Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Stuff White People Like

Probably the funniest blog in the history of the internet. A sample from #60, "The Toyota Prius".

"Over the years, white people have gone through a number of official cars. In the 1980s it was the Saab and the Volvo. By the 1990s it was the Volkswagen Jetta or a Subaru 4WD stastion wagon. But these days, there is only one car for white people. One car that defines all that they love: the Toyota Prius.

The Prius might be the most perfect white product ever. It’s expensive, gives the idea that you are helping the environment, and requires no commitment/changes other than money.

The Toyota Prius gets 45 miles per gallon. That’s right, you can drive 45 miles and burn only one gallon of gasoline. So somehow, through marketing or perception, the Prius lets people think that driving their car is GOOD for the environment.

It’s a pretty sweet deal for white people. You can buy a car, continue to drive to work and Barak Obama rallies and feel like you are helping the environment!"


William F. Buckley

So William Buckley kicked the bucket today. Was he a smart man? Indubitably. Was he a charismatic man? Verily. I even agree with many of his libertarian views. A good leftist need look no further than the National Review for a principled stance on the drug war and on the dangers of giving the government too much power to search and seize. From a speech Buckley gave to the New York State Bar association against the “war on drugs” in late 1995:

“I came to the conclusion that the so-called war against drugs was not working, that it would not work absent a change in the structure of the civil rights to which we are accustomed and to which we cling as a valuable part of our patrimony… I leave it at this, that it is outrageous to live in a society whose laws tolerate sending young people to life in prison because they grew, or distributed, a dozen ounces of marijuana. I would hope that the good offices of your vital profession would mobilize at least to protest such excesses of wartime zeal, the legal equivalent of a My Lai massacre. And perhaps proceed to recommend the legalization of the sale of most drugs, except to minors.”

I might also mention that he was outspoken in his opposition to the Iraq war. However, I do not agree with Buckley on a great deal. The idea, for example, that people with HIV should be tattooed on their forearms as a warning to those who would share needles with them is the sort of thing that makes one’s stomach turn. (He recommended a similar tattoo on the rear ends of people with AIDS to, as he put it, “prevent the victimization of homosexuals.”) Nevertheless, compared to the current crop of Neo-Cons who lay claim to his legacy without possessing his intellectual acumen, he was a giant and a worthy adversary.

Perhaps the best tribute I have read thus far is from leftist author and blogger Rick Perlstein who used Buckley as a source for his book on Barry Goldwater. One excerpt:

“He did the honor of respecting his ideological adversaries, without covering up the adversarial nature of the relationship in false bonhommie. A remarkable quality, all too rare in an era of the false fetishization of "post-partisanship" and Broderism and go-along-to-get-along. He was friends with those he fought. He fought with friends. These are the highest civic ideals to which an American patriot can aspire…”

See ya Bill. Your type of conservative is hard to come by these days.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Nader Redux

Nader is in the race. This causes me a host of philosophical and practical problems. I’m not quite ready to jump ship yet, but I have been carefully considering Obama’s stance on a variety of issues and find them wanting. Granted, he is probably the most progressive candidate one can expect, but this isn’t such a great allocade when one considers the sorry state of progressive politics in America. On the issues, Ralph and I have no disagreement. Ralph Nader takes these stands: Adopt single payer national health insurance. Cut the huge, bloated, wasteful military budget. No to nuclear power, solar energy first. Aggressive crackdown on corporate crime and corporate welfare. Open up the Presidential debates to legitimate third party candidates. Adopt a carbon pollution tax. Reverse U.S. policy in the Middle East. Repeal the Taft-Hartley anti-union law. Adopt a Wall Street securities speculation tax. Put an end to ballot access obstructionism. Work to end corporate personhood. Obama supports, well, none of those things.

