Archive for June, 2010

Thunderstruck!

June 29, 2010

Yesterday afternoon, we has a brief but violent storm pass through our area.  I was at the local library and saw the dark clouds gathering, so I decided to head home to unplug my computer.  That trip home, usually not more than five minutes, took me 25 minutes; the rain was coming down in sheets, the wind was blowing hard and the lightning was all around me.

Not more than a very few minutes after I got home, there was a blinding flash of light and the loudest kaboom you ever heard.  I knew we had been hit.  After taking stock, I went outside and looked at my beautiful redwood tree that I planted over twenty years ago.  The bark on one side was stripped from the tree’s 70-foot top all the way down to the ground.  However, the tree was not split.  In all of its glory, it was still intact.  I figure we will know in about a month whether or not it will survive.

From the tippy top.......

Down through the trunk.......

And into the ground to all those wires just waiting to be fried.

This favorite tree of mine saved us.  In all of its towering, deciduous beauty, yesterday this tree was our life-saving, house-saving lightning rod.  If that tree hadn’t taken the hit, the next tallest thing was the house.

And let me tell you about the outages to our house: the pumps for the a/c, the water pump for our well, the telephones, the Internet, the vacuum system, the security system, the irrigation system, as well as some outlets, lights and appliances.  Each and every system has to be addressed, diagnosed and repaired individually, as specific wiring and mechanisms were fried.

Nevertheless, you will not hear me complaining (too loudly).  My dear redwood tree protected us and I feel very lucky.  The jolt of lightning and its effects were quite fickle.  It knocked out power in a very haphazard fashion, with no rhyme or reason.  Kind of like life.  Sometimes one has to be downright grateful for what one has, rather than moaning about what one does not have.  Right now, I am so thankful for my beautiful redwood tree.  You better believe I hugged that tree today.

So here’s a toast (literally!), with my cup half full, to my mighty redwood.

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McChrystal, Frank Rich, Yo Mama and Lady Gaga

June 27, 2010

Not to rehash old news, this General McChrystal fiasco was a disaster waiting to happen.  His removal was utterly important for our future.

In my post of June 23, 2010, I commented on McChrystal’s role in the cover-up of Pat Tillman’s death by friendly fire.  In today’s New York Times, Frank Rich wrote about the whole McChrystal resignation, devoting a paragraph to the unfortunate demise of Tillman and the even more unfortunate subsequent cover-up:

The Interior Department follies will end promptly only if Obama has learned the lessons of the attenuated McChrystal debacle. Lesson No. 1 should be to revisit some of his initial hiring decisions. The general’s significant role in the Pentagon’s politically motivated cover-up of Pat Tillman’s friendly-fire death in 2004 should have been disqualifying from the start. The official investigation into that scandal — finding that McChrystal peddled “inaccurate and misleading assertions” — was unambiguous and damning.

Like Mr. Rich, I too caught Rachel Maddow’s program on McChrystal and his use of counter-insurgency strategy.  Again, here is what Maddow said about McChrystal:

“the guy who was promoting and leading the counterinsurgency strategy has shown by his actions that even he doesn’t believe in it.”

This is a very telling comment, as it is another incident like the Tillman cover-up, that shows McChrystal’s cowboy mentality in making his own positions as crystal clear as a June day, without respect or regard for his superiors or accepted military protocol.

As people age, their short-term memory suffers, yet their long-term memory flourishes.  That might be the case with me and Frank Rich in our stubbornness to let go of that Tillman affair.  Of course, there is also the possibility that our take on this matter was the truthful path and that the truth hit home with us.  Nevertheless, it was a bad omen right from the get-go, shedding light on McChrystal’s deceitful, ambitious and rogue personality.

My nephew had a wonderful incite about the antics of General McChrystal:

So General McChrystal did an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine… I hear Lady Gaga is doing a spread in Military Digest next month.

Nuff said.

