"Life is for the birds."
Easter Duck Eggs
I had a problem with ducks the other day. While I was on the iPhone with someone, and I absentmindedly fiddled with the settings and changed the ringtone. The next day I started hearing ducks in the yard; never saw ducks there before, and I still couldn't spot them. Each time I heard ducks quacking, I went to look.
On Easter Sunday, I looked out my bedroom window and violatwo ducks on the lawn. Then my phone started ringing. It was quacking like a duck. In the backyard, I found a crow feeding on one plate of birdseed while a mourning dove perched on the other. After they left, a pair of blue jays swooped in, followed by sparrows, finches, Nutmeg Mannikins, a California Towhee, and an orange-chested Black-Headed Grosbeak.
No Easter eggs yet, but two ducks in the front yard and a quacking phone beats a Hallmark rabbit hauling around a basket full of candy eggs.
I asked if anyone knew what type of bird this is? Margery Layton replied:
Marsha, my daughter, is an avid bird watcher, feeder, painter of birds, detective, etc. so I phoned her yesterday about your mystery one. She thinks it might be a California Towhee. Does that help? (I, myself, just think in terms of a pretty brown one, a yellow one,
one with a red head, etc.)
Bingo. I looked at my Kaufman Field Guide and there it isthe California Towhee on page 379, the final page of 2,000 images. The photo shows a pale brown bird that is missing the rich chestnut tones of my morning guests. Kaufman writes, ..."this drab towhee lurks in the bushes or shuffles about on the ground...plain dusty brown with fine streaks around throat." My towhees are distinguished and proud, with delicate features and penetrating brown eyes. They dine with confidence, oblivious to the jays and woodpeckers that scare away the finches and sparrows. Thanks Marge and Marsha.
Here is one of Margery's poems:
Wrapped in packages of light
we glow into the night,
nodding to fireflies in our passing.
Then softly and surely
greeting the dawn
with fresh resolve
and songs of peace.
Send me an email.
Decide to be Happy
I just had lunch with Robert Muller at the Empress Palace Chinese restaurant. Robert couldn't recall if Premier Chou En Lai served the UN delegation Peking Duck when Robert visited China with Secretary General Kurt Waldheim in 1972, shortly after the People's Republic was finally invited to be a member of the United Nations. Then our conversation turned to happiness. Robert's occupation now is to be happy. His book Most of All They Taught Me Happiness, published by Doubleday in 1978 when he was UN Secretary of the Economic and Social Council, is still in print. His famous poem, "Decide to be Happy," is read in schools, churches, and meetings around the world.
When people think of Robert Muller, they tap into a deep well of happiness that has percolated in Robert's heart for more than eight decades, four generationsthrough the Roaring 20's, the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, the 60's, Apollo 11 landing on the moon, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and on and on. What remains is Robert's daily decision to be happy, his dream of building a Center for Happiness, his prayer that Sunday schools will include lessons in happiness, and his hope that Earth will be the happiest planet in the Universe.
I wrote Robert's biography, Prophet - the Hatmaker's Son, so that I could show how he learned to think as one of the world's first global citizens. At the same time, he was writing his epic, 7,000 Ideas and Dreams for a Better World, from which I edited a condensed version in an ebook, Paradise Earth. Yesterday Robert said, "We must see that this is one planet and we are one people."
photo © Douglas Gillies
In one of his great moments of happiness, Robert turned to Barbara and exclaimed, "Let's get married!" Could any man say kinder words to his wife of 13 years?
Paper or Plastic?
In 1994, David Brower told me that the energy required to recycle an aluminum soda can was equal to half the can full of gasoline. I asked him how they could afford to recycle cans. He said that the soft drink industry subsidized the recycle industry because they found that adding a positive reinforcement at the end of the consumption cycle by recycling the aluminum can resulted in increased sales of soda pop.
Fourteen years later, almost everybody drinks their beverages, including water, from plastic bottles. They are still wrestling with the problems of recycling plastic bottles, and the simple answer is, they can't. So when you toss a plastic bottle or box in the recycle bin, it may turn into a park bench or a deck plank, but it will not contribute material to the manufacture of another bottle. Too expensive. Gotta drill for oil to keep those bottles coming. Hence, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia...But doesn't it feel good to recycle that bottle?
Americans go through 2 1/2 million plastic bottles every hour.
There is a short article in Wikipedia about plastic recycling.
The following Science Daily article includes a short video showing a new technology that will hopefully enable industries to recycle plastic bottles back into plastic bottles. Applying this technology, DuPont opened a plant in North Carolina to depolymerize bottles, but later closed the plant due to economic pressures.
THE PROBLEM: Recycling is an excellent concept, but we often waste more energy in reprocessing our recyclables than we are gaining. No one has found a cost-effective means of recycling food containers into new food containers. More efficient processes will bring us closer to the goal of not wasting our resources. Although there is a demand for recycled bottle-grade PET, the high cost of cleaning post-consumer beverage bottles, strict FDA requirements, and outmoded technology have favored the use of virgin PET over recycled bottle PET in the manufacturing of beverage bottles. Instead, most beverage bottles collected for recycling are reprocessed into non-food products such as fiber and strapping. Video
"Paper or plastic?" The answer is still "No."
Every now and then I drink too much, and then I accept all my "friend" requests on Facebook.
"Liking" something on Facebook is like, you know, saying yes to cheese on your quarter pounder. But if you're into conserving water, tell them, "Hold the beef." It requires 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, according to John Robbins. Say no to the beef on that quarter-pounder and you can flush your low-flow toilet 400 times!
Master Columbus Day
Monday, October 12. Banks, post offices, and the federal government are closed today to commemorate the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the New World. It was not "New" to the inhabitants, of whom Columbus wrote in his journal, "They would make fine servants...With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want."
Half a millennium later, our civilization has staked a claim to every quarter of the planet. We have conquered the oceans, contaminated the air, and depleted the earth in more ways than we can comprehend.
Once again, we find ourselves embarking on an adventure into an undiscovered world where we will live in harmony with our planet and all the species who cohabit the Earth as we learn to recognize, in the words of Robert Muller, "We are one species and this is one world."
Or we will face our own extinction.
How can we now change our ways and make things right? How do we unite our efforts and pull ourselves back from the brink, even as the natural systems that have sustained us unravel at an alarming rate with increasing frequency?
I have discussed this with a couple of friends who are also authors, and we want to do something. David Anderson wants people to recognize that we are all one. Jack Reed wants a world in which cooperation is the medium of exchange, rather than money. I want to tackle a specific problem that touches on many issues at once. I call this project, "H2O?"
Together we want to organize a summit in South Africa where one hundred leaders will chart a new course, develop strategies, and commit to the necessary steps.
Send me an email and tell me what you think.
I woke up to a phone call yesterday at 7:00 AM. I don't normally do 7 AM phone calls, so I stumbled into the kitchen, made a cappuccino, ate a banana, and then checked voicemail. It was Paul Burge calling from the BBC in the UK. They were doing a segment on the lighter side of death in a couple of hours for BBC Radio 4. He had come across my book 101 Cool Ways to Die and "would value my contribution."
The phone rang again. It was Paul Burge. British TV chef Keith Floyd had died on Monday after a luxurious meal. He was 65. He started his three-course meal with a champagne cocktail. Then he ate oysters with potted shrimp and toast, followed by partridge with bread sauce and pear jelly, white wine, red wine, and cigarettes.
Could I possibly appear on the show and provide an anecdote or two about how others had experienced "a good death?" I suggested Karl Wallenda, the 73-year old founder of the famous Wallenda family of high-wire tightrope walkers, who strung a 750-foot cable between two beachfront hotels in Puerto Rico 100 feet off the ground. A strong gust of wind blew him off the cable and he landed on a cab (#40).
Or how about baritone Leonard Warren, who collapsed on stage at the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1960 and suffered a stroke while performing The Force of Destiny. His last line was, "To die? A wondrous thing." Then there was Jack Arnold, a Presbyterian minister whose last remark from the pulpit on a Sunday in Orlando was, "When I go to heaven..." Or Laura Patterson, a 43-year-old aerialist whose bungee jump from a platform 100 feet above the field was to be featured in the finale of the half-time show for Super Bowl XXXI. But during a rehearsal at the Superdome, her bungee cord unwound suddenly after the second bounce.
Paul said he'd get back to me. A few minutes later, he said they had decided to stick with stories about regular people that had been submitted by their listeners. I tuned into the show via the Internet. A man had been playing chess with his father. He got up to get the man a glass of whiskey, and when he returned t he father was dead in his chair. A post mistress had celebrated her 80th birthday with a party attended by all of her children and grandchildren. She retired to bed and never awoke. A man died after winning a particularly difficult game of snooker. A listener's grandmother was cycling to the library to return books when she swerved and lay down on the grass with books strewn about.
Or how about the one about the starving writer anticipating his first big break who was found slumped over the telephone waiting for that call-back from the BBC?
I was just one question away from the winning the Triple Crown. "Famous or regular?" Paul might have tipped me off in the beginning, but those British accents are so hard to understand before that first cup of coffee. I would have told him about my Dad. Here's a photo of Bob Gillies three days before he died. He was 83 when he sat proudly in the audience and watched the first public showing of my new documentary On the Edge--a wake-up call before a test audience. He had watched me edit the program for countless hours in the studio, and he looked so happy as fifty viewers raved about the show.
Later that afternoon, he sat quietly in the living room and said with an air of resignation, "Sometimes I just don't get the point of it all." I said, "That's okay. We all feel like way sometimes." He missed my Mom, who had died five years earlier.
The next morning, he got up at 8:30, as usual, took his morning shower, stepped out to dry himself with a towel, and dropped to the floor. The doctor said it was a heart attack. I think he was just getting cleaned up to go see Jean.
That old ticker had served Bob Gillies well for 83 years. When it finally came to a rest, the doctor called it an attackas if it had been setting my Dad up all those years, ticking away without a murmer and laying in wait until he finally let his guard down, and then WHAM! Hearts don't attackthey retire.
Want to share any stories about a cool death? Like, for example, "Writing a thriller" (#63). Send me an email.
You never know when Oprah might call. We're all just one blooper of separation from the paparazzi. And don't forget to smile.
A Clean Sweep
When I wrote about the thrills of roller blading, or inline skating, on the bike trail along East Beach in Santa Barbara in Church of Skatin' I hoped to get the word out that there are risks when you mix together pedestrians, bicycles, surreys, Segways, and rollerblades on a narrow two-lane trail. Apparently the City didn't read my blog.
In all my 14 years of blading, they had swept the trail clean once a week. This summer they stopped. On July 4, huge crowds watched the fireworks at the beach and left sand drifts on the bike trail, as usual, blocking one of the lanes. But this year, the City didn't sweep the trail. Weeks passed. Phone calls didn't solve the problem. Finally I decided to address it in the Fifth Dimension, where time and distance equal zero. I posted a Notice of Annoying Nuisance on www.stupidrules.us and sent a short email to Mayor Marty Blum with a link. She forwarded the email to the City Council and various department heads. Within four hours, the trail was clean and the city was aware that sand drifts blocking a lane on the bike trail pose a danger and are a potential liability.
All it took was a web page to get everybody on the same page. In the morning, sand seemed unimportant. By the afternoon, it was unsafe. Before sundown the sand drift was gone. A website can coordinate 20 public servants in Santa Barbara or 20 million passionate activists all over the world. HTML is the new universal language. It's no longer necessary to make a series of phone calls, leave messages, call back at a certain time, jot down names and job titles, fire off memos, wait, wait, and more wait. We're all here in the Fifth Dimension right now. It's where we've been heading for a long time.
Any comments? Send an email.
August 6 - Hiroshima Day
In 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on a civilian population. Today, I wonder if America would see it's current role in the world in a different light if that atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima by Russia or China? Would we still hold ourselves out to be the world's only superpower, or would we stand on a more equal footing with our neighbors? Would we still have military forces stationed in more than one hundred countries? Would we be spending more money on weapons and armies than all the remaining 190 countries in the world combined? Would we be running at a surplus instead of a deficit?
