American roulette

Congressman Jim Marshall (D-GA), in a commentary on CNN today, says:

“Deep down, we all know that a financial rescue is necessary. I voted for the plan that was defeated today because, to paraphrase Rep. Spencer Bachus, I’m unwilling to play Russian roulette with the financial lives of my children and grandchildren. Although the bill was imperfect and wildly unpopular, I believed that those of us in Congress needed to suck it up, vote for it and let the chips fall where they may.”

This is what’s wrong with Congress at the moment, both Democrat and Republican; they say they don’t want to “play Russian roulette” and yet they’re willing to “vote for it and let the chips fall where they may?!”For goodness’ sake, show some leadership; sit down, roll up your sleeves, figure out a viable solution that doesn’t give tax breaks to the very people who have derided taxation and gov’t intervention for the last thirty years. Do your #$^&ing job in other words.

We are in this process of American roulette these days. We are victims of our own greed and lack of participation in the process of the very democracy that runs our lives. This is a real mess, it deserves a real solution, not just throwing money at the problem. 

How do you fix an engine while it’s still running? Do you fix a flat with the car still in motion? No, you pull over to the side of the road, turn off the engine, and go to work. This is what we need to do as a Nation. It means that some people will not reap tremendous profits for a few days, weeks, months. So be it; we always talk about sacrifice for our country in terms of losing one’s life in a war; it’s time to think of lower level (but still honorable) sacrifice to the tune of putting the needs of the Nation above those of ones individual financial or corporate profit.

Integrity and the American character

Today has been a banner day for me in terms of integrity. I received a final judgement from the Wisconsin DWD (Department of Workforce Development) regarding a challenge they made to one of my weekly statements.

To the uninitiated, that is those who’ve never had the misfortune of losing a job and of collecting unemployment compensation from their state of residency, every week you’re required to file a claim. Among other things, you verify that you’ve actively looked for work, and that you have neither received compensation from any other source (a job, an employer, vacation pay, etc.) or have not refused and offer of work.

This past week, I was accused of the latter.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I take my integrity very seriously. They also know that I’m not one to lie, especially not on official documents or in matters where said integrity carries weight and the violation thereof carries great consequences. So, the State of Wisconsin telling me that I’d “lied” to them about not refusing an offer of work was no small matter to me; I was being called a liar under circumstances where I specifically go out of my way to dot all the “i”‘s and cross all the “t”‘s in order to make sure that what I submit represents the truth.

For a few days, it seemed that it came down to a matter of syntax; what had transpired between myself and an employment agency had, according to my understanding, constituted a job “lead” – something that could lead to an employer being interested in me, an interview, and an eventual job offer – not a job offer itself.

I’m happy to report that the final decision has come down, and the State agrees with me, saving me the hassle of having to appeal a “guilty” decision, as I surely would have; what else would I do if my integrity were so challenged.

But, I find this event in my life to be timed quite interestingly with the events transpiring on the national stage. Even today, on the Today Show, they ran a segment called “Silver Lining in Economic Woes”. The segment outlined ways that you can save and “even make money” during these hard economic times. In other words, how to profit from the misfortunes of others. Isn’t this exactly how we got into this mess in the first place?

Whether it’s the politicos pushing the pluses and minuses of the 700 billion buyout, or the dozens of talking heads on TV and the web decrying “how to survive these tough economic times”, it seems to me that we are missing the larger picture here; watching this country wrestle with the current economic crisis is like attending an AA meeting where everyone is drinking alcohol: we all know there’s a problem, but we can’t seem to give up getting a good buzz.

At the heart of this current economic crisis is the American character itself. Where and when did we go from a nation of like-minded citizens, concerned with representation, justice, and equality, to a hodgepodge mixture of individuals focused on looking out for #1 even if it means profiting financially by preying on the misfortune, naiveté, fear, or utter desperation of others? What is it about our daily lives that we stand by while the American experience is reduced to the lowest common denominator of how can you accumulate more than your neighbor, or win an election at all costs (even if it means misrepresenting the character of the opposition), or pursuing a doomed foreign policy to the brink of war and beyond (even if it means propagating faulty intelligence presented to your own nation even as it was reeling from the PTSD of 9/11)?

I was thinking about this today, as I pulled my car through the labyrinth of the UW Hospital parking ramp, on my way home from a job interview. As I proceeded across a straight-away, a car in front of me, coming from the intersecting down ramp, pulled right in – nearly hitting me, without signaling or acknowledging me at all.

I, of course, under the law had right of way. But right of way, or the law for that matter, doesn’t seem to matter much to most Americans these days.

I couldn’t have said it better…

I was doing some spring cleaning today, thinning down my book collection (as much as I hate to get rid of books, I really need more empty space in my life at the moment), and I pulled Elia Kazan’s biography off the shelf for the first time in years; I found the following passage highlighted on a page, in the chapter talking about the first production of Death Of A Salesman:

“The Christian faith of this God-fearing civilization says we should love our brother as ourselves. [Arthur] Miller’s story tells us that actually – as we have to live –we live by an opposite law, by which the purpose of life is to get the better of your brother, destroying him if necessary, yes, by in effect killing him.”

Since I highlighted it, clearly it resonated with me back in ’93 during grad school, and sadly it resonates even more today, especially with the current economic crisis. When, one wonders, will this culture wake up to the poisonous nature of capitalism and what it does to our human nature? When will we be able to engender a true sense of cooperation amongst enough of us that the din of “get ahead”, “look out for #1”, “the one with the most toys wins” mentality will finally be drowned out I wonder… 

give yourself a treat…

If you’ve got fifteen minutes to spare, give yourself a treat and watch the recently posted TED talk by sculptor Arthur Ganson; I had the fortune of seeing an exhibit of his work ages ago when my friend Ellen was working at the MIT Museum. His stuff is kinetic, playful, humorous, and brilliant.