Maine Meanderings

June 24, 2010

Once again, I am in Maine to enjoy the sights, smells and nature.  Meander with me for a while!

My back yard.

My side yard.

At the beach on Cape Rosier.

Nothing like a little red boat.

Oil-free.

I call these "sea grapes".

Weathered wood.

A big red tractor.

Can you say the name of this camp?

What a web they weave!

Pristine.

"Mirror, mirror ...."

Welcoming gateposts.

Until we meet again.

The Blue Hill, Maine library is currently having a show of original paintings by Robert McCloskey.   McCloskey was a noted author and illustrator of such children’s classic, award-winning storybooks as “Blueberries For Sal” and “Make Way For Ducklings”.  These paintings caught the whimsey as well as the substance of his subjects.  I dedicate this section to the one-in-a-million doggie, Crumbles W., a sweet, cuddly and joyful pet who left my good friends last weekend.  RIP Crumb!  You loved and you were so loved back.

BFF

Crumbles Gelato W., Mr. Man, 2000-2010 RIP

Seeing Is Believing

June 23, 2010

As we speak, General Stanley McChrystal has had his 30 minute face-to-face with President Obama and has departed the White House.  No word yet on the outcome of that meeting.

There is mixed public opinion on this fracas whereby McChrystal dissed the Obama administration, their policies in Afghanistan and their diplomatic corps.  Certainly one would think that McChrystal would watch his four-star mouth when a reporter is right in front of him with recorder and pen and pad, even though he directed his thoughts to an aide, rather than the reporter.  McChrystal’s rogue nature is at best, an example of gossiping and ego-fulfillment.  At worst, his behavior is blatant insubordination.

Nevertheless, there are many who believe that the General’s military experience, doggedness to fight until victory is attained and knowledge of Afghanistan is worth any amount of public derision of the administration by the General.  They insist the war must be won (Ha!) and McChrystal is the man to do that.

I beg to differ.  McChrystal should resign effective immediately.  The first time my hackles were raised at his professional behavior was during the Pat Tillman fiasco.  Tillman gave up a lucrative career in professional football to join our armed forces and  serve his country.  He was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan.  Friendly fire is a known and too often, frequent aspect of war.  McChrystal knew from the get-go that Tillman was thus killed, but withheld that information from Tillman’s distraught family.  In effect, McChrystal choreographed this cover-up to avoid any blame falling on the U.S. military for Tillman’s death.  Right then and there I knew there was some unethical, fatal flaw in the person of Stanley McChrystal, and I winced when President Obama made him our top military man in Afghanistan.

Now McChrystal has gone rogue again, by publicly criticizing his boss.  Does this need of McChrystal to override the chain of command for his own self-validation violate his professional obligations?  You betcha.  He needs to go.  Regardless of whether or not he is as skilled a wartime General as some say, the fact that he spoke against his Commander-in Chief’s policies is a complete infraction against Rule Number One in the military: obey your superiors.  Some of McChrystal’s spoken blunders might very well be correct.  However, he does not have the option of his opinions as long as he is employed by the United States Armed Forces.

Finally, in relation to this McChrystal incident, where in the world is General Petraeus and why hasn’t he taken control of this turn of events?  Seems to me that Petraeus should get his four-star tush in gear and step up to the plate of hiring and firing.

Similarly, U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman of New Orleans has issued a ruling blocking President Obama’s six month deep water drilling moratorium.  The Judge stated that the economic survival of the area (and of the oil companies, no?) is more important than the health of its people and environment.  The deep oil rigs in question have been inspected and declared safe.  Didn’t we hear that before?  However, let us suppose that the regulatory agencies are correct and that these wells are indeed safe.  The real problem is that should there be an “unforseen” accident (remember that issue of good old “human error”), there are still no contingency plans to contain and clean up the subsequent mess.  How can this Judge Feldman make such a ruling when the solutions to righting any disasters are still not yet devised?