Perhaps we need to forgive ourselves, regardless of who was right or wrong, to get off this weary treadmill.
Hiroshimanow and then
President Obama recognizes the moral responsibility of the United States "as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon." He said, "I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." But then he added, "I'm not naive. This goal will not be reached quicklyperhaps not in my lifetime."It has already been 64 years. Obama is a young man. How many more generations will have to wait for our leaders to lead humanity away from the nuclear precipice?
Your blog reminded me of the words "...Hope all things, have endured many things, hope to endure all things."
As for Hiroshima, some would say a great lesson, learned at the other guy's expense. But from the current Korean standpoint (it would seem), the bomb thing is a two-way street.
We'd do well to make the most of our own lives, since we may not be able to convince the bombardier his is a bad idea.
A few months ago, I wrote, "America is finally emerging from the dark era when the White House was ruled by an oil family and a defense contractor elected by a minority of the voters. The regime of "Stupid Rules" is finally over. Obama's cabinet picks may not be inspiring, and his support of the $750 billion bailout for banks and Wall Street gamblers leaves me gasping for breath. But there is hope..."
Our new President has now bested President Bush on a more ominous front. Standing in front of the Constitution at the National Archives in May, Mr. Obama proposed indefinite detention without trial to prevent people who have not committed crimes from committing crimes in the future. No crime; no trial; no sentence; no release date. Indefinite prolonged detention. With all the joy absent from his eyes, he said, "My administration will work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime so that our efforts are consistent with our values and our Constitution." So he's starting from scratch. A new system without all the cumbersome attention to detailslike confronting witnesses, discovery of evidence, offering testimony, relying on legal precedent, trial by jury, and review on appeal. No President has strayed so far from the Constitution so fast.
The administration's preventive detention plan "violates basic American values and is likely unconstitutional," Sen. Russ Feingold warned in a letter to Obama. Detention without trial "is a hallmark of abusive systems that we have historically criticized around the world."
As always, the people must speak up to defend our Bill of Rights, and we continue to hope that the President will listen, but it didn't reassure me this morning when I read in the New York Times (August 5, 2009) that President Obama has not spoken with President Bill Clinton for five months. This young man has four years in the Senate under his belt and he hasn't even talked to the astute former President? "The last time the two spoke, said the White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, was in March, when Mr. Obama invited Mr. Clinton to a ceremony in Washington for signing legislation expanding the AmeriCorps program."
There is something to be said for experience, Mr. President.
Midwest Book Review gets the joke of 101 Cool Ways to Die
101 Cool Ways to Die is not an ordinary book - each of its two hundred pages contains naught save a short summary of one cool way to die (left-hand page) and a not-cool way to die (right-hand page). The dark humor may raise an eyebrow at times, but 101 Cool Ways To Die is ultimately about getting a few more laughs in life rather than hurtling faster to an early death. Some of the ways to die are actually quotes from famous people, but most are brilliantly simple. For example, suggestion set #63 is "Writing a thriller" (cool way to die) and "Reading a spreadsheet" (uncool way to die). A great gag gift for friends with a sense of humor - a working funny bone is mostly definitely required for this reading!
People are dying today who have never died before.
Shelly Lowenkopf, writer/editor/teacher/raconteur
Early Returns on 101 Cool Ways to Die
I went to Frank Kelly's Friday night discussion group. I handed Marsha Sherman a copy of 101 Cool Ways to Die. She opened it to a page in the middle and burst out laughing. She turned the page and laughed again. The next page she howled even louder. After a few more outbursts, she handed the book to Chris, who did the same thing. Chris laughed at every page, but then she started to read each passage to our group, after she had finished laughing. The response was a more restrained laughter.
Finally Marsha, a psychologist, explained, "I'm right brain-dominant. When I read something, it goes in the right brain to be processed. When Chris reads the book to me, it is processed in the left brain. Still funny, but not quite so hilarious. The way this book is laid out and the way it is written, it speaks to the right brain."
I received this note from a Middle East poet. "After reading your book, I started thinking about dying and my losses. The more I think about death, the more comfortable I get. I wish you good luck with your book. I believe you will increase awareness of this natural process." Jennifer Taylor
Test Marketing my New Book
My friend Dick, a writer for the Wall Street Journal before he became a realtor, sat down with me at Peet's Coffee. I showed him an early edition of 101 Cool Ways to Die. Dick thumbed through it rapidly, scanning from back to front, getting more and more flustered. I wondered if perhaps I was on the wrong track.
I next showed it to Shannon Leonard, an actor and filmmaker who had developed a following with his YouTube channel ShanFilmz. He took it one page at a time, starting at the front. With each turn of the page, he laughed louder as he read each line out loud.
Dick was 72 years old. Shannon was 13. I thought, maybe this will do okay after all. Last night, I set a few copies out after giving a talk about "Hope for the Future" to a UNA gathering. Four people stood at the table laughing as they thumbed through 101 Cool. It's rewarding to write a book that gets people laughing out loud.
Wall Street Gloom
I'm tired of the gloom and doom predictions of the geniuses we refer to collectively as Wall Street. They say we're in a recession. We're going into a depression. There are no safe harbors. Everyone is losing money.
First of all, not a penny was lost in the current meltdown. Money changed hands. For every "loser" who watched the value of an investment go down, there was a winner somewhere who sold that investment at the peak price. That's how prices are set. There has to be a buyer and a seller to establish a price. A lot of people lost money and some people made a lot of money. Expectations changed as prices fell, but it's an illusion to think you're worth what somebody else paid for something just because you happen to own one. Until somebody pays you for that thing, your worth is in your heart, not on some scrap of paper. My IRA dropped about 90%, but that doesn't mean I'm worth ten cents on the dollar.
Wall Street is populated by people who think about money. They work in windowless offices making up stories about a world that is invisible. Was there anything real about those "safe" investments people made when they purchased bonds that were perched on top of steaming piles of overvalued mortgages "secured" by super-inflated houses in poor neighborhoods owned by people who could not affordf to make the payments? Real? It was a con game.
If any of those Wall Streeters would take their eyes off the computer screens and look out the corner window in the boss's office, they would see that people are still walking down the street, they're buying groceries, and their kids are wearing shoes to school. Retail sales on "Black Friday" were "surprisingly" strong. Who was surprised? The experts!
Life has not ended in the real worldjust in the con world.
What's real is that the world is shifting to a global economy, the unequal distribution of wealth is going the way of the British Empire, and consumption per person (the experts would say "per capita") is dropping.
America may be feeling the jitters, but the world is fine. The Global Consciousness Project at Princeton University monitors random number generators scattered around the world. Every now and then, the numbers form patterns which seem to correspond to events. The tools to detect patterns are averages and variance and correlations among the scores from all the devices in the network. When the planes hit the World Trade Center, the numbers showed a dramatic trend that coincided with the universal revulsion felt around the world.
The numbers showed a similar consistent positive trend on the night Obama was elected. What's wrong with this picture? About 45% of the voters picked McCain. As numbers go, it was pretty close to 50/50, so why did the random numbers line up? Despite the division of opinion in the United States, the world apparently welcomed the election of Obama as unanimously as it rejected the monstrocity that occurred on 9/11. In fact, the widespread and intense emotional response to Obama's election was so strong that it compensated for the disappointment of the good people like Joe the plumber (his real name is Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher) who voted for McCain/Palin.
Here is what the Global Consciousness Project reported:
The September 11 2001 terror attacks were analysed carefully and extensively, and we can conclude that the effects were among the largest in our 10-year database. The following figure shows a comparison of 24 hours of data from 9/11 beginning with the crash of the first plane into the World Trade towers, and a 24 hour period of data beginning with the announcement that Barack Obama had won the election to become the 44th President of the United States of America. The figure speaks for itself -- remembering that we cannot reliably interpret single events like this, nevertheless it appears that the election shows at least as strong an effect as the terror attacks. We can hope that the election is the beginning of truly positive change.
What does all this have to do with money?
Simply this. America is only 5% of the world's population. Our ups and downs do not dictate the direction taken by the world. We may think that we're the only game in town, but there are many forces at play that determine the future of planet Earth. A lot of money changed hands. The people who hold the money are getting really good deals on houses and stocks and luxury hotel accommodations now while the rest of us pinch pennies and wait for the sky to fall.
Here's an email from Bill Gough, who managed the Stanford Linear Accelerator for many years:
I think what you said about the GCP is accurate. There is another point that I find interesting in the GCP data. It indicates that everyone in the world is interconnected and that peoples' thoughts and emotions can affect the physical world. Remember, random number generators are just physical itemsjust pieces of hardware/software.
Research has shown that every individual's actions, intentions and thoughts, each in their own small way, are affecting the whole. When large groups of individuals around the planet experience similar feelings and thoughts they affect the physical world. Although hard to believe, this has been demonstrated by the Random Number Generator (RNG) in the Global Consciousness Project at Princeton University. These devices are now located at sixty-five sites around the world and act like cosmic seismographs that measure when coherent intentions, thoughts, and emotions occur throughout the world. They have registered the human response to natural disasters, to our fears and to our prayers. We are an interconnected world society not only on non-physical basis but also now on a physical basis via the Internet. The citizens of the world have entered an irreversible state of interconnectedness in which nothing as perceived in our current state of being remains isolated or autonomous. Thus, our collective "spiritual maturity index" will determine whether humankind can successfully negotiate this next great evolutionary transition.
You might enjoy an editorial I wrote on the FMBR web site. Here is the concluding paragraph
Global-scale events that bring great numbers of us to a common focus with a coherence of thought and feeling have been found to correlate with anomalous structures in the random data. For example there have been striking results for the Turkish earthquake, the billion person meditation, Islamic Month of Ramadan, New Year's Eve, NATO's start of bombing Yugoslavia, and, of course, the September terrorist attacks on the U.S. For this horrendous event there was indication that the effects registered might have begun several hours prior to the first attack. Thus, you might ask: Could we combine the REG data with the data from sensitives and avoid the disaster? There may be a paradox here. If we prevented the attack, would there have been sufficient deviations in the randomness for us to know that an attack was imminent? However, the deeper meaning of the physics and data is that we are all interconnected. What we think and feel has effects on others, everywhere in the world. Thus, we must learn to accept each other and help and support each other, everywhere in the world, if we are going to live in harmony on this planet.
Bill Gough, founder, Foundation for Mind-Being Research
Barack on the Rocks
I read this in the New York Times:
In his only public appearance on Tuesday, November 18, 2008, Mr. Obama indicated that he intended to move rapidly on one of the most ambitious items on his agenda, tackling climate change. Speaking to a bipartisan group of governors by video, the president-elect said that despite the weakening economy, he had no intention of softening or delaying his ambitious goals for reducing emissions that cause the warming of the planet.
"Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all," Mr. Obama said. "Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response."
photo © 2007 Douglas Gillies
He repeated his campaign promise to reduce climate-altering carbon dioxide emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and invest $150 billion in new energy-saving technologies.
America may be emerging from the dark era when the White House was ruled by an oil family and a defense contractor elected by a minority of the voters. The dynasty of "Stupid Rules" could finally be over. Obama's cabinet picks may not be inspiring, and his support of the $750 billion bailout for banks and Wall Street gamblers left me gasping for breath. But there is hope.
Update: The top story in the New York Times on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 2009, reported that at the international climate meetings in Copenhagen next month, President Obama will tell the delegates that the United States intends to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions "in the range of" 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050. This gives me hope that my children may still be able to call this planet home when they reach their 70's.
Another Update: A story in the New York Times on March 31, 2010: Obama to Open Offshore Areas to Oil Drilling for First Time.
Copenhagen was an embarrassment, and now America sets out on a course to burn more fossil fuels. George W. Bush made Nixon look good, and now Obama is starting to make Bush look good. I didn't think any president would be able to accomplish that in my lifetime.
Richard Groves, who is fluent in nine ancient languages, wrote to me that the origin of the word serendipity is found in the story of Adam and Eve from the Islamic tradition, where there is a theme woven from loss and bereavement as well as the spiritual reunion of two souls.
