecting an epidemic in St. Louis.  “No, I think I’m going to India” was my reply.  Now, as of a week ago I had no thought of traveling or especially making a journey as exotic and far away as India.  I had neither the finances nor inclination to attempt such an adventure.  Yet over the last few days I had begun making lists…cholera, yellow fever, and other vaccinations I needed, passport, and travel guides.  Almost without thinking I began checking items off a list for a trip I wasn’t sure why I was attempting or really even knowing if I was actually going to follow through with.  I was on automatic pilot…on a ship someone else was clearly piloting!

Note: You have to begin somewhere.  I've been wanting to write about my journey overland to India for many years...so, at my 21 year old son's insistence here's the beginning...the first steps...just as I had to take to begin what was an amazing journey of discovery...discovery of an incredible world beyond the one I had grown up in...and of an equally incredible world within.  So, if you're reading any of my blog posts you will, on occasion, find random postings about this journey.  They will not in sequence...they will not be a travelogue...just thoughts and stories as they arise.  Some of them my children have grown up with...told as others tell fairy tales...some may be just recently remembered.  Once during my travels I was asked why I was traveling and I remember replying..."I'm collecting stories"...so here they finally are.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Saddle up the Dinosaur Pa!

“Saddle up the Dinosaur Pa!...

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life,
nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'
Isaac Asimov

If it had snowed this year, this is how it would have looked down here in our valley

From where we sit here in our little Kentucky valley it’s just a short hop as ‘the crow flies’ from here to a special spot where visitors can leave the real world behind and be comforted in a place where science, and all it's inconvenient truths, hold no sway...the Creation Museum.  Now, this "museum" is quite a phenomena that has drawn over one million faithful from all over the world to view a strict biblical interpretation of the creation of the universe, complete with saddled dinosaurs (before “the fall” we all lived in harmony), a replica of Noah’s Ark (with dinosaurs on board...they REALLY like dinosaurs!), a movie on how the Grand Canyon was formed during the Great Flood, and other flights of literal fancy.  I should explain the part about the dinosaurs.  Since this account of creation rests on the ‘fact’ that the earth is only 6,000 years old there just isn’t enough geologic time to fit them in other than to say we all existed at the same time...all created in those first six glorious days.  After all that I’d have to rest on the seventh day too!  In fact, I don’t doubt that God created the Caribbean just so he could take a long cruise and sip mimosas on spanking new beaches to relax after such a big, and relatively successful, venture.  

This, by the way, is no church ladies’ Sunday school project , but rather a multi-million dollar enterprise complete with animatronic dinos designed by Patrick Marsh, who designed the "Jaws" and "King Kong" attractions at Universal Studios in Florida.  Did I mention that it costs 20 plus bucks to get in? Gods word doesn’t come cheap!

Creation Museum diorama ... young girl with her pet Velociraptor 

You can find much more information on the Creation Museum on line, but what I find so interesting is the amount of coverage this private enterprise gets in our local newspaper.  There have been a number of full page stories with numerous photos, endless editorials and articles. As a former restauranteur I know how much this free pr is worth! A single column of editorial space is worth ten times the same space of paid advertising...and did I mention it’s FREE!

So, of course, I felt compelled to write a letter to the editor, and since they declined to publish it I’m sharing it with you here:
I hope that when I get my funding together and open my Humpty Dumpty Museum that the Kentucky Enquirer (any relation to the‘National Enquirer’ ) will give me continuous coverage and thousands of dollars of free PR also.  It is my sincere belief that Humpty Dumpty really did fall off the wall and since I firmly believe it it must be true!  I will teach children that although the liberal media, and misguided teachers, have been telling them that Humpty Dumpty, Little Red Riding Hood, et al were merely fairy tales they were being mislead. My museum (note to editor...see, I call it a "MUSEUM") will teach them the true history of these much maligned historical figures.  Then, when they go to school they will be able to challenge their teachers and other students with the actual facts that Humpty really fell and sadly could not be put back together again.
If freedom of speech means anyone can cloak any idea in pseudo science and give those ideas legitimacy by calling it a “museum” then I should be good to go!   If the creators of the Creation Museum had just called it the Creation Church there wouldn’t be so much protest or concern for the wellbeing and education of our children.  By the way, why did Ken Ham have to go so far from home to open his museum, why is it here in Kentucky and not in Australia?  Could it be another case of “not in my backyard” syndrome or perhaps Australians are just less gullible?  How sad and humiliating that it ended up in our backyard.