You should know that this Judge Feldman  had and still has investments in eight major oil companies.  Has he never heard of the term “recusal”?  Where are his professional ethics?  They are probably in the same gutter as General McChrystal’s.

McChrystal and Feldman both have acted in their professional capacity poorly and, in the end, for their own well-being and profit.  We have seen such behavior before from the likes of Enron, health care insurance companies, Wall Street, Madoff and now BP.  When will this devotion to profits over well-being end?

Hard to believe, but this was a BP advertisement just a few short years ago in 1999.  Actions speak louder than words and perhaps, we should be much more savvy in believing what we are seeing.

Soft Power: The Humane Way

June 18, 2010

“WE WANT THE WORLD TO ADMIRE OUR SUCCESS.”

I’m getting it.  I am finally finding some alternative policies that would allow us to be better human beings, with an emphasis on personal ethics, individual responsibility, a true sense of community and even world peace.  My revelations are based on ideas not original to me, so I will be citing links that will offer more detail and clarification.  I make no claims to being a student of political science.  But I have been around the block once or twice and raised two beautiful kids for the last 30 years.  I certainly can tell when patterns of behavior are effective and beneficial, and cull out my detrimental tactics in shaping that behavior.  My thoughts are entirely derivative and I aim to synthesize already-known ideas; nevertheless, I hope they will bring a little hope to your world as they have to mine.

Let’s face facts: people, militaries, the industrial complex and nations will never give up their quest for power.  Won’t happen.  Since this deep lust is not going away any time soon, perhaps we need to devise new strategies to fulfill our age-old desire for might and money.  Consequently, upon listening to NPR today, I learned of a saner, more humane method of building and maintaining power.    An alternative ideology was coined in 1990 by Joseph Nye in his book, “Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power” and subsequently applied to the real world when he worked with President Clinton.  This concept  is called “soft power”, but do not be mistaken: the word “soft” has no relevance to this concept’s staying power and impact in building a world where we can all get along.

I will cite examples of this theory of soft power starting with the most mundane and progressing to the most potentially world-changing.  Perhaps the most simplest explanation of soft power is by way of dog training.  Up until a few decades ago, the accepted method of training a dog was based on “hard power”, making the pet fear you and your power over him.  This goes back to the dog’s evolutionary history as a member of a pack, paying fealty to the Alpha dog.  Thus, choke collars, aggressive training techniques and fear were used to get the dog to perform the desired behaviors.

A new (it is not new at all, just newly implemented) theory of dog training has emerged over the last couple of decades.  It is based on positive reinforcement rather than negative feedback.  Instead of using fear to make the dog behave, treats and positive words are offered when he does something well.  If he acts badly, he is totally ignored.  This method takes much time, patience and consistence.  It is not as “instant” to the trainer as a negative approach.   However, it is much more humane and I believe, longer-lasting than the harsh, old method.

A similar outlook is applied to child-rearing.  Corporal punishment is effective for the moment and perhaps might even afford the parent an immediate release of his anger, but certainly it is not useful in shaping long-term behaviors.  Thus, the practice of “time-out” is widely accepted now instead of beating the child.  Removal from his regular surroundings and people he loves is much more effective in shaping behavior than a retaliatory slap, hit or shove, not to mention the sheer humanity of not physically abusing a child.  “Monkey see, monkey do” is the first rule of thumb when raising children.  Therefore, why set the example of physical harm as a means to get the child to behave?  The parent’s behavior will them be imitated by the child; violence begets violence.

Remember the movie “When Harry Met Sally”?  The scene in the deli when Meg Ryan perfectly imitates having an orgasm?  Then the waitperson goes up the customer at another table and asks her, “What would you like?”.  The diner, looking over towards Meg Ryan,  responds. “I want what she’s having.”  Bingo!  That’s it.  By making your fellow human being want what you have, hopefully peaceful, just and benevolent things, BY SETTING THE EXAMPLE, might be the answer to our penchant for economic thievery, armed conflicts and downright destruction of each other.