SARANDIB was the place where Adam alighted after he fell from heaven in the Islamic tradition. He wept with contrition until Jibril (Gabriel) arrived to console him. Jibril led Adam to Mecca where he was reunited with Eve. The place is now known as Sri Lanka.
How can an ordinary soul find the way to Mecca? In the act of contrition, there must be an element of forgiveness of oneself for losing the divinity that is everyone's birthright and for being consumed by sorrow.
Then there must be recognition of Jibril and acceptance of his direction, a willingness to follow him wherever he leads, leaving behind everything that was accumulated and hoarded. This act of faith is built upon trust in the divine.
Then there must be a willingness to be good, a decision to be deserving of everything the heart desires, right now, in this lifetime. No second thought, no wayward glance can get in the way of immersion in an energy so pure, in the presence of a being so vibrant, that every last shadow is anhilated. The reunion with soul will leave nothing the same.
Gas for Less
Want to cut your fuel costs by one third? Lighten up. I filled my tank a few weeks ago and then I started easing up on the gas pedal as I drove around town, accelerating a little slower, coasting downhill, obeying speed limits. On the highway, I set the cruise control at 55 mph. First thing I noticed was that my body relaxed when I drove under 60. Then I filled up the tank and voila! My mileage jumped from 21 to 28 mpg. I had driven 1/3 more miles on the same tank of gas. So my price of gas dropped from $3.00 to $2.00 per gallon.
Jimmy Carter understood that when he set the national speed limit at 55 mph during the oil embargo in the 70's. A grateful nation thanked Carter by replacing him with Ronald Reagan and Mr. Oil Tycoon himselfGeorge H W Bush. Up went the speed limit and oil company profits went through the roof. But it wasn't until Bush II teamed up with a Halliburton CEOBush/Cheneythat we saw how much profit could be made by starting yet another war over oil. Ten years and half a million dead Iraqis later, you might have to ask yourself, "What's the big hurry?"
It is amazing how rapidly The Secret infected American consciousness. Years of workshops were held in community centers, hotels, and retreat centers. Thousands of books filled the "self help" shelves of bookstoresa category that didn't exist when I drove up to Topanga Canyon from UCLA for "T" groups in the 60's. Suddenly The Secret swept across the nation, fueled by word-of-mouth "viral" marketing, and then it was unveiled with a flourish on "Oprah" and "Larry King Live."
The cast is filled with characters who make a ton of money telling their audiences that the secret to making money is to think like they think, when the real secret is to do what they doteach classes on how to make money.
Imagine how much better we will feel when the idea spreads that this is one world, we are one people, and we are already living in a paradise. See Robert Muller's book Paradise Earth.
And what a year! It started off with a blizzard as I waited in the foothills of the Sierras with my sons for a huge storm to pass. We crossed Carson Pass behind the first snowplow and then skied for 5 amazing days at KirkwoodGod's Forestin the best snow in CA. After the second day, I could still ski fine but I couldn't walk very well after discovering a run called Wagon Wheel. It had a giant skull & crossbones flag flapping on the cornice. Shane and Nathaniel said they had never been up there, and I won't be going back soon.
My son Shane completed programming the visualization of a new contraption in the Berkeley physics department called "laser tweezers." You grab both ends of a single strand of DNA and stretch it to see how strong it is, whether it breaks or returns to its original shape, and that sort of thing. Nathaniel and Jessie live among herds of elk, bears, mountain lions, and wild turkeys on the Lost Coast. He watched a neighbor's dog tree a bear the other day not once but twice. That area is a photographer's paradise.
Two new books have been published. Paradise Earth is a sequel to Robert Muller's biography Prophet--the Hatmaker's Son. And 101 Ways to Die was released in April 2009because there are too many people. A cool way to die would be hang gliding to Hawaii. Not coolsky diving into a community garden.
And I continue to feel immensely grateful for the miracle we call life. How can we have so much fun making such a mess out of a perfectly good planet? It might be a fine time to invest in Dutch dike-building companies.
In a sense, Burning Man is one big circus. 40,000 people from all over the world live together for a week like carnies camped in trailers, buses and tents in a giant circular arrangement on a vast, flat carpet of dust 120 miles long by 30 miles wide. The carnies wear exotic costumes and ride around in art cars.
Burning Man is a circus. And inside the circus there is Cirque Bizerk, "the circus for the Misled, the Misunderstood and the generally Maladjusted."
It was a giant, one-ring circus tent with ropes and pulleys dangling from poles planted in the dust in front of the tent. There was a long line waiting to get in. Spectators watched trapeze artists twirling flames as they performed on the ropes. We managed to get close to the tent when suddenly the front walls rolled up. People were already seated in the bleachers. In a moment of chaos, the people standing in line swarmed into the tent from every direction. Inside, we were instructed silently with hand gestures to sit down, sit down, sit down until we were squeezed together on the playa dust. There was no carpet or covering of any sort. I was surrounded entirely by strangers and we sat in very close proximity. I tried to assume half-forgotten yoga poses so that I would take up just enough space for my body and nothing more.
Out walked a tall, goulish figure wearing black and white makeup, an excruciating grin painted on his face. He was walking on tall stilts holding two long sets of strings, and dangling from the strings was a marionettea thin woman wearing a tutu who was being jerked around by this jerk. Her face was contorted. She was crazy with rage as she tried to free herself from the flimsy strings. Eventually she broke loose and danced wildly until she was recaptured and carried offstage by members of her troupe. Maybe she was crazy after all. Rather than feeling sympathy, I was conflicted about her fate.
As I squirmed in my tiny space on the dust, I watched one performance after another portray the extremes of psychological perversion. Another woman was yanked into the air on ropes while wearing a straitjacket. She fought viciously to free herself from her constraints. We watched from our cramped positions. Not a word was said. It was a grotesque ballet suspended from ropes and ribbons threaded through pulleys attached to poles at the top of the one-ring circus. A beefy man dressed in black climbed one pole unobtrusively, carrying a rope attached to a performer. Then he jumped to the ground as the performer soared into the air, lifted by the simplest of mechanical contraptionstwo human beings joined by a rope and pulley.
Someone sat immediately behind me and from time to time I touched his or her knees. I was never quite able to turn around to see who sat behind me. A man sat to my left. To my right sat a lovely young woman, maybe 20. I squeezed my arms around my legs to hold them close, trying not to touch the woman, who might think of me as inappropriate if I were to prop my shoulder or leg against her smooth skin. As people came and went, I twisted my body this way and that to gain moments of relief. As long as I kept moving, my body did not become too tense, though I was never comfortable.
And so the circus continued for nearly two hours while the audience squirmed on the floor, prisoners of an unspoken pact of isolation and decorum, contorted by our inability to simply relax and trust one another in the act of watching a wide spectrum of contorted emotions being played out by gifted performers in excruciating detail.
I have watched contortionists other times under the big top, and their emotions always seemed cool and contained while they performed impossible feats with their bodies. It seemed to be part of the act to display no emotion, but here at Cirque Bezerk all of those pent-up feelings of contortionists were laid bare. Nothing was cool or contained about any of the acts. Even the man on stilts, who seemed to be in control of his dancing prisoner, had that fierce grin.
Even in the bizarre context of Burning Man, an immense convention of carnies cavorting in the desert in the middle of the night while fire burned all around us, Cirque Bezerk seemed almost too dark. We were all in this together, human beings trapped in our circumstances fighting to remain separate while pressed together, not quite able to free ourselves.
As I look back on that week of stimulation and entertainment, Cirque Berserk lingers like a crater in my mind. It struck like a meteor and left a ring of disturbance in the stagnant pools of my consciousness, where I conspire to remain separate. I want to go back to those edges of human expression and emotion to explore the shadows that hide inside the sprawling city that is my mind.
After the Fall
Once again, my inner child has been awakened by the power of nature and the exuberance of the human spirit. I left Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert on Labor Day at 8:30 am and drove south to Bridgeport, CA where I camped near the Virginia Lakes at 10,000 ft. On Wednesday morning, I met Tom and Liev in Yosemite on their honeymoon.
I presented them with a wedding gift, a pair of CamelBak packs filled with High Sierra water, and we climbed the Yosemite Falls Trail. It was their first experience of Yosemite Valley. We stopped for lunch 3 1/2 miles up the trail, about halfway to the rim.
We heard a huge explosion. Tom is from North Carolina, and he instinctively looked around to see who had bagged a 'coon. I looked straight up and saw an orange cloud raining down from 1,000 feet above. Orange?
We ran for our lives, leaving our packs on the trail.
I watched a basketball-size rock strike the trail where we had been sitting and bounce another thousand feet to the valley floor. It took about two minutes for the vertical cloud to disappear. We called out to a nearby group of hikers who were hidden by the trees on the other side of the explosion. Then we retrieved our gear and headed down the trail.
A search and rescue team passed us, climbing the trail in a fraction of our time. A helicopter hovered above, searching for survivors. At the trailhead, a ranger was waiting to write down our stories. He said that a Sequoia had toppled off the rim and fallen a thousand feet until it smashed against a jagged piece of granite and sent part of the mountain down. The orange cloud was the vaporized Sequoia.
That could be a cool way to diegetting bonked on the noggin by a giant Sequoia falling out of the sky at 180 mph. After the big explosion, we had no more than five seconds to get out of the way. The orange color of the descending cloud was puzzling. I've done a lot of hiking, but I've never been chased out of the woods by a tree before.
So that's one life down, eight to go.
Oh, and then there was that psychologist at UCLA who shouted "I'm going to kill you!" as he pounded my head against the floor. Seven. Oh, and when they burned down the Congress of Micronesia buildings after I wrote a speech for Sen. Domnick in favor of independence. That would be six. And I suppose when I whipped the motorcycle around 90 degrees and skidded sideways to avoid a car that ran a red light in Palm Beach, Florida - that would be five (my passenger never went out with me again). Oh, and that fall at the top of Sentinel Bowl, Kirkwood, in 2012 when I was on demo skis and I tumbled head over heels for 400 yards. Four. Hey, that means I still have three lives to go. That's not so bad! I've only gone through one life every ten years.
photo © 2007 by Kelly Durkin
It was Thursday night, after I arrived home, when I finally got a good night's sleep. I slept 16 hours and woke up to the memory of the crackling howl of the Belgian Waffle in flames at Burning Man and the swirling orange fire that almost scorched our faces, as if the sculpture were the nostrils of a giant dragon rising from the dry lake bed beneath us and we were witnesses to its fury. I had played a small part in a romantic play about love, creativity, hope, fear, and far-fetched possibilities. Exhausted, I felt stronger.
I enjoy your "blogging", kind of like taking a ride on a roller coaster! Well, now apparently my computer needs some kind of a "tune up", or whatever, according to the guy who trained me on this iMac in the first place. I couldn't download the Quick Time.
where the stillness breathes in silent wonder,
softly met from time to time
by flowers slightly stirred and
by wings blending with universal rhythms
where the freshness cleans and cleanses
in beauty and oneness,
where the mountains envelop
with their ancient spirits singing and safeguarding
the sanctity and fullness of life and eternal verities,
a fresh, golden buttercup,
new, sturdy, fragile,
shining as the snow melts
your eternal friendship
lightly held and firmly known
in all the vast and secret places
that hearts and spirits find
in traveling on beyond.
the sun and you are golden, joyous friends,
laughing in the sparkling, dancing circle
where we join and hold your hand.
Margery Layton (l988)
There is so much email now, plus voicemail, that the new rules of communication resemble tennis. You send an email, but it may get hooked by a spam filter. So you leave a voicemail, but that can get accidently erased by a tap of the finger. So you leave one of each, an email and a voicemail, and then you wait. Because now, "The ball's in their court." If you show too much initiative, boundary issues may arise, and you could find yourself out of bounds. You wait, and if nothing happens, it's zero zero. "Love all." Fresh start.
I used to pick up the phone and an operator would say, "Number please."
April 22 Earth Day (for corporations)
I agree with John McConnell (1915-2012) that Earth Day should be celebrated on the Spring equinox--March 21--as God and the United Nations intended. The sun is poised directly over the equator on the equinox. As a result, both hemispheres receive the same amount of sunlight. It's a special day of balance. You'll never get hit by a hurricane on the equinox. John convinced UN Secretary General U Thant to begin celebrating Earth Day on March 21 in 1971. Then Americans ran off with the idea and changed the date.