Note: The creators of the Creation Museum have found they have such a gold mine on their hands that they are now proposing an "Ark Experience" theme park with a full scale replica of Noah's ark and of course...more dinosaurs.  Not only is this fundamentalist themed park already getting incredible free newspaper space years before it's completion, but the Governor of our fine state is offering significant tax benefits for this clearly religiously themed private venture. If you're thinking of applying for a job there however, but are not willing to sign a pledge that you believe in all the principles espoused in either the "museum" or theme park, you need not apply. Here's what it says on their own website: "All job applicants for the non-profit ministry of AiG/Creation Museum need to supply a written statement of their testimony, a statement of what they believe regarding creation and a statement that they have read and can support the AiG statement of faith."
How does that fit in with using public money for tax benefits?  Not only haven't they ever heard about science, but they also seem unaware of equal employment opportunities.  You can't even be a construction worker or plumber there without a signed statement of faith (meaning THEIR faith).

One final note: When substitute teaching a 4th grade class not too long back, the teacher had left some slides for me to show and discuss.  One was of a lake created by a meteor impact and the caption said it was formed “over 4 million years ago”.  Immediately four hands went up and each child explained to me that “that isn’t possible...the earth is only 6,000 years old”.  They said the scientists at the Creation Museum told them so and therefore they know it’s true.

Final, final note: A young friend of our daughter also reminded me that the earth was only 6,000 years old (her family had recently been to....well, you know) after hearing us discuss a 12,000 year old Native American artifact that we had recently seen at the Big Bone Lick Park Museum, also nearby.  Isn’t it interesting that Big Bone Lick State Park, so named for the mammoth bones found there and noted as the “birthplace of modern day paleontology”, and the Creation Museum co-exist in this part of Kentucky. Anyway, she explained to us that the artifacts couldn’t possibly be 12,000 years old as the earth is only 6,000 years old.  I mentioned that the dating is done by scientists using modern carbon dating techniques and how can she account for the discrepancy? She then said “my parents explained that to me...scientists need to make a living too so sometimes they just make things up!”  
And so there you have it!
At least that’s the view from my valley.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ishmael, Isaac and Karl Rove

Ishmael, Isaac and Karl Rove
Our Kentucky Valley

Family feuds have a way of getting out of hand.  We’ve had one in our family that began over 70 years ago and has already continued a dozen years after the death of one of the two participants, and it shows signs of being passed to the next generation.  My wife claims to be kin to the Hatfields, of the Hatfields and McCoys, and we all know the stories of their family feud over a pig and a forbidden romance (but not with the pig) that went on for so many generations that they long ago forgot what they were fighting about, but that didn’t stop them from shooting at each other. Feuding families is an age old theme that has driven our history on this planet...whether between neighbors, brothers or distant relatives.
“Cuz-een!” I often heard it shouted as I entered the temporary, blue tin building that served as the University of Missouri in St. Louis’ cafeteria back in the late 60s. 
“Cuz-een! Come, sit!” and so would begin an afternoon of heated political discussion with my friend, an exchange student from Jordan. I was politically active in the anti-war, women’s lib and civil rights movements of the time and he wanted to talk both American and Middle East politics. But I never gave much thought to his greeting...”Cuz-een!”. I assumed, as he knew I was Jewish, he was referring to us both being semitic people, people of the desert...I didn’t know. I didn’t feel very related to the Sinai desert, being that my mother was born in Russia as were my father’s parents.