Just Good Friends…

a little FISH (as in Derrick William Dick, that is) – I hadn’t heard this song in so long, and tonight on the way home from Aikido I heard it, and I had to replay my favorite verse three or four times:

So are we left to chance meetings,
Is that all we can depend on?
Resigned to raise glasses
in anonymous cafes.
Reciting our failures,
as if we really needed that proof of regret,
Over what we have and what should have been
Darlin’ are we just good friends?

What would you do,
If I got down on my knees to you?
Would you hold it against me?
Would you stand me in line?
What would you do,
If I opened up my heart to you?
Would I just be another who’s wasting his time,
Darling are we just good friends?

the first flower [with apologies to Thurber]

for Kathy, and David, and their yet-to-be munchkin…


One day, the first flower appeared on the Earth (perhaps the first in the entire Universe).

It was a mutation, of course. In today’s parlance, we would call it a misfit, an oddball; an outcast.

Mother Nature had grown plants before, short and tall, green, with flowing leaves of various sizes. But this one had a genetic “tic”, and some of its cells morphed into something new. A bud formed, and the cells took on color, a color different from the green of its stem and leaves.

The rain and sunshine fed it and the cells in the bud filled with color and grew and grew and grew until there were so many of them the gentle skin of the bud burst and the petals of the world’s first flower faned out into the air and caught the glint of the sun.

There was no one around. There were not yet animals of any kind on the planet. There was life, but it was plant life, and sea weeds, and moss. Humans were not even yet a possibility.

But there it was, the first flower. And though no one was watching it, though no one was around to applaud its arrival, though no human was there to water it, stroke its soft petals, pluck it, put it in a vase, place it in a lover’s hand, or lay it upon a loved one’s grave, there stood the first flower blooming, showing its new-found colors to the whole universe, soaking up the sun, drinking in the rain, and dancing in the wind.


I just got word tonight that Percy Julian Jr. passed away; he was only 67 years old. Percy was the son of Percy Julian Sr. – the renowned scientist; he was a pioneering civil rights attorney [read more:].
He was also a student at Aikido of Madison. I had the pleasure of taking classes with him, but also of having some great conversations with him off the mat. On one particular occasion, we bumped into each other at Cleveland’s Diner off the Square and had brunch together.
He was a kind, intelligent, wise man who led a fascinating life.He had been away from Aikido for a while when he re-appeared this past Fall. It was great to see him on the mat, and to get a chance to catch up with him. I looked forward to many more conversations with him; those, alas, I will never have.
67; a stroke; it’s all so fragile, folks…


Glenn Greenwald over at gives a very thorough and easy to understand commentary on all of this, but the long and short of it is that the Democrats have once again rolled over and given the Bush administration a major victory, passing FISA – the Federal Intelligence and Surveillance Act, a bill that gives total, retroactive, immunity to Bush and members of his administration plus any telecom corporation that willingly gives over information on OUR communications (email, phone, cell phone) without a warrant. 


Says Greenwald:

“That’s really the most extraordinary aspect of all of this, if one really thinks about it — it isn’t merely that the Democratic Senate failed to investigate or bring about accountability for the clearest and more brazen acts of lawbreaking in the Bush administration, although that is true. Far beyond that, once in power, they are eagerly and aggressively taking affirmative steps — extraordinary steps — to protect Bush officials.”


Please note that neither Sen. Clinton nor Sen. Obama voted on this act. I know, they’re campaigning and all, but apparently their busy schedules didn’t afford them time to actually put their money where their mouth is and vote against this abhorrent piece of legislation.


Read more: 


Amnesty Day for Bush and lawbreaking telecoms

Fire in an (un)crowded apartment…

… very uncrowded, as in vacant, as in the apartment downstairs from me… vacant for a year now, so not surprising that in this sub-zero weather the pipes froze.


In an effort to avoid cracks in said pipes, the manager from the building called one of the maintenance folks to come in and thaw them. Even though he had a hair dryer handy, he decided he wanted the job done quicker, and pulled out his propane torch. Seems the end of the nozzle on the torch was faulty, because just after he lit it, the nozzle bent and fell off, leaving him with a propane tank with a fireball on top of it.


He dumped the tank into the sink and within a second the drapes on the kitchen window caught and within moments the ceiling and cabinets became involved.


All of this was happening below me, as I was innocently typing away in my living room. Then I heard raised voices, and poked my head out my apartment door to see what was happening. I went downstairs and poked my head in the apartment below and saw the orange glow of flames and thick black smoke in the kitchen. Bill, our resident manager, ran past me to his apartment across the hall to grab a fire extinguisher. Poor fellow, he ran right past the large one hanging in the hall; I grabbed it, and ran back into the apartment – by this time the smoke was thick and I had to stoop at the waist to get under it to breath and see.


I handed the extinguisher to the maintenance guy and he got the fire out. I the mean time, I rushed back to the hall, where the stairwell was quickly filling up with smoke. I opened the small window in the stairwell, and then rushed to my apartment; when I got to my doorway, I turned and looked back – the smoke was so thick behind me I could not see a thing.


All of this took maybe thirty seconds. I am absolutely humbled and stunned at how fast it all moved – the flames and the smoke. I’ve never been in a fire before (esp. one inside, and with accelerants). I will never look upon them in the same way.


This also meant, I had to open all my windows to air out my apartment – on one of the coldest days we’ve had all winter. That, and I had to re-vacuum the living room (which I had just vacuumed this morning) to get rid of some soot that floated in with the smoke.


Smoke alarms, smoke alarm batteries, fire extinguishers, a well-thought out escape plan, folks.