John is still annoyed by it, but I tell him not to worry. The Earth has its Earth Day and the corporations have their Earth Day, when little carnivals pop up all over America on courthouse lawns and schoolyards filled with good-natured people who hand out millions of 4-color brochures, sell hemp shirts and hats, and demonstrate solar-powered everything from egg-shaped automobiles to safari cooling hats. What's wrong with that?
I like to take a hike in nature on both Earth Days, and leave the shopping to others.
Glorious Beings Award
Frank Kelly asked me to present the First Annual Glorious Beings Award to Robert and Barbara Muller on Good Friday at the Santa Barbara Music Academy. Frank is a great sage at 92 years old, a prolific writer, co-founder of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, and a speechwriter who helped Harry Truman win the election in 1948.
When I first heard that there was to be a celebration of the Glorious Beings Award, my mind had to stretch to embrace that concept because glory is a word that most of us don't use very often. It is so lofty that it almost seems like we'll get into trouble if we use such a word anywhere but in church. Yet Frank Kelly has spoken of glorious beings during all the years that I have known him. He describes the people who come to see him and attend his gatherings as glorious beings. Whenever Frank uses that expression, part of me feels a little embarrassed and part of me wants to stretch a little higher so that I can comprehend what he is saying.
After a magic evening of Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, and Shostakovich masterfully played by Stephen Kelly, Carol Manzi, and Ray Tischer, joined by performances of Misa Kelly and Devyn Duex in the beautiful surroundings of the Music Academy of the West, we turned a page in the human story.
In Webster's International Dictionary the lexicographers trip over themselves trying to harness a definition for glory:
--lofty praise given by common consent;
--an occasion of jubilant pride;
--a source of intense joy;
--highly distinguished, splendid quality;
Glorious carries the majesty so much higher that even the best adjectives need adjectives:
--marked by great beauty or splendor;
--highly enjoyable; and (here's my favorite)
--archaic: hilariously drunk.
We took a step on Good Friday. Glory is a notion that usually refers to something that is bestowed upon us. If we're lucky and we are in the right place at the right time and we possess the necessary skill, glory might manifest through us. Now Frank has turned the page and reported that glory is a quality that can be found within human beings. I believe that he takes us to a new stage of human evolution. There has never been, until now, an acknowledgment of people as glorious beings. There wasn't space for it; it wasn't appropriate. We didn't deserve it and if we had tried to claim it for ourselves we would have found ourselves in plenty of trouble--until Frank smiled that Frank Kelly smile and said, "It's time to acknowledge the first Glorious Beings."
This award was a fitting tribute to Dr. Robert and Barbara Muller, but it is equally a gift to humankind from the state of being that Frank Kelly has achieved during his lifetime. It was a great honor for me to stand on that stage and try to reach with my mind through my heart in the direction of what Frank had been talking about for all these years.
It so happened that the award was going to my two dearest friends, so that gave me an added incentive to try to bring the audience to a level where I could point to those two glorious beings. I met Barbara Gaughen in 1985 in San Francisco when I arrived home after a long day of work. She was sitting on the couch in my living room, a houseguest for the weekend. As a trial lawyer, I was involved in the world's largest lawsuit and I was working 18-hour days writing a summary judgment motion to get our client out of the case. I wasn't feeling glorious, but I think I was starting to feel that I might be heading towards great, which is a long way from glory.
I found Barbara in my living room, and I asked her, "What do you do?" She said, "I help people figure out their life's purpose." I didn't need any of that, since I was a lawyer, but I was curious. So I said, "How do you do that?" She said, "It's a two-day workshop I give, but we could probably do it in about an hour."
It was only 8:00 o'clock, so what the heck. We went through the exercise and I began to experience what I now can describe as a glorious being. At the end of the hour, she asked, "So what percentage of your potential are you using as a trial lawyer?" It was such a simple question, and yet it was the only question that could have changed my life so dramatically. I said, "I don't know, maybe 15%."
On the subway ride to my office the next morning, I wondered what I was going to tell the other lawyers. I couldn't tell them that I was going to quit law and start writing books and making movies and try to save the world. They would have thrown me out. So when I met with my associates, I said, "I've decided to go into business." They all nodded and smiled, because lawyers think that if they go into business they'll make the real money, and that allowed me time to transition out gracefully.
Years went by, and I met Barbara again at a meeting in Santa Barbara, where she became the champion of the La Casa Invitational, an event that I produced with her encouragement for the next three years. Each year, the Board of La Casa de Maria selected a host who had asked a profound question to be addressed by 80 guests during a five-day conference. Robert Muller asked the question for our second Invitational, "What is the meaning of life; what is the meaning of death?" The following year, Jean Houston was the host and she asked, "What is the grail of a new story that will lead us out of the wasteland and into a greening?" But the first year, Tom Van Sant's question was, "How can we speed up the shift to holistic thinking?"
Near the end of that first Invitational in 1994, Barbara said, "In July, it will be 2,000 days to the year 2000. Let's work together to come up with one idea each day for a better world, and by the year 2000 we'll have 2,000 ideas for a better world!"
Robert Muller stood up and said, "I'll do it!" That was the first meeting of Robert Muller and Barbara Gaughen as a cosmic couple.
That was in 1994. Robert Muller has now published 7,000 Ideas for a Better World. They arrive on my computer each day by email from Good Morning World. It's hard to wrap my mind around even one of Robert's good ideas, but Robert knocked them out at the rate of almost two per day for twelve years. It's a glorious being who can see a world that we will strive towards for the next thousand years and who reports the details as if he were reading the letters falling out of the sky.
We don't walk down the street and see glorious beings, not most of us, not yet. We see the body shape, we see the clothes, the eyes, the lipstick. We make our judgments; we evaluate each other as we pass each other on the street. But Frank Kelly is announcing to all of us, "Look deeper, and everywhere you look you will see glorious beings."
That's the gift Frank has given us. I look up and I can see ahead of me Barbara and Robert Muller walking into that glorious light. That is why they have received the First Annual Glorious Beings Award. But standing on top of the mountain with his arms stretched wide open to greet them, naturally living in the glory, is Frank Kelly, who keeps reminding us that we are, at long last, glorious beings.
I welcome your Comments...
The Life of Bacteria
I enjoyed your interview of Robert Muller. Do you have plans to interview someone in the world conservation movement? Jane Goodall and other names come to mind. There are so many big issues right now that it is hard to even choose one: global warming, water pollution, population growth, loss of biodiversity, etc.
I sympathized with Robert Muller's emotional swings between giving up and then feeling he can save the world. I guess for us born in love with the world, a threat of loss inspires us to work harder.
Edward O. Wilson wrote in The Future of Life:
"Science and technology, combined with a lack of self-understanding and a Paleolithic obstinacy, brought us to where we are today. Now science and technology, combined with foresight and moral courage, must see us through the bottleneck and out.
"The pattern of human population growth in the 20th century was more bacterial than primate. Perhaps the time has come to cease calling it the "environmentalist" view, as though it were a lobbying effort outside the mainstream of human activity, and to start calling it the real-world view.
"China deserves close attention, not just as the unsteady giant whose missteps can rock the world, but also because it is so far advanced along the path to which the rest of humanity seems inexorably headed. If China solves its problems, the lessons learned can be applied elsewhere."
"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I'll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other" doesn't make any sense." BR Roy.
Thank you, Cris.
I've posted my interviews of Jane Goodall, Mikhail Gorbachev, and many others speaking about ecology. E.O. Wilson describes the real challenge of our times. My first thought is that role models in stories can reinforce moral courage and lead to deeper understanding. Foresight, on the other hand, starts with a decision and comes into focus through collaboration.
So perhaps one answer to Wilson is story. In telling the "new" story we can create an emotional response and a sense of urgency. I produced
On the Edge--a wake-up call
with Ron Dexter specifically to make a TV program that would give the audience a sense of urgency while offering role models who are wrestling with global issues. Ron had made TV commercials for 30 years and was a legend in the field.
In television, it is the commercials that prompt viewers to action. The "shows" are mostly just putty between the commercials. So "On the Edge" is an attempt to create a 54-minute "commercial." The good news from Wilson is that lack of self-understanding is one of the ingredients. That's something that is changing. The self-help section of bookstores is now huge, and it didn't even exist for the first eight decades of the 20th century. Self-help may not necessarily lead to understanding, but it is pointing in the right direction.
I'm not so sure about characterizing human population growth in the 20th century as bacterial. It has been exponential, to be sure, but there is an element of grace. In 1950, we had no clear idea of how many people lived in most of the world. The first count was initiated by the UN, at the suggestion of Robert Muller, in 1952. China, which has one fifth of the world's population, only completed their first census in 1980, with the help of IBM.
The population "explosion" happened during the second half of the century, rising from 2.5 to 6 billion. Fertility rates have steadily declined, but the emphasis on humanism after WWII resulted in lower infant mortality rates. More babies survived, especially in the Third World, due to good intentions. Meanwhile, advances in science increased the average lifespan by 50% to 80 years. So more babies are kept alive and they go on to live for four generations instead of two.
People strive to save lives. Is that bacterial? I think it's human. Maybe we're just a little "too smart for our own britches," or maybe we're afraid of dying.
Some days I wake up underwater. I wake up worrying about war or water quality or interest rates or some long-lost friend. It feels like not enough air. I follow Robert Muller's example by looking around for some happy idea that will float me to the surface. I think of a loved one I wish to call and I get up to find a piece of paper to jot their name down. Or I think of an easy task that might make a difference in somebody's life. Or maybe it's something fun I can do that day to enjoy life.
I can't wait to get up. I'm so grateful that I'm not sleeping anymore. The sky is getting lighter. I splash cold water on my face and put on winter clothes until the heat kicks in. Some days it's only the thought of coffee that gets me out of bed. That's one good reason to drink coffeeso I don't spend the whole day in bed.
I love my life! I can grab any one of a thousand ideas that can pull me to the surface and fling me into the oxygen-rich atmosphere teaming with possibilities. If I can do one good thing, anything, that might make the world a little better, then happiness leads to joy, joy overcomes obstacles, one thing leads to another, and soon I'm almost overwhelmed with energy.
Hurray! I made it! I am alive on Earth for another day, and there is no end to the possibilities for making this world better. If the creationists are right and God created this planet pursuant to a plan, it must have been for the purpose of bringing more joy into the universe.
Enjoy your day.
It's on my list. I'm going to figure out how to create a form so that readers can easily add their comments to this blog. In the meantime, bear with me. Please click the "comments" link and send your remarks by e-mail so that I can post them.
I welcome your comments...
I figured out what the problem is. I get inspired and write a few lines, then I get busy on all sorts of projects--scheduling teleseminars, planning retreats, promoting books and movies, meeting new friends and potential joint venturers, or just learning, learning, learning. I spend too much time buying electronic gizmos, reading the manuals, and testing them out just to discover that they don't work. My camera stopped focusing properly after three months, my DVD burner can't write DVD's properly, my new iPod's accessory FM transmitter only fits the old iPod that Apple stopped selling six months ago. All of this aggravation takes time.
But I suspect the reason I'm not writing is because I have a drive-by muse. We're always making plans to spend time together, but there's always some change of plans that gets in the way. "Hi, I'm driving right past your house but I can't stop because I'm late for a 5:00 meeting." "Hi, the traffic is backed up so I'll catch you another time." We make plans but we don't make time.
So ideas pop into my head and disappear before I write them down. To-do lists fill up with too many tasks and I don't know where to start. I'm busy all of the time but I don't seem to get anything done.
Last night, "60 Minutes" reported that warnings from the top scientist in the United States for global warming were routinely censored by a White House lawyer who has devoted his shallow life to performing tricks for the oil industry. This is what you have to expect when you elect an oil man and a defense contractor to the White House. The oil company trickster edited the scientist's memos to insert ambiguity and doubt into the scientist's clear warnings that we have only ten years left to reduce carbon emissions or it will be too late. These hacked up memos were then sent by the White House to a complacent Congress as official reports from NASA. The 60 Minutes story ended with the news that the lawyer recently left his job at the White House to work for Exxon.