This practice of attraction rather than coercion is soft power.  On an even grander scale than pet training or child-rearing, BP has the choice now to use soft power to make a difference.  The ecological damage is done and the first priority must be to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf.  Given.  However, imagine if BP made good on their promise to unconditionally pay for the clean-up, compensate those businesses and individuals who have lost their livelihoods and overall, set an example of responsible corporate behavior.  I daresay that would challenge other multinational corporations to toe the line in an imitative way.  The idea is to make it more attractive to do good rather than forcibly, through destructive methods, effecting change to attain the same ends.

Look at the nation of India.  They produced an incredible, transformative leader  by the name of Mohandas Gandhi.  Yes, my discussion is overly simplistic, but you know your way around the Web to find more detailed articles.  Gandhi not only brought political independence to India, but also gifted the world with his humane, non-violent philosophy.  The result of his work made peaceful methods for co-existence attractive, mainstream.  Of course, even though Gandhi brought political independence to India, they still did not have economic viability, which is equally important for prosperity and peace.   That process took many more decades.  But as India progressed in their ruling philosophies, so did the general attractiveness of their culture.  Other nations wanted to emulate them.  This is a critical element of soft power, i.e. using cultural mores to heal rifts.  The natural, forward progression would be that through political, economic and especially cultural dissemination of ideas, peace would ensue.  Here is a video of Shashi Tharoor, a member of the Indian Parliament, that so clearly outlines the benefits of soft power.

China also has come to use soft power techniques to  make its political and economic positions more attractive.  The first time they truly used soft power to attain their national and international ends was probably in hosting the 2008 Olympics.  Joseph Nye wrote a good piece on this endeavor into soft power.  The Olympics were a good start.  Much more detailed information is available on China’s increased use of soft power.  Yes: much reading and listening because much learning is essential to affect change.

I believe that President Obama is also using techniques of soft power to change our world for the better.  By setting the example of an educated, deeply intellectual, cool-demeanored, dedicated public leader, he is probably doing more good than any war ever did.  He is fully aware that in order to create a more equitable world, militarily and economically speaking, other nations will have to want what we have.  That is, our good attributes (not our wars with Viet Nam, Iraq, etc.) will become a magnet for other nations to emulate us in their quest for political and economic power, and thus, world nations will then implement positive methods for reaching those same end goals.

Andrew Sullivan has been a staunch supporter of Barack Obama.   The two following links will demonstrate his reasons and then Michael Tomasky will write on the ultimate value of President Obama’s term in power:

http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2010/06/getting-shit-done.html

http://democracyjournal.org/article.php?ID=6760

I know: a lot of reading.  Dissemination of ideas and knowledge are our one big hope for a more fair, peaceful world order.  This is one of President Obama’s constant messages.  I know: a lot of reading.  But that is the least we can do for our children and their children.  Soft power is an idea  whose time has come.  Its positive influence can have startling effects on such small things as our dogs’ behaviors  or incredibly positive repercussions on  much larger spheres such as international relations.

A truly good dog owner, parent, citizen, corporation, leader and nation will not attain “power” through alienation by force but instead, by using positive attraction and example-setting by more humane policies.  It is imperative that we use soft power to get us all to put down our weapons, to cease corrupt, unjust economic policies and to make humanity count.

Just Because It’s Legal Doesn’t Make It Right

June 15, 2010

Aaaaah.  BP and the U.S. government are now equal sycophants in the lack of their uncoordinated efforts to stem the damage from the oil spill.  Instead of bolstering each others’ abilities and resources, they are feeding on the dearth of efforts, knowledge, foresight and preparation.  When a government and a multinational corporation both are at a loss for fixing a problem that they had no clue how to remedy in the first place, chaos follows their deceit and tunnel vision for profits.   Thus, the spiral of increasing damage and disaster is our reality.