Then it came back to me over a decade later.  I was crossing Iran...conveniently just in the middle of a revolution, December 1978...over land, in a van, on my long journey across Europe and Asia to India. We drove past toppled statues of the Shah, still smoking buildings and for a while just behind an open jeep with a machine gun mounted on the rear facing directly at us!  Our license plates had already been changed, we asked the two women with us to be as inconspicuous as possible and covered the side windows with blankets...and then, just as we entered a small village, the van broke down!
Shepard, Central Iran, 1978

Our driver said to go explore the village if we wanted as he hunted and negotiated for parts to make the repairs.  He then warned, “If you’re American say anything else, maybe Canadian and for G*d sake, if you’re Jewish do NOT mention it!” During my explorations I met a group of young men who were curious and wanted to speak English with me.  First question, “Are you German?”, to which I replied, “No, American”...and then “Muslim?” to which I, of course, said....”No, Jewish!”  I was then grabbed in a huge bear hug with the exclamation .... “Cuz-een!”  We spent the day eating pomegranates and peanuts while walking back village paths, laughing and talking.  They thought it was hilarious when I rode their donkey in the cotton field while they prodded the poor beast from behind.  As evening came they said “You must leave before night, we fight the troops tonight and you get killed” and then they gave me a photograph of Khomeini and wrote on the back “Khomeini good, CIA Israel bad”...a nice souvenir!   With the van repaired we drove a few miles away from the village and spent the night in the van waiting for morning and our drive to the border.

Galikesh, Iran 1978

But, there it was again....”Cuz-een”, cousin. It wasn’t until later during my journey, while praying in a mosque in Pakistan and talking with some of the young men there I began to understand. We are literally cousins, Abraham is grandfather to us both and they remember, we’ve forgotten. We may know the stories from Sunday school, but we don’t really remember, it’s not real to us, it reaches far too far back into history.  But this isn’t ancient history to our Muslim cousins, it’s as current and as real as your cousin 
Lenny.  Here’s the problem: we (Jews, and Christians since they come from our same lineage) trace our history to Grandpa Abe and his wife Sarah; while our Muslim cousins trace their’s to Sarah’s Egyptian handmaiden, Hagar. As it appeared that Sarah wasn’t going to bear a child for Abe she encouraged his liaison with Hagar who bore his first son, Ishmael, who became father to the Islamic people.  As the first born, our cousins claim, Ishmael received Abraham’s birthright to the land of Israel.  Meanwhile, us Jews claim that Hagar and Ishmael were sent away after Sarah gave birth to Isaac (at the young age of 90! Mozel tov!  But then again, Abe was 100, you go Abe!) and that the birthright was given to Isaac and his descendants, the Jews. 
My friend Steve...and we've remained friends all these
years since that amazing journey!
My Jordanian friend and my friends in Iran remember that we are cousins! They were also reminding me of a 4,000 year old family feud and that this feud was still very real to them. They were reminding me of our shared history and our family conflict. This family feud continues to this day and shows no sign of abating....the shooting goes on.
So, by now you’re thinking, Karl Rove? I was wondering how I was going to squeeze him in here too.  Well, Karl and his friend Dick know a thing or two about family feuds...about pigs and birthrights and battles that stretch into distant memory. The flames of distrust, old resentments, and hatreds can be rekindled and used for political gain. They are powerful tools if manipulated just right, as we’ve seen in the Middle East.
Many years ago, when Rove and Cheney were young bucks, just starting off their careers as Young Republicans, they began thinking how they could help realize the GOP’s goals of a reduced Federal government. One strategy they devised all those years ago was to manipulate the country into bankruptcy, thereby forcing the closure of whole departments, the firing of thousands of government employees and creating a default of the government of the United States of America.  To do this they needed the power to create a situation that would empty the treasury’s coffers and motivate a large enough portion of the population to allow them to carry out their plans.
George Bush conveniently provided them with an easily manipulated President, allowing them to start two wars while at the same time reducing taxes on the wealthy, a sure fire way to bankrupt a country.  But, to get Bush into office they needed to fuel old hatreds...they needed a good old family feud! They knew that old North-South animosities still brewed just below the surface of American culture, remembering a time that split families apart, pit brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor, cousin against cousin.  Even the Hatfield and McCoy feud was fueled in part by Asa Harmon McCoy joining the Union army. Using social issues to thrust a wedge between fellow Americans, (the guns and God south vs the elitist north), changing the narrative of the Civil War to a war over states rights instead of slavery and by demonizing certain groups of Americans (environmentalists, intellectuals, the media, scientists) they were able to spark a new uncivil war which eventually brought us to the brink of default and gave us the Tea Party, stars and bars flags and all.  