Personally, I'll be relieved when all this frantic consumption of energy winds down and I can get back to the important things in life, like writing books, creating beauty, loving my family, friends, and neighbors, and waiting patiently for the next surprise visit from my drive-by muse.
I welcome your Comments...
Douglas, here is what you what you might consider to be a "muse" poem to keep your amusing "muse" company! It came to me several years ago when I got a bit irritated with people asking me for my "recipe" for writing poems. So here goes!
Best, Marge Layton (Still don't know what an iPod is!)
Thunder rolls and lightning strikes
on placid ponds and quiet hikes,
rumbling, bumbling, rippling then
just circling back to strike again.
Poem strikes come from...who knows where?
From Mother Earth or in the air?
They find pure gold and bring it through
to hearted places
and always true.
Where does the time go? One day I'm on a roll, and the next--my muse fires me for good cause and I can't stick two words together without a wad of chewing gum and roll of duct tape. Plus, I'm technically challenged.
I retired from the practice of law when I turned 40. The reason was (1) all we were doing was fighting over money, and I don't get very excited about money, and (2) everybody waits until they retire to do what they really love, so the sooner you retire the better! Now I do the things I love: write, tell stories, interview interesting people, and solve monster problems. It's the same thing I was doing in the courtroom when I was practing law, except that now I don't have people objecting to everything I say and trying to make me look stupid. And I don't have to wear a three-piece suit. I don't even have to get out of bed in the morning to go to work, as long as I have a recorder on the nightstand and a bottle of water.
I put away my suit and gave up a fat paycheck. What keeps me busy now is stuff. I bought a 30-gig iPod and filled it up in the first week. So I took it back. I'll never forget the look on that kid's face when he asked why I was returning it. "Not big enough," I said. "I haven't even downloaded anything yet."
I bought a digital camera and haven't had time to read the manual. I ordered a copy of Final Cut Pro on eBay and now I have to take a class at Community College to learn how to capture clips. I know how to edit! I spent 3 years editing
On the Edge--a wake-up call.
But everything has changed in the past six years.
And now I'm doing teleseminars. That's a whole new set of challenges. I have posted the MP3s.
So maybe I haven't been writing because I'm too busy learning. Maybe an old dog can still learn new tricks. Or maybe my muse happened to be on the road today.
A Gorgeous Day
Now that I'm pretty sure nobody is reading this blog, I can quote WC Fields:
"What a gorgeous day. What effulgent sunshine. It was a day of this sort the McGillicuddy brothers murdered their mother with an ax."
--WC Fields, quoted in Who's Who in Comedy by Ronald L. Smith, p 161.
The Perfect Storm
Don Juan Ponce de Leon arrived in America with Columbus on his second voyage in 1493. Twenty years later, on April 3, 1513, during the Easter season of "Pascua Florida" (Feast of Flowers), Ponce de Leon's expedition sighted land at the site of present-day St. Augustine and named it La Florida. There he sloshed through the marshes looking for the Fountain of Youth, but I could have saved him thousands of mosquito bites. Just teach your sons how to ski when they're young, Ponce (or is it Leon?) and then join them in the mountains to celebrate every New Year.
My sons spent Monday halfway up the mountain waiting for the roads to be plowed during the storm. Finally they retreated to a motel for Monday night. I joined them there at midnight after driving through the tail end of a tropical storm that blew hurricane force winds across the Angeles Crest Highway in Southern California.
They were up at six the next morning, so we were among the first cars over Carson Pass (8,573 ft.) on Tuesday. It was a magical excursion on a highway framed by walls of snow 20 feet high. The road was so narrow that two lanes of traffic could barely pass each other going 10 miles an hour. I wanted to stop and take pictures, but that would have been suicide.
Since we were a day late arriving on the mountain, the condo was ready for us when we arrived at 9 a.m., but they veered into the first parking lot so that we could catch the first chair up the mountain. Four feet of snow had fallen in the previous 48 hours. I was surprised that my 4-wheel drive Jeep Cherokee was able to make it up the icy ramp into the parking lot without chains.
The snow was perfect--more than perfect. It set a new standard for perfect snow.
Kirkwood is an isolated resort, not on the grid, and when the generator went down at noon, everything came to a halt. People were left for an hour dangling on chairs, and I was stuck at the bottom of the hill unable to get back to my car so that I could move into the condo.
I like to take it easy the first day, but there are certain conditions when the only sensible course is to break all the rules. We skied all day and by evening my knee was so sore I could barely walk. I could ski just fine, I just couldn't walk, and that seemed like a good enough reason to spend as much time as possible on the slopes. Luckily, I brought filet mignon and russet potatoes for our first night's dinner. Otherwise, we probably would have been too exhausted to cook. I took two hot baths each night to soak my leg--one about 8:00 and the other at 3:00 in the morning--so I could ski the next day.
The first day was gray and cold and windy, but nobody complained. Each day the weather improved. Even on Friday, the trees were still heavy with snow from the weekend storm. I was the first one in our group to ride the chair to the top and ski off the cornice. It was an accident. I wasn't paying attention and got on the wrong chair, and when I got to the top I had sense enough not to stop at the lip of the cornice and look downhill before skiing. All of the important decisions in skiing are made when you're in motion, so there's no point in standing at the top of the hill trying to plan your first move. You ski off the edge and then you start making decisions.
The first ride up to the cornice was a mistake, but not the second or the third or the fourth. Then I took another chair up to a double-diamond called The Wall. Wind was blowing up the face and throwing snow a hundred feet into the air. A skull-and-crossbones flag was flapping in the wind at the top of the chair--a belated warning. With the sun backlighting the flying snow, it appeared the whole mountain was crowned with a golden halo.
The view from the top of The Wall was truly breathtaking. It took an effort to breathe. A trick about skiing with a sore knee is that you let the mountain do most of the work. Rather than jumping from turn to turn, you steer over mounds that will lift you up and suspend gravity so that all the effort involves pushing down. On a slope like The Wall, you just can't be choosey. If you don't complete that first turn in half a second, you can feel like you're going 60 miles an hour by the second turn. I made an executive decision to sacrifice the comfort of my left knee for the good of the whole. I snapped some pictures of the vertical fall as snowboarders and skiers danced down the slope, which I might show you if you send me an email. Then I danced down the hill.
My sons didn't ski The Wall. They preferred the "backside," an isolated long run with a view of the entire Sierra Nevada range. It is the most isolated place you ride on a chair lift in the Sierras. That was where we took our last few runs on Friday, where we saw something I will never forget. The snow was blowing off the crest of the cornice and throwing the familiar gossamer filaments high into the sky, but this time the wind spilled over the crest and carried ripples of powder down the mountain at the speed of the skiers. It looked something like rolling fog in a time lapse movie, like the clouds tumbling over the mountains in
On the Edge--a wake-up call
at the point where Ted Turner says, "If the gods had made us 10% smarter and 10% nicer, we'd be okay..."
The whole mountain seemed to come alive and the vast slope started dancing as powder tumbled down the face. Then little cyclones formed and followed the skiers down the hill, whirling snow 30 feet into the air. It was mystical. We looked for the patches of wind and skied in the moving flurries while our boots and skis disappeared. I kept an eye out for cyclones and skied down the slope in a whirlwind of snow while the ground pulsated under the moving blanket. Since I was skiing at the wind's rate of speed, the air felt completely still as the mountain danced beneath my feet.
Have you ever danced down a mountain? Comments...
In Canada, we called this day, December 26, Boxing Day. Everyone set their boxes out by the curb for a special trash pickup and showed the neighbors how many presents they opened on Christmas. At least that's what the kids thought it was for. The grownups may have had a different meaning for the occasion.
Nobody told us that we were ruining the environment. In those days, the word environment did not refer to the condition of the biosphere. That meaning was invented in Robert Muller's office at the United Nations in 1968. A highlight of my life was writing Robert Muller's biography,
Prophet--the Hatmaker's Son.
In the 50s, getting lots of presents and showing off your boxes on Boxing Day was almost as important as butterscotch pudding. This year, I only have two boxes to set out by the curb--a box of Danish chocolates, which knocked me off my diet, and a box that contained a candle. My other present came in a plain paper bag with Christmas loaves--a cranberry date nut loaf that I ate in less than a day, and a medieval Celtic stone bread that will probably last until next Christmas. I'll keep the bag and reuse it, so it's not much of a Boxing Day at the Gillies house this year, but it's better for the environment.
I gave away a Christmas bag containing an unscented candle with a stand to my friend Laurie, a realtor. What goes around comes around. I also made two movies. One shows Robert Muller and his darling wife Barbara kissing on Christmas. The other movie is a collection of slides I shot at the beach on two summer-like days before Christmas of a natural beauty from the Netherlands whose name means "light of the candle." At the end, she kisses her husband, another banker. Santa Barbara is thick with realtors, non-profits, and bankers.
Almost everyone I know left town this year for Christmas. I don't know why anyone would want to leave Santa Barbara and drive through the maddening crowd except to be with loved ones. I declined a couple of invitations and joined Robert and Barbara Muller at the Santa Barbara Mission for the 7:30 am service. We were going to have a picnic breakfast at the beach, but the summer weather turned cold and foggy on Christmas day so I treated them to breakfast at the El Encanto. I ordered a seafood omelette and brought half of it home for breakfast on Boxing Day.
Last night for Christmas dinner, I took a break from making movies to watch "60 Minutes" and enjoy my Christmas dinner--a Marie Callender's complete frozen turkey dinner with stuffing and mashed potatoes. I haven't had a TV dinner since I was a student at UCLA. Like so many people who celebrate Christmas with food, I still have heartburn. That's another part of Boxing Day--recovering from too much dinner. So I made it through Christmas without buying a lot of presents or sitting down to dinner with a house full of family and friends. Along the way I discovered that it is almost a radical act of defiance to remain alone on Christmas.
But I have an answer to the Happy Holidays/Merry Christmas debate raging on the comic pages this year. Tell people that you're just calling to wish them "the ole' jingle." That way, they can't object to your religious or political orientation because, as everybody knows, jingles are faith-neutral.
1,000 Days of War
Maybe it's the holiday season or maybe they broke out the eggnog early at the White House, but it looks like President Bush has turned over a new leaf. On Wednesday, he told a group of political leaders and scholars at the nonpartisan Woodrow Wilson Center, "As president, I'm responsible for the decision to go into Iraq, and I'm also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities." On Thursday, after resisting for months, President Bush said he would accept a formal ban on the cruel or inhumane treatment of detainees in U.S. custody anywhere in the world. On Friday, he admitted to spying on the American people without obtaining any warrants or court approval.
This is democracy in action. The shock waves felt around the world after the release of photos showing abuse at Abu Ghraib prison have rippled all the way into the Oval Office and caused an about-face by the president. The American people rejected torture as a tactic, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) carried the banner of human rights to the floor of Congress. Within a relatively short time, in light of the pedestrian pace of history, our representatives voiced their opinions, the pendulum swung, and the president did a 180. The world got a taste of the common decency that feeds the roots of American politics. We are not a cruel and inhumane people. In a bottom-up reversal of top-down policy, the system righted itself.
But the part about the president accepting responsibility for the invasion of Iraq has not yet played itself out. If Americans committed torture in violation of international law, and if Americans used chemical weapons--white phosphorus--in Falluja in violation of the ban against chemical weapons (which Bush calls Weapons of Mass Destruction), then our forces committed the same crimes which the president says justified the invasion of Iraq. If war crimes were committed within the context of an illegal war and our president has accepted responsibility for the decision to go into Iraq, now what?
There's nothing the cops like better than a voluntary confession on national television. There must be more than a few international lawyers who are rubbing their hands together over this.
I'm not an international lawyer and I'm not rubbing my hands, but if I understand history, it used to be okay to invade another country--as long as you won and nobody could stop you. China invaded Tibet in 1949. No problem! They were China! Who was going to stop them?