With a government immune to concern for its citizens and the environment, coupled with an equal disregard by our corporations, the ensuing mess is a vacuum of ethical behavior.  Gee whiz: what else is new?  David Brooks of the New York Times addressed this issue today:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/15/opinion/15brooks.html?hp

Furthermore BP’s financial rating was downgraded today by six steps, to just above junk.  It is reasonable for BP to suffer compensatory damages for the havoc and destruction they brought upon us, but it will help no one or nothing to have them go bankrupt.  Yes, it is a very wise idea to have BP set aside a sinking (ironic name, no?) fund of $20 billion to cover all the damages.  The fruit of their business, black gold, will continue to be pumped and sold, providing them with huge profits.  However, let’s see if they will actually face up to their responsibilities.  Typical of a capitalistic corporation, they just might declare bankruptcy to avoid the payments to make good on their irresponsibility.  In fact, in strict capitalistic philosophy, their Board of Directors OWES it to their shareholders and the company to do just that: declare Chapter 11, avoid all the fines and damage payments, wait a reasonable amount of time (a year or two), and then emerge out of bankruptcy to forge ahead with their profit-making, all the while taking in billions of dollars for themselves without ever compensating those hurt by their hubris.  It will be interesting to see if we allow this scenario to be played out.

I have no idea of the legal status of a ploy like this.  However, everything sounds pretty kosher to me.  After all, you cannot legislate ethical or moral behavior.  That would go against our American spirit, independence and free will to make a buck.  The Supreme Court just recently ruled to ban any limits on corporate campaign spending because to do otherwise would tread on the “First Amendment’s most basic free speech principle — that the government has no business regulating political speech.”  What a great country we live in!  To have our highest court rule, without any consideration to the outcome of their decision, in their blind efforts to uphold the Constitution based on what our world was like over 200 years ago.  That’s progress, right?

So of course BP can legally declare, progress through and exit bankruptcy without violating any laws.  Then they can continue to reap the rewards of their business.  No penalties, no legal action and no other consequences will befall them because they would be proceeding based on our current bankruptcy laws.  Hooray for capitalism!  Something is so rotten at the core of our national existence when we sacrifice right for might, justice for monetary gain and ethics for a buck.

No matter what President Obama has to say tonight in his address to our nation, regardless of how angry he is, the law is the law.  No amount of moralizing will make our corporate entities ethical.  And the government will probably do likewise, to save their ever-up-for-reelection souls.  I wish the President good luck tonight.  However, to force BP into bankruptcy or allow that company to take that path as an avoidance of its responsibilities is not right just because it is legal.  Sometimes even our government and business interests need to answer to a higher authority than our law books, namely our fellow man.

The so far unholy partnership of BP and the United States government will be another test of dedication to the greater good versus personal gain.  Our laws fully support the personal gain part.  Will our government and industrial complex have the guts and fairness to overrule the legality of their actions to deliver what is just and right?

A Second Chance for Afghanistan

June 14, 2010

FLASH! FLASH! FLASH!

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/14/world/asia/14minerals.html?hp

If you thought we would never end the war in Afghanistan, you were right.  It is the longest war in our history.  Beside the fact that our most recent military forays have been long, drawn-out, well, draws — unwinnable wars that test and punish our troops, devastate our economy here at home (remember the demise of the USSR due to their untenable expense of maintaining the Cold War?), harm our international reputation yet of course reward our military/industrial complex — we have now announced such a trove of riches, an incredible wealth of minerals, under the Afghan ground that the chances for our retreat from that country is almost impossible.

Let’s see if this discovery will be used appropriately by the Afghanistan and the U.S. to allow Afghanistan to bury the hateful and corrupt poppy trade, the basis of their economy, and supplant it with an economy based on legal products.  I wonder if the Afghan government and people can really forfeit their gains from the poppy and welcome an economy based on actual beneficial natural resources.  An even bigger question is whether or not the Americans will allow Afghanistan access to, development of and profit from their own just-discovered riches.