What does it mean to be a progressive? What does it mean to be a leftist? These are not simply meaningless philosophical questions. Obama is probably the best we can expect from the Democrats. He’s no JFK, but even Nader himself called Obama "a person of substance" and "the first liberal evangelist in a long time". Unfortunately, when you look at his positions, he stands for, at best, incremental change. I feel like that isn’t enough. It only took the Republicans seven years to destroy the economy, eviscerate the constitution and trash America’s reputation in the world. They certainly weren’t holding back on their agenda for the sake of political expediency. I don’t know. Maybe I am so disenchanted with the inherent corruption of the political system that I cannot get beyond the fact that these great media driven personality contests that are trotted out for public consumption every four years have very little to do with things that concern average Americans. Presidential elections aren’t about issues; they are about money and personality. Issues tend to bore the media. Plus, well, we know who controls the media. Corporations are perfectly happy to allow us to wallow in ignorance as long as we are spending money to buy their products. Some days I feel like a human ATM. But I have questions. I want to know why are we the only western democracy without government sponsored universal healthcare? Why is no one running for president talking about that? How come the war in Iraq isn’t being debated? Why isn’t Obama demanding the repeal of the Patriot Act and coming out strongly against warrantless wiretapping?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Silver Lake Park, Staten Island

Saturday in the park. We finally got a decent snowstorm, although it still doesn't seem as substantial as the ones I remember when I was a lad. Nevertheless there was a good sledding hill...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Not Dogs and Soysages

A week-end in the mountains is a wonderful prescription for a long list of society induced stress related ailments. Despite the unseasonably warm weather, the Patriot was even able to get in a day of skiing at Plattekill, a small family ski resort in the Catskills. The trails certainly didn’t rival anything in Colorado, or even Vermont, but the Mountain had one virtue which made the skiing the equivalent of what you would find at a much better situated resort-daycare. What an enlightened concept. I have always had an affinity for the Catskills. I have camped and hiked all over the park at one point or another since I was in high school and I like the fact that the place (with a few exceptions like Woodstock) hasn’t been overrun by yuppies. Unfortunately there is a large development project slated for Bellayre which will probably forever change the air of gentle sleepiness that hangs over the smaller towns.

I was watching CNN the other day and they were playing video taken by an undercover animal rights activist of workers in a slaughterhouse kicking and tasering cows that were too sick to walk on their own into the killing chute. It was a pretty gruesome sight. Workers also sprayed water with high intensity hoses up the cattle’s up noses, and rolled them with forklifts in attempt to get them to stand . The abuse was probably motivated more by economics than any sadistic impulse on the part of the workers. Federal rule prohibits the slaughter of non-ambulatory disabled ("down") cattle for human consumption. If the cow can be tortured into walking into the slaughterhouse under its own power then it isn’t a down animal and can be made into McDonald’s ¼ pounders. If it has to be dragged to the killing floor then it’s basically worthless and has to be sold as dog food.

I am not an animal rights activist and although I was a vegetarian for 10 years, over the last several years incorporated small amounts of meat, including beef, into my diet. My personal belief, supported by science, is that man is an omnivore. However, I also believe that eating low on the food chain is a wise choice for a variety of ecological and health reasons. When I do eat meat I try to obtain it from reputable sources like local farmers and try to ensure that the animals were raised humanely. Unfortunately this is not always possible, so I suppose I have to accept responsibility for helping create the demand for factory farmed meat. It should not be surprising to anyone that scenes such as those played out in the video result from treating animals as commodities.

I confess that watching the mistreatment of sentient beings like those cows has gotten me to reconsider how much suffering I want served up with my potato and side salad. The first precept mandates that Buddhists refrain from taking life. The fact that American’s are several steps removed from the actual killing seems a flimsy rationale for ignoring the reality that a demand for meat causes the death of sentient beings. Not to mention the fact that the process that eventually results in meat under cellophane at the grocery contributes greatly to the immense suffering of human beings due to the unsustainable demand on the earth’s resources and the contribution of factory farming to the pollution of the world’s drinking water. Perhaps a first step to turning around America’s unsustainable lifestyle should be a decrease in meat consumption. How to sell it to the public is quite another question.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Amerian Unreason

Why are Americans so stupid? Perhaps more importantly, why are they so proud of their ignorance? Author Susan Jacoby probes the issue in her new book, “The Age of American Unreason.” Jacoby is hardly the first social commentator to address the subject; a number of books have been written lately which lament American’s growing hostility to rational thought, but Jacoby has cast her gaze over the land and sees a perfect storm of ignorance that has been brewing for quiet some time.

According to her observations, at this point in our history anti-intellectualism (the attitude that “too much learning can be a dangerous thing”) and anti-rationalism (“the idea that there is no such things as evidence or fact, just opinion”) have fused in a particularly insidious way. The blame can be laid at the feet of our failing public educational system as well as religious fundamentalism’s antipathy toward science. She cites a disturbing statistic that nearly two thirds of Americans want creationism taught alongside evolution. Two thirds!