Then the rules changed, and the agent of change was the United States. When America went to war in Korea, we first obtained the approval of the UN Security Council in 1950. Why did we bother to ask them for permission? (1) It seemed like a good idea, since we had created the United Nations and it was still getting on its feet; (2) The Soviet Union was boycotting the Security Council as a protest against the exclusion of Communist China from the UN, so the Soviets were not in the room to exercise their veto power when the United States asked for permission to go into Korea. The United Nations gave America approval for an invasion of a country halfway around the world, and the Soviets learned from their mistake. They never missed another important meeting of the Security Council. I wrote about that in
Prophet--the Hatmaker's Son.
With Russia minding their seat on the Security Council in the 60's, when America wanted to go to war in Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson knew better than to ask the UN for permission. If the Cold War was to be fought in the rice paddies of Vietnam, it was not with the approval of the United Nations. No charges were brought against Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon after the U.S. declared victory and retreated. This was not because Johnson was dead and Nixon had resigned in disgrace. It was still okay to invade sovereign countries in the days of the Cold War, which continued to grind on for another decade.
After the Cold War the rules changed, and much of the credit goes to President Bush Sr. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, the Iraqis were taking back territory that had been taken from them earlier in the century. If Saddam had appealed to the United Nations to reunite his country, he might have had standing. But Saddam attacked Kuwait and Bush got a Security Council resolution authorizing Desert Storm. This established a new rulenations cannot attack their neighbors unless there is an immediate threat. Kuwait may have once been a part of Iraq, but it was not a threat.
Did you ever wonder why Secretary of State Colin Powell encouraged President Bush Jr. to ask the Security Council for permission before the U.S. invaded Iraq in the spring of 2003? Was it because he recognized that the rules had changed and a Security Council resolution would legitimate the invasion if the U.S. could not show the world that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction?
The U.S. could have argued that Saddam was a monster, his government was illegitimate, and it was time to free the Iraqi people from a tyrant. That would have been a fine argument, and it might have expanded international law. But when Bush argued that Iraq was a threat, he was rejected by the Security Council. There is no defense of mistake when you invade a sovereign country. You can't simply say, "Oops, my bad! Sorry we killed 30,000 people. Darn! Well, g'bye. See you later."
Maybe if the U.S. had not asked the Security Council for permission to invade Iraq, Bush might have grounds to raise a defense of ambiguity. He could have based his case on earlier UN resolutions, which might have created enough doubt to keep him out of trouble. But the U.S. pressed hard during the week of March 10, 2003, for a Security Council resolution to invade Iraq and the Security Council rejected the request. I was there. One week later, the U.S. invaded anyway. Oops.
So how is all of this going to play out? I asked Robert Muller, former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, if he thought Bush would be accused of war crimes. We were having lunch in the Bel Air Hotel with our friend Dyanne Routh, whose unflinching support helped me to complete my biography of Robert Muller,
Prophet--the Hatmaker's Son.
His answer: "I doubt it. It will depend on circumstances. Right now, it's too early to tell." I respect Robert Muller's opinion. He was at the United Nations for 38 years, and as he rose in the ranks from an intern to the highest appointive position in the UN, he had a very positive influence on the world.
So who is going to keep Mr. Bush out of jail? On the international front, ironically, it's the Iraqis. If they can get back on their feet, Bush may be hailed as a liberator. It's too early to tell. But if Iraq disintegrates into an all-out civil war, sooner or later the dust will settle and Iraq will still be a member of the UN. If they remember the American invasion with bitterness and they bring a case in the International Criminal Court, it's hard to see how George Bush Jr., who has taken responsibility for the invasion, will be able to avoid a trial.
I'm not saying that I would welcome such a spectacle, any more than I would want to see my brother arrested if he ran over a fire hydrant. But when I hear people say, "Who's going to make Bush stand trial--he's the president of the United States!" I don't think that will hold water.
If any other nation invaded a country half a world away, we would not entertain that argument. There are 191 members of the global community of nations and no country is above the law. Is it hubris that blinds us to the possibility that a former American president could be accused of starting a war on the basis of flawed intelligence that killed tens of thousands of civilians?
I knew this was going to happen. When George W. Bush got elected president, I suspected that he would give intelligence a bad name. You don't see people bragging about how smart they are these daysthose bumper stickers that say, "My kid is an honor student" are going awayand I think Bush deserves much of the credit. In America, anybody can be president. Democracy! That's the name of the game.
Speaking of democracy, now that the president has confessed to unauthorized wiretaps of American citizens starting when Condoleezza Rice was National Security Advisor with the knowledge of the attorney general, the CIA director, and the president's legal counsel, who will appear before Congress to explain how the president was following the law? Mr. Gonzales can probably see his future seat on the Supreme Court flying out the window, if indeed he advised Bush that a Commander-in-Chief can disregard FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Did the President break the law?
Church of Skatin'
For me, living on the edge in Santa Barbara means rollerblading on the bike trail that defines the boundary between beach and towna six-mile round trip I can complete in half an hour, if the wind is calm.
It's Sunday morning and this is my church. Next to my car, a handsome cop is writing a ticket for a shiny, black pickup. I notice a homeless man standing by a handrail overlooking the creek. He has a dark tan and he's muttering to himself, a soliloquy of bitter complaints. Maybe it's everything he couldn't say to someone who's no longer around.
As I put on my skates, a tow truck pulls up and hitches up the black pickup. Maybe it's stolen. I say to the cop, "You guys are really cracking down on the 90-minute parking limit."
"Yeah, were starting to get serious," he jokes, and we both laugh.
The next time I see him, I'm cruising through the parking lot at 15 mph. If that cop writes me a speeding ticket, I'll frame it and hang it on my wall. As I reach the 2-lane bike trail, I approach a woman with two standard poodles on 8-foot leashes. The leashes are crossing my path and the dogs are rearing up like horses, but fortunately she steps towards them as she says, "Don't bump my dogs."
"I won't bump your dogs," I said, "but I might hurt them if I somersault over their leashes."
But I'm already 50 yards down the trail talking to a stranger who's no longer there. Coming the other way, a man on rollerblades pushes a stroller. I wonder what it's like to be a tiny kid in a stroller watching bicycles, surreys, Segways, and rollerblades whizzing by at combined speeds of 20 to 30 mph. That child is learning to trust the kindness of strangers.
Like me, the father has no brakes. Rollerblades don't stop quickly under the best of conditions. If you're pushing a stroller and leaning forward, the only way to stop is to shift your weight, lean back, and drag one skate, which takes time. If anything goes wrongand everything happens quickly on the bike trailthe child will be the first to know.
When I took my sons, Shane and Nathaniel, for walks in a stroller years ago, walking seemed like the appropriate speed for their baby nervous systems. It introduced them to the world at a natural pace, rather than getting them hooked on speed.
"The fascinating thing about Americans," Peter Caddy once told me, "is that they are addicted to acceleration." Peter Caddy was a co-founder of Findhorn.
Then there are the parents who turn their toddlers loose on the trail. They take their little steps with their tiny hands held high in the air. I want to tell the parents that they should turn their kid loose on the street. Cars have brakes, and most of them are insured. But I can't say that. They won't hear me. I think of the homeless guy getting everything off his chest.
I was blading one day by the Santa Monica pier when a child, about 15 months old, ran directly in front of me while looking the other way. There was no time to stop. I reached down and swopped him up and swung him high in the air to keep my balance. When I set him down, I was barely moving. He turned to look at his laughing parents without ever catching a glimpse of me. I wonder how life will turn out for that child, the one who knows he can fly but can't explain why.
Children make it fun to go rollerblading on the bike trail. They add laughter, excitement, suspense, and danger. I'm always amazed that no one gets hurt. In the Church of Skatin' there are angels who guard the trail. These disincarnate beings whisper in a woman's ear and tell her to step towards her poodles, rather than yank the leashes tight. They sing hymns to the parents, reminding them to place a protective hand on their children to guide then out of harm's way, and when parents fail to listen, the angels nudge the toddlers out of the path of traffic.
Sometimes I can almost hear the angels singing when I get up to speed on the bike trail. They orchestrate the interference patterns so that everyone weaves in and out without hitting each other. This would be a good station for a tortured soul to cleanse their karma if they died while causing an automobile collision and desired absolution.
When I sit down to take off my skates, the homeless guy walks past me, still muttering. He climbs into a beat-up white pickup and drives away.
Human Rights Day
Today we celebrate the anniversary of the signing of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948. Or rather, we would be celebrating if we weren't so busy shopping. Americans spent $28 billion over Thanksgiving weekend. That's half of what it would take to rebuild the Gulf Coast.
In the history of civilization, the Universal Declaration stands out as a crowning achievement in the march towards peace and justice. Now with all the excitement of the anniversary, the debate is heating up. On Wednesday, Louise Arbour, the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, said that secret detention of terror suspects and sending suspects to foreign countries without guaranteed safeguards meant that the international ban on torture "is becoming a casualty of the so-called war on terror." She said it was "particularly insidious" that "governments are watering down the definition of torture, claiming that terrorism means established rules do not apply anymore...An illegal interrogation technique remains illegal whatever new description a government might wish to give it."
U.S. Ambassador John Bolt'n responded that he thought it "inappropriate and illegitimate for an international civil servant to second-guess the conduct that we're engaged in in the war on terror, with nothing more as evidence than what she reads in the newspapers."
Don't misunderstand me, I think Mr. Bolt'n probably meant it as a compliment, since reading newspapers is considered pretty heady stuff at the White House nowadays, but Louise Arbour is no dilettante. She is a criminal lawyer from Montreal. She served for five years on Canada's Supreme Court. As a war crimes prosecutor, she indicted the former Yugoslav president Milosevic in 1999, and she has served as High Commissioner on Human Rights since July 2004.
Secretary General Kofi Annan said on Thursday that he was "confident that (Louise Arbour) will carry on her work without being impressed or intimidated" and that as High Commissioner, she had an unrestricted right to "speak on human rights on a global scale." Annan set up a meeting with Ambassador B next Monday. If only reality TV could offer viewers moments like that.
Has the United States fallen under the influence of an Evil Empire? It certainly seems that we have lost our compass. We make most of the weapons. We start most of the wars. We burn more than our share of oil, and we consume more than our share of products. We refuse to honor the Kyoto Treaty on the grounds that saving the environment would be bad for business. Our president is an oil tycoon and our vice president is a defense contractor. Is the Administration simply trying to make the world safe for America? And what does all of this have to do with human rights?
There is no married couple in American history more respected than Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor. FDR guided the U.S. out of the Great Depression and led us to victory in the biggest war of all time. Eleanor inspired millions of women to assert their power. When Franklin Roosevelt took the lead in organizing the United Nations, he insisted that human rights be guaranteed by the UN charter. Two years after his death, Eleanor took the reins and led a global effort to draft a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She brought together Hindus, Christians, Moslems, and Jews, people of all races, and united all the isms, including Capitalism, Socialism, and Communism, as they hammered out a common vision of what it really means to be a human being. The result was a document that is as significant as the U.S. Bill of Rights.
The Universal Declaration was unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly shortly after midnight on December 10, 1948. It says: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile. Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.
We can only wonder if Mrs. Roosevelt could have completed her task if she had been confronted with the world's newest ismTerrorism.
I was born in the United States and I have spent most my life here. I do not see the American people as evil. We may be a little obnoxious, compared to, say, the Canadians, but chaining prisoners and flying them to Romania, Poland, or Afghanistan to be tortured is beneath us. We are all one people in this world. There is no color or ethnic group that falls beneath the standards that we established in this country for the ethical treatment of human beings. I am not ashamed that I am an American, but I am dismayed by some of the inhumane policies concocted in the White House. If we forsake the principles that we stand for, then we will become the evil which we claim we are fighting. Let's set an example of what we believe in so that we can leave our children a better place, rather than cast the world into darkness.
Take five minutes to read the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It may change your estimation of human potential. And say a little prayer of thanks for Franklin and Eleanor.
I had planned to drive 600 miles to Northern California for Thanksgiving to have dinner with my sons. Just as I was leaving for the trip, I misplaced my wallet and couldn't find it until nightfall. I decided to go to bed early, get a good night's sleep, and get an early start the next morning. When I was still wide awake at 5:30 in the morning, my Thanksgiving dinner plans had to change.