My 'kin-in-laws'
And so here we are, with talk about “taking our country back”, political parties that refuse any form of compromise, birthers, Americans unable to have a civil discourse with one another, name calling, calls for second amendment solutions...they rekindled an old family feud and now the (verbal) shooting continues...it feels like the Hatfields and McCoys all over again...and I just feel like calling out...Cousin...come...sit!
PS:  On June 14, 2003, the McCoy cousins partnered with Reo Hatfield of Waynesboro, Va to author an official truce between the families. The idea was symbolic: to show that Americans could bury their differences and unite in times of crisis, most notably following the September 11th attacks.
So...there’s hope.

At least that’s the view from my valley.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Half Truths, Fibs and Outright Lies

Half Truths, Fibs and Outright Lies

 In this season of continuous debates and TV ads a bit of truth is hard to find.  Facts have become pesky little things to be avoided at all costs. Here are a just a few of the most common untruths about Obama’s presidency and the facts behind them. 

(Note: I borrowed heavily (plagiarized) from Andrew Sullivan’s recent article which you can read here:  http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/01/15/andrew-sullivan-how-obama-s-long-game-will-outsmart-his-critics.html )  
Obama is a big government socialist:   
Overall government employment has declined 2.6 percent over the past 3 years. (That compares with a drop of 2.2 percent during the early years of the Reagan administration.) To listen to current Republican rhetoric about Obama’s big-government socialist ways, you would imagine that the reverse was true. It isn’t.
The auto industry ‘bail out’ was a failure:
Since Chrysler and GM emerged from bankruptcy in June of 2009, the auto industry has added back more than 170,000 jobs, the best period of job growth in more than a decade, while at the same time saving hundreds of thousands of jobs. Meanwhile, in May 2011 Chrysler repaid $7.6 billion in loans, with interest, that it received from the American and Canadian governments. General Motors made it’s final payment of $5.8 billion to the U.S. and Canadian governments back in April of 2010, paying off in full, with interest, its $6.7 billion in loans. Did you miss that bit of news on Fox? Does hundreds of thousands of jobs saved and created, loans repaid in full and interest paid sound like a failure?
The stimulus failed because it didn’t bring unemployment down to 8% in its first year:  
The 8 percent prediction was made before Obama took office and was wrong solely because it relied on Bush administration statistics that claimed the economy was only shrinking by around 4 percent, not the 9 percent Obama found when taking office. Adjust for that statistical miscalculation and the stimulus did exactly what it was supposed to do. It put a bottom under the free fall.

Obama has made the recession worse:  
When Obama took office,  around 750,000 jobs a month were being lost, an annualized drop in growth approaching 9 percent. By continuing the bank bailout begun by George W. Bush, initiating a bailout of the auto industry, and passing the stimulus package he managed to halt the job collapse by the beginning of 2010. As a result of decisions made by the Obama administration, the U.S. has added 2.4 million jobs in the last three years, more than the net jobs created under the entire Bush administration. In 2011 alone, 1.9 million private-sector jobs were created.

Obama has raised taxes. 
Plain not true! He has aggressively lowered taxes on most Americans. A third of the stimulus was tax cuts, affecting 95 percent of taxpayers; he has cut the payroll tax, and recently had to fight to keep it cut against Republican opposition.  On the other hand Reagan, the patron saint of conservative politics, raised taxes 11 times and raised the debt ceiling 18 times
Obama is a big time spender:
Under Bush, new policies on taxes and spending cost the taxpayer a total of $5.07 trillion. Under Obama’s budgets both past and projected, he will have added $1.4 trillion in two terms, compared to Bush’s $5.07 trillion. Under Bush and the GOP, non-defense discretionary spending grew by twice as much as under Obama. This makes Obama look like a fiscal conservative.