A good review of Jacoby’s book can be found here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Matrix

My friend Joe Bageant has been living in exile down in Belize for a little while. His most recent essay is a thoughtful (and very, very funny) indictment of American consumer culture and its lack of sustainability. Unfortunately, Americans are not known for their selfless nor are they prone to naval gazing, which explains why the Dalai Lama quipped a few years ago that Americans had “perfected Samsara”. All of our electronic diversions and digital entertainment have left us bloated and lethargic, in a state of complete delusion and almost willful ignorance about the dangers posed by a rapidly increasing world population and dwindling resources. Here’s Joe:

“Mainly though, aware Americans are watching and waiting for someone else to make an important move. Guts are nonexistent in Americans these days, programmed out of us during the posh captivity of the "cheap oil fiesta" that drove our grotesque and brief civilization. Still, if ever there were a time to show some guts, it's now. Not by protesting ­ -- which has become a security state supervised liberal pussy sport -- but by giving up the material life, the consumer life. Damned near all of it. Including all those leftie and alternative books from Amazon -- sitting on our asses reading and drinking green tea just because we can afford to is just another type of inaction and consumerism. It's the only real act of protest possible by the prisoners of our consumption driven monolith. True, you'll be just one iPodless and carless little guy throwing a single stone at the United States of Jabba the Hutt. But assuming you're still capable of any kind of life after the stellazine mind conditioning we've all been administered for past 40 years, I've got folding cash that says you will own your life in a way that seemed previously impossible. Hanging onto or chasing the bling is over with anyway, as dead as the economy. The Olive Garden and Circuit City are still open, true, but only because the hair and nails still grow on Jabba's corpse. Would somebody please quit pretending he's alive and yank the feeding tube?”

Yanking the feeding tube. A great visual that conjures up images of Neo in the Matrix after he swallowed the red pill.. We are all like little Neos, safely wrapped in our cocoons being pumped full of food while our warmth and humanity is being harvested to feed our machine overlords. Except in our reality our overlords aren’t machines (unless you consider the system of international capitalism to be a machine), our overlords are our own greed and complacency. Unless enough of us wake up and swallow the red pill, our planet is fucked and all of us along with it.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Dongshan’s Heat and Cold

“A monk asked Master Dongshan, “Cold and heat descend upon us. How can we avoid them?” Dongshan answered, “Why don’t you go to the place where there is no cold or heat?” The monk continued, “Where is the place where there is no cold or heat?” Dongshan said, “When it is cold, let it be so cold that it kills you. When hot, let it be so hot that it kills you.”

It is freaking freezing in New York today; 10 degrees this morning when I went out to the car. Today is one of those few days of the year when wearing a large puffy down jacket is acceptable, fashion be damned. The wind came roaring up the coast like an angry dragon last night, bringing the sub-zero temperatures from somewhere west of the Jersey state line. Jack and I were awakened a few times during the night by gusts that shook the house down to the foundation. I am generally ambivalent about the weather. Winter is cold, summer is hot. To accept this idea and then to complain about this state of affairs seems kind of crazy. But, come on, 10 degrees?

I ran 9 miles yesterday in much better weather. I was supposed to head up to the Bronx to run the Bronx ½ marathon, but this would have required getting up at an ungodly hour and making all manner of complicated arrangements so I decided to just continue my tour of industrial Staten Island that I started on last week’s run. I was running with an i-pod and listening to a dharma talk given by John Daido Loori Roshi, the abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper New York. Zen Mountain Monastery back in the early 1990s and always felt attracted to Loori’s teaching style. The inscription at the door of Zen Mountain Monastery reads: Only those concerned with the questions of life and death need enter here. A reminder, no doubt, that life is short and opportunities to penetrate the great matter quickly slip by, like the rest of earthly phenomena. To paraphrase Nyogen Senzaki, like a lightning flash or a dewdrop. Ephemeral, fleeting.

One thing that did not feel ephemeral or fleeting yesterday was my 9 mile run through the Staten Island hills. At about mile 6 I was so intent on listening to Loori expound on the Dharma that I tripped on a cracked sidewalk on Bay Street and fell on my ass. Well, hip more than ass. Such are the risks of running in an urban environment without paying attention to where your feet are going to land. Zen practice and running are all about paying attention.