I decided to have Thanksgiving dinner with my ex-wife, who lives 500 miles closer than my son. She was cooking for her first ex and her third ex as wellTres Equis at the table, and if you count my ex, that makes four.
This isn't how I was raised. My mom and dad stayed together for 50 years, and none of my friends' parents got divorced, although one father committed suicide. Those were the 50's. In the 60's we thought we were changing the world, but we had no idea it would add up to so many equis.
She has good taste in husbands. That's why we get along so well. Her first husband was an architect when they got together. They had a daughter and opened a natural food store. When she and I married, I was practicing law in San Francisco. I retired from law at the age of 40 and became a writer. Then we opened a retail store in Santa Barbara. Her third ex was an Apple computer retailer in Los Angeles before they met. He started a camp for city kids in the mountains, which they built and managed for several years.
Now he is building a house for his daughter from a previous marriage, whose mother came to Thanksgiving dinner as well. That made cinco equisXXXXXaround the table. Five of a kind beats a full house, and it would make a righteous Mexican beer.
If my sons and their mother had joined us for dinner, we would have had six equis and four children around the table. In the 50's, we lived life as if everything was for keeps. In the 00's, it's the luck of the draw. I guess it's just a sign of the times. Perhaps we'll be remembered someday as Gen Equis.
Epilogue. A cable in my car that controls the speedometer and automatic steering broke on the Monday after Thanksgiving. I drove slowly on back roads to my mechanic, who repaired it quickly and cheaply. If I had driven to Northern California for Thanksgiving, the cable would have broken on the bridge between Richmond and San Rafael, not a nice place to lose your speedometer and power steering. Who knows what would have happened if I had not misplaced my wallet and missed a good night's sleep?
(By not eating one pound of California beef, you save more water than you would by not showering for between 6 months to a year, depending on which source you believe. Assuming an average of 7 minute showers. That's better than carrying all of your groceries home in your shirt like a peasant girl's apron.)
Anyway, I go with backpacks and canvass where possible, though I've been slipping on that a little lately.
Excellent blog! I love it!
Who's in Charge?
FEMA announced on November 15, 2005 that it would stop paying hotel bills for 50,000 families living in hotels around the United States on December 1. The agency gave the Hurricane Katrina evacuees two weeks to get out of their motel and hotel rooms and sign 90-day leases for apartments. Have you ever tried to find an apartment for just 90 days on Thanksgiving weekend? Many of those 50,000 homeless families feared that they would be living on the streets December 1. One week later, FEMA extended the deadline to the first week of January, as if to say, "Just kidding, folks. Uh, Happy New Year." How can a federal agency with billions of dollars play Scrooge to 50,000 refugees?
That raises the question, who's in charge? I have seen too many images on television of the incredible devastation along the Gulf Coast caused on my birthday by one low-pressure funnel of wind. It crossed the Gulf of Mexico and destroyed a region of the United States so rich in cultural diversity that it gave birth to jazz before the radio was invented. They named their football team the Saints. These people are special, and while I was celebrating my birthday in a tent in the Black Rock desert with 40,000 people, the city of New Orleans and its surrounding parishes was practically wiped off the map.
Residents returned home in November to find over 100 bodies in their homes. FEMA had called off the search in early October. This hurricane not only lifted whole parishes off their foundations and smashed them into rubble, it tore off the facades of federal, state, and local governments to reveal that they were not ready to respond to a category 5 hurricane. My heart goes out to the victims as I wrestle with feelings of compassion, outrage, and helplessness. We're the United States! We're spending more than $1 billion a day on weapons and armies while fighting an unprovoked war in a distant land. Americans spent $28 billion in stores over the Thanksgiving weekend. Can't we take care of our own citizens after one exceptionally windy day?
And what about the people suffering from the October 8 earthquake in Pakistan and India? Weeks after their villages were destroyed, hundreds of thousands remain homeless in the Himalayan mountains as winter approaches. On the news I see collapsed buildings in the parishes around New Orleans and crushed rubble in India and Pakistan. Three of the world's nuclear powers squander billions of dollars a year on grotesque weapons and yet they cannot take care of their own citizens after a natural disaster.
Who's in charge?
In 1992, I was hired by the National Institute for Urban Search and Rescue to examine this question in the United States. Lois Clark McCoy, president of NIUSR, said to me, "The president ordered the Pentagon to take charge of urban search and rescue, and they haven't done a thing. I want you to help me get them to do their job."
"That's a pretty tall order, Lois." I said. "When did the president make this order?"
"President Eisenhower! Well, whenever something that illogical happens in a democratic system, I assume there must be a reason. I may not be able to get the military to take charge of urban search and rescue, but maybe I can help you find out why they haven't done it."
Two weeks later, hurricane Andrew crossed southern Florida and blew 75,000 homes into the Gulf of Mexico. NIUSR hosted a conference in Memphis and I facilitated the town meeting. The title of the conference was, "Who's in Charge?" In a nutshell, the military did not take charge of urban disasters because, in the words of Max Alston from the Pentagon, "We don't want the job!" He said that they would bring their personnel, their equipment, supplies, anything that was needed, but, he concluded, "Don't put us in charge."
The reason was posse commitatus. Ever since the Civil War, it has been a fundamental policy that the military always functions within our borders under civilian control. We have only had two generals in charge of this country since the Civil WarPresident Grant immediately after the Civil War, and President Eisenhower soon after World War II. We are a civil society and the idea of a military takeover is so unthinkable that we get riled up over the merest hint of authoritarian control. Freedom is our great strength. Of the people, by the people, for the peoplethat's our motto.
We are in charge. There is no parent figure in the United States to watch over us. We don't indulge in the comfort of benign dictators or kings. We pick our leaders at frequent intervals. Of our past ten presidents, only three have completed two terms, and one of them was humiliated with articles of impeachment. Only Eisenhower, Reagan, and Clinton have gone the distance in the past half-century. Who's in charge? You and me. We live in a bottom-up system, and you-and-me are running the show.
No wonder we're so nervous. Nobody's taking care of us. We are responsible for our own survival. This is not just a matter of storing food, water, and shelter. We are responsible for our own lives.
We can meet these challenges and create a future that is better than the chaotic, frightening spectacle that is paraded before our eyes on the evening news. I hate to sound like a greeting card poet or a bumper sticker on some old beat-up Volkswagen van, but in my heart I know that we can set things right. Our minds go crazy with the contradictions but our hearts always find a way.
If we support each other with love and compassion, our abilities will be multiplied. The heart is where wisdom resides. Our fears are not unfounded and we must proceed with a healthy degree of caution, but our hopes and dreams can come true.
Try doing one thing today that will make a positive difference in your life and the life of another. One for you, and one for another. Every act of kindness makes the world safer. If we wait for others to take the first step, we may find ourselves lost in the wilderness forever. Start today on the right foot. Be good, do good.
Who's in charge, your mind or your heart? It's a choice with every breath. The Beatles sang, "All you need is love." Acccording to the ancient Egyptians, the beatles* ward off evil and make the world go round.
*The female scarab, or dung-beetle, drops her eggs on the ground and covers them in excrement on which the larvae feed. As the soft dung ball is rolled across the ground, dust and sand attach to it so that it becames hard and is sometimes equal in size to the beetle. The beetle rolls it forward with its widely spaced hind legsimitating the path of the sun.
United Nations Day
Here's a speech I made commemorating United Nations Day (October 24) at Santa Barbara Community College:
It is an honor to share this podium with Lois Capps, the Representative in Congress from Santa Barbara who demonstrated great courage by voting against the resolution authorizing the Bush Administration to invade Iraq.
The topic of this conference is: "The Search for Security Post 9/11: Are We Safer?" I have worked for most of my life as a trial lawyer, and I was trained that you never ask a question in the courtroom unless you know what f will be.
As a speaker I have a different rule. Never ask an audience a question if you think you know the answer. It is an insult to the audience and it's a waste of everybody's time. But what about our question today? Do you feel safer now than you did on September 10, 2001? If so, please raise your hand.
I see one, two, three hands. John Arquilla has his hand up, but I expected that he would say yes. He is a Professor of Defense Analysis at the Naval Postgraduate Schjool in Monterey, and he will be speaking to you after Carroll Bogert, Associate Director of Human Rights Watch. How many people do not feel safer now than they did on September 10? Almost every hand is upabout 300 peopleso this audience is leaning heavily in that direction.
"Are we safer?"
In March 2003 I traveled with
to the United Nations to hold a press conference and sign books at the UN bookstore. We were there to introduce my biography of Robert Muller,
Prophet--the Hatmaker's Son.
It was March 11, 2003, which happened to be Robert's 80th birthday. We arrived at the United Nations to unveil a biography about one of the UN's great peacemakers and the first thing we saw was a long line of press trucks in front. It was the week the United States lobbied the Security Council to pass a resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq. The pressure was intense and the UN was surrounded by more than the usual security precautions. The U.S. had lined up eight members of the Security Council willing to authorize the invasion of Iraq and only one more vote was needed to pass the resolution. Although it was known that France intended to veto any resolution in favor of invasion, the United States believed that nine votes would give legitimacy to the war in Iraq.
Meanwhile, we were trying to have our book signing and eat some birthday cake. As we straightened up the pressroom, we received a call that the PBS crew could not get into the building. They arrived with a tripod in a mailing tube and it looked like a gun on the metal detector. Robert's wife Barbara was coordinating our press conference. She sent Robert and me downstairs to meet them at the security desk. Robert Muller carried a pass that allowed him to go anywhere in the building accompanied by a guest. The security guard remembered Dr. Muller from the old days and let the crew in. The reporter asked Robert if she could ask him a few questions and they walked to a quiet place by the window. I stood at the security checkpoint and kept an eye out for another reporter we were expecting. A moment later, I looked around. Robert Muller and PBS were gone.
I said to the guard, "Well, I guess I'll be getting back upstairs for my press conference."
He said, "I have to see your badge."
I showed him my day pass. He said that he couldn't let me in.
I called Barbara's cell phone and got her voicemail. I begged her to send somebody down to get me. Our press conference was supposed to start at 12:30. At 12:42, a little old lady walked slowly towards me down the long corridor by the entrance to the General Assembly. She was head of communications for the UN, she was 82 years old, she was rather thin, and I don't think she worked out, so it took her quite awhile to reach me. As we walked together back towards the escalator, I thought of that slow motion scene from "Chariots of Fire." When we reached the pressroom, Robert was sitting on a little platform chatting with an old friend from high school, Rene Lejuene. They were taking to the press in French, which is one of the two official languages at the United Nations.
I said to Barbara, "I need a moment to gather myself."
She said, "Okay, sit right here."
Barbara placed a chair on the stage next to Robert. I looked out at the assembled press. They weren't looking at me. We had twelve minutes remaining.
Have you ever had one of those days? It's your first press conference at the United Nations, this is your first book, and as you look out at the reporters the whole room rotates 90 degrees? It's an amazing experience. Everything and everyone rotated in slow motion until the floor rushed up and hit me like a train. The back right leg of my chair had slid off the edge of the platform. I looked up, blinking, as the PBS reporter rushed over to me. She said, "Are you okay?"
"That was nothing," I said. "I just went skiing with my sons at Kirkwood."
I felt completely alert now and I had the full attention of the reporters. I got up and gave a short speech introducing Robert. He spoke briefly and then we went downstairs to the bookstore, where a long line of people from countries all over the world was waiting to see Robert Muller and get a signed copy of his biography. We passed several TV monitors in the hallway leading from the press room to the elevators, each with a closeup of Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, or Dick Cheney making the case for war emphatically and wordlessly. The sound on every monitor had been turned off.
The next day, Robert and I walked the corridors of the United Nations together. Many UN employees were concerned that the Security Council vote was so close. All the United States needed was one more country to say yes and the war would proceed with the approval of the United Nations. I said to a woman who worked in the Economic and Social Council, "Don't worry, this just means that someone from one of the smaller countries will get an opportunity to make history." That was on Wednesday, March 12. Before the end of Thursday, the U.S. withdrew the resolution as the number of countries supporting it shrank from eight to four. The United Nations said no in spite of the intense pressure from its most powerful member. They made a finding of fact as a global jury and said, in effect, "We don't see it. You haven't made your case for weapons of mass destruction."