Obama is an apologist for America and weak on defense:
Obama reversed Bush’s policy of ignoring Osama bin Laden, immediately setting a course that eventually led to his capture and death. When the moment for decision came, the president overruled both his secretary of state and vice president in ordering the riskiest—but most ambitious—plan on the table. He even personally ordered the extra helicopters that saved the mission. In addition he has significantly decimated Al Qaeda’s ranks with targeted drone strikes and other military operations. 
Any politician is fair game during an election, but to continuously provide the American public with such misleading and clearly false information undermines the very basis of our democracy.  Democracy depends on a well informed citizenry, but how can we make informed decisions when we are being fed on a feast of lies. The purpose of a free press was seen by our founders as an assurance that the public would have access to unbiased, well reported information. Yet in this age of partisan networks, corporate funding of campaigns, and chain e-mails truth is becoming harder to find while half truths, fibs and outright lies are becoming the political norm.
At least that is the view from my valley.

Note:  I've decided to add new lies as I read about them:

2/1/12:                 Lie: "Obama's "bailout" of the auto industry was a complete failure."
                            Fact: "Chrysler, propelled by higher sales of Jeeps and other revamped cars and trucks, reported its first annual net income since 1997, capping a pivotal turnaround year that many thought would never come....U.S. auto sales are expected to rise by about a million this year, to near 14 million...Obama cast the deciding vote to save Chrysler and authorized much of the $12.5 billion in government funding that bailed out the company. Of the original bailout to Chrysler and its financial arm, the government said it was repaid all but $1.3 billion....Chrysler's turnaround has helped the U.S. economy. Chrysler now employs 57,200 people, 9,400 more than it did when the company left bankruptcy protection in 2009. On Thursday, Marchionne is expected to announce more than 1,000 new hires at the company's assembly plant in Belvidere, Ill. Chrysler is expected to add a third shift at the plant..."    http://www.usatoday.com/money/autos/story/2012-02-01/chrysler-profit/52911918/1
                        That sounds like a vital American industry saved, tens of thousands of jobs saved and new jobs created and the American people repaid their investment (not 'bail out') with interest.  That does not sound like a failure from where I sit here in my little valley.                    

2/1/12:         Lie:  "Obama's health care plan will raise costs for seniors by causing premiums for Medicare Advantage to rise and enrollment to drop"
                      Fact:  "Premiums for the Medicare program that allows recipients to choose private insurance have dropped an average of 7% while enrollment has grown by 10%....Premiums are down on average, enrollment is up, and thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we have unprecedented new tools to ensure that seniors and people with disabilities are getting the best value out of their coverage."  

1/28/12:         Lie: more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.”  Newt Gingrich
                Fact: "More were added under Bush than under Obama, according to the most recent figures....We asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition service for month-by-month figures going back to January 2001. And they show that under President George W. Bush the number of recipients rose by nearly 14.7 million. Nothing before comes close to that.

And under Obama, the increase so far has been 14.2 million. To be exact, the program has so far grown by 444,574 fewer recipients during Obama’s time in office than during Bush’s.

It’s possible that when the figures for January 2012 are available they will show that the gain under Obama has matched or exceeded the gain under Bush. But not if the short-term trend continues. The number getting food stamps declined by 43,528 in October. And the economy has improved since then.
Gingrich strains the facts when he accuses Obama of being responsible. The rise started long before Obama took office, and accelerated as the nation was plunging into the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.
The economic downturn began in December 2007. In the 12 months before Obama was sworn in, 4.4 million were added to the rolls, triple the 1.4 million added in 2007.
Source: FactCheck.org

1/21/12:    Lie:  President Obama is the worst domestic energy President ever
               Fact:  "There are 1,069 rigs drilling for oil in the U.S. this week. The figure reflects a huge surge in U.S. oil drilling, up nearly 60% in the past year and the highest total since at least 1987....The U.S. pumped 3.9 million barrels a day from onshore fields in March, up 5.9% from a year earlier and the most in nearly a decade.”  Wall Street Journal, Aug 27, 2011
Under the Obama administration, there have been 4,244 permits given out for onshore drilling on federal land in 2011. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

From the Mouth of Babes

From the Mouth of Babes

Don’t ask how a dinner conversation with my 11 and 10 year old turned toward impeachment of a President...I’m not even sure how it happened.  One asked if a President had ever been impeached, the other said Andrew Johnson, I mentioned Nixon, the 10 year old reminded me that he resigned before he could be impeached, the 11 year old mentioned Clinton and so it went. In reality both Johnson and Clinton were impeached by the House of Representatives, but were acquitted by the Senate.
I then explained that Clinton had made a very bad personal decision, but that I felt that decision didn’t affect his work as President, didn’t constitute "high crimes and misdemeanors" as stipulated in the Constitution and therefore, while very disappointing, wasn’t grounds for impeachment. We then talked about how the opposition party had been very determined to undermine his Presidency by any means and how that was similar to President Obama’s current situation; now that I think of it that’s exactly where this conversation began. 
In Clinton’s case, since they couldn’t impeach based on anything he actually may have done, they made a case for impeachment based on the fact that he lied about what he had done (also not a “high crime or misdemeanor” as the Constitution requires).  So here’s where the insight of the young comes in handy.  My 11 year old then observed:

“So, if you’re the President and you lie you can be impeached, but it’s okay to lie if you’re running to be President and may even help you get elected!” 
I guess all the fact checking we’ve been doing after each GOP debate has paid off. For example, during the most recent debate Gingrich claimed that:
Under Obama, 2011 was the highest price of gasoline in history”.  In reality “the weekly record high was set during the week ending July 7, 2008, while Bush was president, at $4.114 per gallon. In fact, prior to last year, the record for the average annual cost of gasoline was set in 2008, when it reached $3.246. It dropped to $2.353 in 2009, before ticking up to $2.782 in 2010 and setting a new high mark of $3.521 last year.”                               ...Source: FactCheck.org 
So, if Gingrich were actually President when he said that should that comment be grounds for impeachment or will false statements like that bring him further up in the polls and closer to the Presidency?
During the same debate Gingrich revisited his highly inflated fraud claim concerning Medicare and Medicaid saying 
“that by cutting ‘theft alone we could save $100 billion’ in Medicare and Medicaid, and that the only people punished would be “crooks.”It’s true that Medicare and Medicaid paid about $64.8 billion in “improper payments” in 2011 — not $100 billion — but not all of those payments were fraudulent. Furthermore, Congress has already passed a law implementing the very kinds of solutions that Gingrich touted in the past to recoup money lost to fraud.”                                                           ...Source: FactCheck.org
We’ve had numerous dinner table conversations about various political lies, many of which are repeated by both students and teachers at my children’s elementary and middle schools...everything from death panels and 'birther' claims to Obama being Muslim. During a class discussion of the Boston Tea Party my son’s teacher said that it was about “taxation without representation, just like Obama now...but we MAY not have to have another revolution”.  She was just restating a lie that has been repeated over and over again, both by politicians on the right and Fox news, while ignoring the fact that her taxes, and the taxes of millions of middle class Americans, have been lowered by the Obama administration. In addition, this statement (and the various "take back our government" complaints) completely ignores the fact that we do indeed have a representative government and a President elected by the largest majority in history (365 to 173 electoral votes and 69.5 million popular votes).  

Politicians lying makes a difference.  People listen and many believe. Sometimes these lies make it into the classrooms of our children.  What example does that set? And what does it mean when an 11 year old observes that lying may get you impeached, but worse, it may also get you elected?  

One thing is for sure “lying isn’t nice”!
     ...Source: My ten year old daughter
At least that’s the view from my valley.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Roads Less Traveled

 Pilgrims at the Potala, the former home of the Dalai Lamas

And so begins a new adventure.  Not quite a journey overland to India, or a harrowing Aeroflot flight into a Himalayan landing strip in Tibet, but an adventure just the same.  This comes at the encouragement (read insistence) of family and a few good friends....I think, perhaps, as a way of giving me an outlet for my political musings and insights, or as they call them...rants! Perhaps in hope that I'd stop posting to Facebook and losing friends.

"View from the Valley" both describes the environment I write from...a beautiful Kentucky valley surround by woods, wildlife and interesting neighbors and gives me a bit of leeway in selecting my subject matter.  It allows me to reflect on past journeys, family life, and my particular brand of political editorializing...often at the same time as one frequently informs the other.

As happened this morning:

Earlier today, while taking a mental break from listening to the latest GOP  debate, I read a story online about the top 45 places one should visit in 2012 and found Lhasa, Tibet on the list. It talked about the opening of Lhasa's first luxury hotel, the plans for two more, shopping malls, and other signs of modernity reaching deep into the Himalayan mountains.

For some people, this is a positive thing and a sign of industrialization, economic opportunity and entry into the modern world. For me, however, this is exactly why I found myself overwhelmed with a feeling of sadness and loss.  Lhasa is the spiritual center of Tibetan Buddhism, the former home of the Dalai Lama and all his predecessors, and many years ago, just before my visit, the target of the Chinese invasion, both militarily and culturally. The opening of this hotel and other modern "advances" represents to me a further repression of the Tibetan people.  While you can take over a country by military force you cannot take over their history, their spirit and their heart...leave it to tourists and foreign investors to do that.

I entered Tibet in 1985, shortly after the Chinese government opened it for individual tourists. There was one guest house for both Tibetan and foreign visitors, with the foreigners staying on 2nd floor and Tibetans on the 3rd...which was a good thing since at that altitude even the climb to the 2nd floor was exhausting. The foreigners (all 6 of us) shared a dorm style room with beds piled high with blankets against the very cold Himalayan nights and we all shared meals in a common kitchen serving local produce, grains and beans stir fried in massive woks over open flames.  Our shower consisted of getting a bucket of hot water from the kitchen and standing on the balcony while asking someone pour to it over you! I was able to visit a nearby monastery and spend time with the Buddhist monks, play with local children and visit with Tibetans that were not there to serve or make money off me...some would call it friendship.

(Me in Tibet, 1985)

My one experience with the outside world beginning to make it's foray into this stunningly beautiful valley at the top of the world was when I heard that the Chinese had just opened a telephone post...a low lying, cement building just out of the center of Lhasa where one could go to make a telephone call.  

I decided to make one of the first international calls... to an old friend in St. Louis who I thought would be thrilled and excited to get a call (collect) from Tibet in the middle of the night.  I had to first explain that I wanted to make a call to the United States, then help the operator find the code for the U.S. and then wait 3 hours for the call to be connected. 

I suppose making a call from the newly opened luxury hotel in Lhasa will be much easier, but at what cost to the Tibetans? Life for them can never be the same. Chinese is rapidly becoming the language of Lhasa and English will now soon follow.  Buddhist ritual and family life will inevitably change as a result of foreign influence and the need to serve foreign visitors.  Life will become more about catering to the influx of tourists.

A friend I made in Bali (another story) once responded when I inquired if she'd like to visit the United States, "Is it better than Bali"? While I could tell her it was very different and could tell her about movies, escalators, museums, high rise buildings, etc, I couldn't honestly tell her it was better.  She knew about life in the west, she was a teacher and played hostess to many foreign visitors at her home, yet she wasn't interested in either visiting the U.S. or having a western life style come to Bali, which sadly, as in Lhasa, it has.  

Somehow I doubt visitors to the new Tibet will get to play with local children, share food in a common kitchen, drink yak butter tea with Buddhist pilgrims in the monastery courtyard, sit and meditate with the monks or even....make friends.

At least that's the view from my valley.