Staten Island is a place of many micro-environments. On yesterday’s run I passed by the mansions of Todt Hill, the Staten Island Ferry drydocks and the Alice Austin House, all within 5 miles of one another. There was a long stretch by the Staten Island Homeport that was extremely industrial and grimy. Staten Island never quite got accustomed to the concept of zoning so it is not unusual to find beautiful Victorian homes snugly nestled next to busy auto body shops. I try not to discriminate between the ugly and the beautiful; its all about non-duality and acceptance, right? Still, I much more enjoy running along the curve of the shoreline by the ferry terminal where I can watch Manhattan shimmering in the distance across the harbor than through the industrial wasteland over by the Homeport where I’m dodging stray dogs and the occasional crack addict. I guess I have a little way to go with my understanding of the universe.

Is it the weather that is cold,
Or is it the person that is cold?
Think neither cold nor heat.
At that moment,
Where is the self to be found?

Thursday, February 07, 2008


So I went out for a long run on Sunday. This is a typical thing that I do every week-end, but this particular Sunday it was a bit more challenging since I was recovering from Jack’s party, which started early and ended late. Still, I managed to get in 8 miles by patching together a route that included both Snug Harbor and the Staten Island Ferry terminal pathway. Buying a Garmin Forerunner has completely changed the quality of my week-end runs. The Forerunner is a GPS device that you wear on your wrist and it accurately logs your distance and pace, thereby untethering you from your established running routes and eliminating the need to run circle after circle around the perimeter of your local park. Thanks to this little device, I have rediscovered the fun part of running; just heading down the road and exploring without worrying whether I’m covering a set distance in a certain period of time.

The treadmill has been wearing me down lately, as has the grey, non-winter we’ve been having here in the Northeast. I feel like Jack and I have been spending too much time inside in front of the television when there is so much else I could/should be doing. But it is a challenge to leave the house once I get home from work, and where does one go on Staten Island in the dark anyway? I miss the summer-time walks Jack and I used to take around Silver Lake Park every night. I guess cabin fever is setting in. Our local rodent weather prognosticator Staten Island Chuck says winter will be over soon, but how much faith can you put in a ground hog? At least the sun is staying up a little longer these days. As of today I have 23 miles in for the week, and Mitt Rmoney has been sent packing back to whatever hole he crawled out of . I suppose spring is really just around the corner.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Obama for President

Tomorrow is Super Tuesday. I suppose as a registered Democrat and erstwhile political blogger I should weigh in on who I’m thinking of jerking the lever for tomorrow. Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know that I have devoted a considerable amount of space excoriating the Democrats for their feckless, chicken-little like behavior in the face of the Bush administration’s assault on the constitution. I still think that the Democratic leadership is about as useless as tits on a bull, but the thought of four more years of trickle-down economics, electronic snooping and military expenditures of $12 billion per month in Iraq make sitting this election out an unreasonable option. Since Obama and Hillary are essentially the same politically, the only way to distinguish them is by their character. This is a contest that Obama wins hands down. Hilary Clinton has spent this entire election cycle lying about almost everything. Her “35 years of experience” really translate into one year of volunteer work at a non-profit, followed by 15 years at a corporate law firm and 8 years of hiding Easter eggs on the South Lawn of the White House. How this qualifies the woman to be the standard-bearer of the party of Franklin Roosevelt is beyond me. Yes, she’s smart. Yes she would probably be a neutral enough President, but her triangulation on every issue and her tendency to vote with the herd in the Senate make me think that she has no core values that she believes in enough to fight for. Her vote for the Iraq war was pure political pandering and her vote for the Patriot Act inexcusable. She is also probably the only figure alive who can get the Republican base off their hillbilly asses and into a voting booth. She is, quite frankly, a liability to the party as a presidential candidate.

Obama, on the other hand, has a short track-record in the Senate. This will make him less susceptible to the Rovian slime machine, drug use not withstanding. He also possesses a certain physical and psychic appeal that transcends the issues. He spouts exactly the kind of empty feel-good platitudes that Americans find so endearing in a politician. He also looks really good on TV and he sure sounds confident. He is, in a word, electable. For whatever reason he is able to excite masses of people in a way that John McCain just can’t seem to pull off. (McCain’s closest traveling companion these days is the phlegmatic Joe Lieberman. Need I say more?)

So it is with a small glimmer of hope for the future that the Patriot endorses Barack Obama in the New York primary. The politics of hope should trump the politics of fear any day.