We all know what happened next.
Are we safer?
What to you mean by "we"? Does that refer to Americans, or is it the community of humans who occupy this planet? Our world decision-making body made a decision and history will remember that they were right. It was a step forward. Only sixty years ago the world was embroiled in war after war after war. We have not had any world wars since the United Nations was formed. That gives me hope. We still have conflicts and we face great challenges, but the borders are now settled. People don't fight over borders anymore. In this century we will confront challenges in matters of faith and there will be fighting over disagreements between religions. Faith involves certainty that one party is right and the other is wrong. We must grow and learn to listen to each other more carefully in order to continue moving towards peace. I'm not sure the United Nations is the right body for that discussion. One of Robert Muller's 7,000 Ideas for a Better World is "the United Religions." We have a United Nations to work out political disputes. Now we need a United Religions where matters of faith can be discussed and people can find common ground to avoid religious wars.
Another idea of Robert Muller is that once a year the heads of state should meet as a global Board of Directors. Whatever they might agree upon will improve our chances of peace. The heads of state met at the United Nations in September 2005 and they made a historic decision. The United Nations may now intervene within the borders of a country to prevent genocide and acts against humanity. For the first time since the Treaty of Westphalia was signed in 1648, the world is willing to look inside the borders and question what is going on. That is a big step for humanity and it gives me hope. I think we're safer because we continue to move in the direction of a civil society, one that will make life better for all the inhabitants of Earth. The United States may have to accept a smaller share of the pie, but why should 5% of the world's population consume 25% of its resources?
As we wrestle with these difficult issues, ask yourself, "What do we mean by we?" It reminds me of that final episode in the Lone Ranger. He and Tonto are surrounded by Indians on horseback and the Indians are armed with bows and arrows. The Lone Ranger turns to his faithful companion and says, "What are we going to do, Tonto?"
Tonto looks back at him and says, "What you mean we, white man?"
The United Nations is not a government and it is not an institution. The United Nations is a new idea in a world that has been at war for 5,000 years. The seeds were planted by Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the final battles of World War II when he met with Stalin and Churchill to spell out the first steps towards creation of the United Nations. The UN charter was followed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an effort led by Eleanor Roosevelt after her husband's death. The UN was host to the heads of state two months ago, and they took a stand against genocide.
The United Nations is an idea that we can live together in peace in this world. Each of us who holds that idea in our hearts is a member of the United Nations. Do not think that it is someone else's problem when the United Nations is attacked or ridiculed in the press by belligerent leaders. Write letters, make phone calls, post websites. Fight back against ignorance, stupidity, oppression, and mean-spirited aggression. Don't let any Administration persuade you that the world is not safe for freedom. In truth, the world is no longer safe for oppression.
I was talking with a billionaire the other day. She was cutered hair, large brown eyes, friendly smile, maybe forty years old. I noticed her in the audience at a weekend seminar. During a break, I walked over to her and said, "What are you passionate about?"
In a matter-of-fact way, she said, "I want to enjoy my life as much as I can."
I said, "Oh really, that's interesting!" End of conversation. Then I kicked myself all the way to my room. You'd think by now I would know how to flirt.
You never know which moments are going to stick with you for the rest of your life. I'll never forget my youngest son running down the dirt road towards our house with a huge smile on his face when he was two, or the look of wonder on my older son's face the first time he skied when he was five. There was that glimpse of Mrs. Ireland's brashe was my teacher in the sixth grade. All of those moments were just a routine part of my life, but I still remember them vividly to this day.
I think I'll always remember that friendly smile on the woman's face when she said that she wanted to enjoy her life. It wasn't some toothy Paris Hilton smile. She was relaxed and paid close attention to each person she spoke with. She seemed comfortable with herself. She was not in a hurry. There was no sense of busy-ness or self-importance about her.
I expected her to say something noble about trying to save the planet or doing some good for her fellow human beings. This was a conference to hone the skills of public speakers, and there was plenty of talk about doing good deeds. I'm always looking for a few unpretentious words to express my desire to make the world a little better, but they never seem to hit the mark.
I've changed my mind. I'm going to start thinking like a billionaire. I want to enjoy my life as much as I can. I want to make each day special, take daily walks in nature, and spend more time with the people I love. I want to listen to more music, attend a high school play, go to Comedy Night, pet dogs, hold cats, and chase laughing children around the yard. I want to travel to every one of the 191 countries. I want to write, to speak, to make movies. I like to think that my life will contribute some value before I take my final bow.
I want to spend more time with my sons. I want to meditate in Buddhist temples. There is so much to enjoy on this beautiful planet and maybe I take myself too seriously. From now on I'm going to think like a redheaded billionaire. I have a billionaire mind. There are 6.4 billion possibilities of how to live on this planet, and I'm going to aim for the top sixone in a billionin terms of how much I enjoy my life.
Life is a miracle. I intend to live life like a wizardfull of magic and wonder, alert to the surprises and unexpected opportunities. I have a billionaire mind, and the next time some cute billionaire tells me that she really wants to enjoy her life, I'm going to smile my relaxed, unassuming smile and say, "Me too."
Here I have been stirring within an ancient Celtic cauldron a magician's brew of newts, salamanders, frogs eyes to the light of the harvest moon, dancing naked to an ancient four-step taught to me by a swirling dervish friends from Tiruvannamalai, and calling upon the Goddess of Love that a young, sexy, rich woman would come into your life and rescue you from your bachelorhood...and you fumble the ball on the goal line. That's just about as bad as an author/attorney I heard about falling off the stage in the United Nations Building just as he was about to introduce the subject of his most recent biography. He obviously is not a recovered attorney.
All Saints Day
And what would the Saints have to say about us, the current occupants of planet
Earth? Would they say that we are squandering our time pursuing
the false gods of consumption and self-indulgence? Or would they say we are
on the verge of an extraordinary transition to a better, safer, happier, and
more joyful world? Inasmuch as the saints speak to us through our hearts,
that leaves it up to each one of us to decide what the saints have to say on All Saints Day.
There is no need to list the problems that have been created by human endeavors
in this world. Those lists are often repeated, and we all have reasons to believe that the world may be coming to an end, but what about
the bright side? What's good about human nature? People are driven to improve
their circumstances. Our predominant mantra is that things are getting better.
This computer has more memory and a bigger hard drive than the computer
that sits in my garage. This car is safer and more fuel-efficient than the last one. These running shoes provide more arch support, and that mattress
is more comfortable than the one that came before it, or the horsehair blanket
that preceded it, or the grass mat before that. Cleaner, bigger, better, smarterthose are adjectives that modify the human experience.
Nobody brags about making matters worse. Nothing in our literature or vocabulary
would suggest that humans are exceptionally stupid or evil. We're smart. We're hopeful. And
we like to get things done. What does that suggest about the direction we may
be heading? Will we manage to find new energy as a substitute for oil, given that oil
will run out during this century? Will we strike a sensible balance with our environment
so that we can stabilize at an appropriate number of people for the Earth's carrying
I spent three years writing Robert Muller's biography
Prophet--the Hatmaker's Son.
I recently asked him
what message he might want to share with business leaders that could make a
difference. His answer was "Think in terms of the next 1,000 years." Robert Muller
has written 7,000 Ideas and Dreams for a Better World during the 10 years that
I have known him. His paramount idea is that we must aim to achieve a paradise
on Earth. Why not? We could not conceive of a planet that would be a better candidate. If we lived on Mars,
we would look at the Earth fondly and wish we were here. We find nothing in the universe to suggest that any place is better. So far as paradise goes, we are as close as it gets.
Do we have the capability to think about the next 1,000 years? It might help to look back 1,000 years. That would be the year 1005.
Fewer than 1% of the people in the world could read or write, and those were
mostly Jewish and Moslem clerics studying sacred texts. There was no
running water, no toilets. The empire of Charlemagne had crumbled 150 years earlier and Europe had disintegrated into quarreling factions. William the Conqueror had not yet invaded England
and the Crusades were still several generations away. Chivalry had not been invented. When Katherine Hepburn played Eleanor of Aquitaine in "The Lion in Winter" and she blurted out, "We're savages!" that would have happened 150 years after the year 1005.
People a thousand years ago knew that the world was round, but they believed the Sun and the stars orbited
around the Earth. Galileo and Newton pointed thinking in new directions.
The Scientific Revolution gave people more control over their lives. Nation
states formed and eventually adopted the notion of democracy. Wars increased in magnitude. World War I resulted in 10 million deaths and World War II killed another 50 million people.
While the nation-states were feuding in the middle of the 19th-century,
postal workers formed a union so that they could get the mail across the borders.
This was followed by formation of the League of Nations at the end of World War I. Though the charter was commissioned by Andrew Carnagie, developed in the United States, and introduced to the world by President Woodrow Wilson, Republicans
who controlled the Senate refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles. The United
States did not participate in the League of Nations, Hitler rose to power, the world plunged into World War II, and once again the Americans came up with an idea for world cooperationthe United Nations.
With the birth to the United Nations, the borders were settled
and nations stopped fighting each other over territory. Israel was the
last nation to be carved out of another people's land. Five years later, China
invaded Tibet, but perhaps someday the Chinese will retreat. Tibet remains
a distinct, although occupied, nation. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, the United Nations authorized military action to repel the Iraqi invaders. Ironically, when the United States asked
the United Nations for permission to invade Iraq in 2003 and then disregarded the
UN's decision, it violated the very principles that the United States had advocated
when the UN charter was drafted.
Where might all of this lead us in another thousand years? The new literacy is holistic thinking. We can embrace the whole Earth and the solar system and the galaxy in our thinking
as we develop an evolving picture of the universe. We are just beginning to comprehend where our new thinking will lead us. The word holistic is only 80 years old. It was introduced by Jan Smuts, Prime Minister of South Africa, in his book Holism and Evolution (1926). It was only in 1968 that people began to conceive that
we were part of an "environment," a word that was coined in Robert Muller's office
while the UN was planning the first world Conference of the Environment in
Stockholm in 1972. After Stockholm there were world conferences
on water, population, desertification, and climatology.
The focus of the United Nations shifted from a sole concern for humanity to
a holistic awareness of the planet. Humankind is now seen as a part of a greater
whole. That is a giant step in thinking.
So we embark on this new millennium with a new sense of where we are, and a
new sense of purpose. As science uncovers the connections, our minds
embrace new meaning. We are beginning to see ourselves as stewards rather than
consumers. We are shifting to network economies, guerilla marketing, and tipping point strategies. The
Internet allows new linkages that were inconceivable ten years ago. People can form instant networks all over the world to concentrate their efforts on specific goals. Maybe somebody with too much time on their hands will even read this whole blog and send me an email.
We all hold a piece to the puzzle6.6 billion pieces to a jigsaw puzzle that is our modern world. If each of us
contributes one piece, a new picture will emerge that will inspire us
and motivate us to go forward.
Stupid Rules and Chasing Chase
While I served as Directing Attorney for Senior Citizen's Legal Services in Santa Cruz, an 82-year old client said to me, "You have no patience for stupid people."
I suppose she was right. I thought I might mellow out over time, but I still get frustrated when dumb stuff happens. So I posted a blog that appeals to that side of my nature.
- Stupid Rules.US pokes fun at the dumb stunts and inexcusable neglect on the part of our public servants and business leaders. I got the idea during the "W" years, but Bush the Second was just too easy a target. Once Obama took over, I felt more of a challenge. Obama looks good; he sounds good. But "stupid is as stupid does." Forest Gump.
- You might also enjoy visiting ChaseChase.org. It focuses on the spectacle of millions of American families driven out of their homes by banks that made loans knowing full well the homeowners would not be able to pay them back. The reason was Wall Street, where traditional real estate principles were blown up into confetti by high rollers who bet against the bank and wonuntil they crashed the global economy and fled into gated communities with billions in stolen bonuses. Now it's time to clean up the mess.
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