I knew Afghanistan was a lost cause as long as they based their economy on only the poppy and the subsequent heroin trade.  Now this “miracle” has been found.  Will they abuse and corrupt the gift?  Will Americans stay put where they do not belong because of their own greed?

It is rare indeed for a country to have the chance for a new beginning, a rebirth, as Afghanistan does now.  Will they demonstrate responsibility for the betterment of their people?   More importantly, will the United States allow Afghanistan  this chance without making a grab for the riches themselves, using the guise of “fighting terrorism” to thinly veil their own financial interests?  Will we now never leave Afghanistan?

Let’s wait and watch.

Mom And Dad Quilts Revisited

June 13, 2010

I noticed some “activity” on my post from April 10, 2010 called “Mom and Dad Quilts” and as I had expected, the June newsletter of the San Francisco Quilters’ Guild was published with my article as the lead:

http://www.sfquiltersguild.org/Newsletters/sfqg_June_10_for_email.pdf

This time around though, with permission, my favorite quilter, Mrs. B, has been fully identified and credited as Mabel Burkholder from Fleetwood, Pennsylvania.  She is a gem and a one-in-a-million artist.

Beholding Brooklyn Roads

June 12, 2010

Last weekend I was fortunate to have my son give me the grand tour of Brooklyn.  Even though I grew up in the NY metropolitan area, I never knew Brooklyn.  Was I missing the show!  Brooklyn is huge, with so many neighborhoods — truly neighborhoods— filled with mostly young people.  But the old buildings were just as vital as the young folks.  Despite its enormity, Brooklyn’s distinct neighborhoods made it so much more habitable than Manhattan.  To me, the noise level of Manhattan is almost unbearable.  Brooklyn is much quieter; a big city, almost a separate state unto itself, tamed by its own involved, personal communities.

From "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn"

Brooklyn hydrangea

Great gargoyle

Bawdy Brooklyn

My crib

So Soho

Gehry's new building from the Brooklyn Bridge

Same building

Its great to go, better to come home. Update of my Eden.

Hundreds of hydrangeas. Home sweet home.

For more views of classic Brooklyn, look and listen:

I Want My Maypo!

June 11, 2010

In our complicated, burgeoning world, Americans want what they want NOW.  Their patience for a positive outcome, be it that time is a requisite to fix our problems, has no bearing on their need for immediate gratification.  Can you imagine our citizens’ chagrin that, although President Obama has held office for only a year-and-a-half, they are furious with him for not delivering the change that he promised?  Excuse me: how long did it take the New Deal to pass?  How much longer did it take to assess the impact of FDR’s legacy?  How many decades (centuries?) after the Civil War did it take for our country to enact and implement equal rights?  Americans want what they want and they want it yesterday.

I have tried to expand on this issue in some of my postings, but when I found this Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post today, I knew I could not say it any better:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/10/AR2010061002635.html?sub=AR

I remember after 9/11 and right before we commenced the war with Iraq, Colin Powell was speaking before the U.N.  He showed photos of supposed mobile units carrying weapons of mass destruction.  Of course, we now know that that evidence was fictitious.  Nevertheless, one point Powell stressed was that should we enter into a war with the terrorists (and the big lie was that Iraq was responsible for the terrorist attacks of 9/11), America was going to have to have great patience with that process.  He warned that it would be a long, tedious war.  He openly admitted that America typically has no patience, no long-term outlook, when things get tough.  Well, Powell was wrong about the premise for entering into war with Iraq, but absolutely correct in his summary of the character of America.  The war in Afghanistan has turned into the longest war in our nation’s history and yes, our patience is long gone.

So too, for all the other problems that ail us.  Health care reform, financial restructuring, job creation, immigration overhaul and environmental matters are all now placed at President Obama’s feet with a huge sign reading “FAILURE”.  My, my, my!  How incompetent is this man Obama that he couldn’t save our nation and world in a mere 1 1/2 years?

Get real, America.  And while you are at it, get some long-term outlook and patience.  You’ll have to wait for your Maypo: