Thursday, July 30, 2009

Obama should invite Gates' neighbor for beer at the White House too

I just want to make one last point about the Henry Gates incident at Harvard before letting the matter drop. Why wasn't Lucia Whalen, the neighbor who called the police on Gates, invited to the White House for beer too? Then she would actually get a chance to meet her neighbor.

How long had Whalen lived in the neighborhood before this incident occurred? And how long had Gates lived in the neighborhood too? How come they had never met each other before this? And how come I've never been invited to the White House for a beer either? I've called the police on MY neighbor -- lots of times. So why aren't I getting a beer too?

At least I know what my neighbor looks like. That fact alone should entitle me to two beers?

Nobody in America seems to know what their neighbors look like any more. That's just sad. When the SWAT team hauled my neighbor's house-guest out of her apartment stark naked a few years ago, I still was able to recognize my neighbor -- even through the tear gas! I live in an old-fashioned town. People here know one another. All of America used to be friendly like that.

Which brings up the subject of fishing. Another one of my neighbors whom I know very well is an uber-Republican type. He listens to Limbaugh, watches Fox News, hangs on Palin's every word, the whole nine yards. And he's fun to argue with. "Democrats give people fishes." he's always telling me. "But Republicans SHOW them how to fish." Nah. Republicans steal peoples' fishing poles, steal their fish, steal their bait, don't teach them nothing and then dry up their rivers -- and still somehow manage to get the people they stole from to actually thank them for stealing their stuff.

But even though my card-carrying Republican neighbor and I disagree on almost everything, I'm still pretty sure that I would be able to actually recognize him if he was standing on his front porch -- even in broad daylight, even at 12:44 in the afternoon. That alone should entitle me to THREE beers at the White House.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Living in a car-less world: "Eat your lawn!"

(Photos are of my daughter Ashley getting her car towed away after it blew a head gasket and then sat in the parking lot for a year.)

This afternoon, I looked up into the vivid blue skies over Berkeley and gazed in awe at a dozen or more unusually beautiful clouds floating around up there in the stratosphere. These amazing clouds were all white and lacy and shaped like pinwheels. I shoulda taken a photo. I'd never seen clouds like that before. They looked like they were all made out of ice. Perhaps it was colder than usual up there in the stratosphere? Perhaps this is some kind of awesome new by-product of global cooling, er, global warming?

For those of us who are aware of the latest scientific research on global warming and cooling, nothing new is going to surprise us, not even lacy white pinwheel icicles in the sky. During the last few years, things have begun to look pretty sketchy regarding weather and climate changes taking place on our planet -- causing us to start desperately searching around for more effective ways to stave off all the fast-approaching ecological disasters that seem to be approaching us post-haste.

According to Rolling Stone Magazine, "One of the most eminent scientists of our time says that global warming is irreversible — and that more than 6 billion people will perish by the end of the century.... By 2020, droughts and other extreme weather will be commonplace. By 2040, the Sahara will be moving into Europe, and Berlin will be as hot as Baghdad. Atlanta will end up a kudzu jungle. Phoenix will become uninhabitable...."

Those of us not in denial about global warming are starting to become more and more resigned to the sad fact that, if we truly want to save our planet from its devastating effects, we must immediately come up with a bunch of very extreme solutions to this very extreme problem -- and the sooner the better.

Hey, I've got a great idea! Let's eliminate all cars! And let's do it tomorrow morning.

According to an Environmental Defense Fund report, "Any serious effort to fight global warming must include cutting auto emissions." So. Let's do this.

But what, exactly, would a world without cars be like?

One hundred years ago, there were hardly any automobiles on the planet, but everyone seemed to be okay with that. Our parents and grandparents survived just fine -- and even thrived. However. Times have changed since then. Things are so different now that if all of our cars and trucks were to suddenly disappear -- even if their disappearance meant saving our planet -- we no longer have an infrastructure in place that would even allow us to survive, let alone thrive.

Think about it.

Our supermarkets' shelves would be empty within the week -- and then what? Think of all those suburbanites who spend hours each week tending their lawns. They could have been tending vegetable patches instead, growing corn and zucchini -- and then they would have been prepared for the automobile's demise. But Americans have become lawn fetishists instead of farmers. Cars and trucks have allowed them to do that.

And did you know that in the City of Berkeley it is illegal to grow vegetables in your front yard? Yep. There's a $500 per day fine.

If grim circumstances forced us to suddenly eliminate all cars and trucks, we would be SO unprepared. Do I even look like I know how to milk a cow? And what am I supposed to do for food? "Eat your lawn!" Or, to paraphrase Marie Antoinette, "Let them eat grass."

"But Jane," you might ask, "why are you tripping? When we wake up tomorrow, there WILL be cars. And you yourself are planning a road trip to Reno this weekend to visit your 95-year-old Aunt Evelyn."

Sure, there will be cars tomorrow. But there shouldn't be. Not if we want to see human beings still around on this planet in another 95 years.

PS: My visiting blogger friend Bob just said, "But eliminating cars is NOT the most radical way to stop global warming. Wars are! The more wars we have, the less polluters will be left alive to do any polluting." But I like my idea of eliminating cars better.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Cheney's gift: Waterboarding the captured GI?

Let us hope with all our hearts that the Taliban aren't doing the same thing to the US soldier who was recently captured in Afghanistan that Dick Cheney and George Bush ordered to be done to Taliban soldiers held in Baghram and Guantanamo.

Hey, Taliban! Let's have a prisoner exchange! Please give us back our soldier -- and you can have Dick Cheney instead. And we'll even throw in George Bush! Then you could give them to poppy-growing warlords like Bush's friend Dostum, who would leave them in airless boxcars until they die of suffocation and then bury them in an unmarked mass grave. You could use broom handles on them. You could waterboard them 183 times. Or you can set a higher example than Bush and Cheney did and treat them humanely -- and hopefully you will treat the captured GI humanely too.

"Do unto others as you would have others do unto you."

Friday, July 17, 2009

Order to Show Kos: How to survive banning, bureaucracy & trolls on the Daily Kos

(Photos are of Markos Moulitas Zuniga at the 2008 Book Expo at the Staples Center, baby Mena reading "Taking on the System" while working on her blog, my blooging friend Bob reading "Taking on the System" in a Barca-lounger, and me reading "Taking on the System" while getting a pedicure for Mothers' Day)

Have you ever posted a diary essay on the Daily Kos? It's a truly daunting experience. It's like running through a minefield. It's like playing SuperMario. You gotta know where the bombs are and where it is safe -- and if you don't, it will be "game over" before you even know what hit you.

Two weeks ago, I decided that I too wanted to post essays on the Daily Kos. Talk about your babes in the woods! Within a week, I had been insulted, spammed, trolled, called a bigot -- and then permanently banned. It was a very educational experience. Let me walk you through the minefields -- so that what happened to me won't happen to you too.

The first thing that you do is to go to and apply for a home page and a screen name. But please. Don't request anything smarmy -- nothing like "canadian gal" or "Attorney at Arms" or "Meteor Blades". Just use the freaking name that your mother originally gave you -- or, in my case, a good old-fashioned Berkeley hippie name. The name that MY mother originally gave me was "Pamela Purpus". Eeuuww. My mother was reading Regency romance novels at the time. I kid you not. But I digress.

Then, once you've got your own diary page on the Kos, you can write your little heart out on subjects that are meaningful to you regarding "The State of the Nation," ask your daughter to run it through the "Yawn" test and then post it. Voila. And after that, you just need to put on your mental Kevlar and stand back.

After your diary is posted, within seconds (Honest! Only a few freaking SECONDS!), a whole bunch of people with weird screen names will have told you that you are stupid or bigoted or uninformed or a flake -- or all four. Some of the people who respond to your post will make interesting and informative comments which you will appreciate, cherish and/or want to have a healthy debate with -- but a lot of them will just say mean things to you that really hurt, while not offering any good reasoning or evidence to back up their insulting comments.

Posting a diary on the Daily Kos can sometimes be a truly humbling experience. And it is definitely a blood sport.

Here are some of the comments that I received in response to some of my posts:

"At them [sic] minimum you were (and are) being amazingly STOOOOPID!!!"

"This One Is So Earnestly Loopy as to boggle the mind."

"See Jane run.... see jane getting banned from dkos. see us cheer."

"Your poll choices suck ass as does your diary. And not in a good way."

"I've read some silly stuff and I'm not sure this takes the prize, but it surely ranks up there for a finalist."

"This is preposterous, unsourced, unsubstantiated, misleading, and incorrect on the particulars.... This is garbage."

"It is a bullsh*t diary."

"Could an admin please fumigate this BugHouse?"

"not even propaganda. Just straight up lying."

"Ignorance, misinformation and lying. what utter bull."

"f[#]ck you anti-semite"

It really makes me wonder what kind of people actually have the time and inclination to want to write this kind of stuff.

Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, the guy who invented the Daily Kos and who now runs the site, appears to be a very stand-up guy. I heard him speak at a Book Expo in Los Angeles in 2008 and he gave a very nice talk -- plus he also gave me two free copies of his book, "Taking on the System". I like his essays. I like his ideas. I like his style. But the people who comment on his site are sometimes only one step above the Freepers who called Malia Obama a whore.

"Jane, you are being naive here (again)," said my blogger friend Bob. "The commenters who attack you are not only trolls but they are being PAID to be trolls."

Wow. That's amazing. Nobody ever pays ME for saying nasty things. "But who pays them?" I asked.

"Perhaps it is the people who apparently are trying to encourage intra-class warfare in the United States. It's a technique that European colonialists used to good effect in Africa when they were in the minority and they needed to keep the locals under control. Divide and conquer. Bush used this tactic in Iraq. It works. Then the members of America's minority upper class can pit members of our majority lower classes against each other and thus distract the peons while the lords of the manor steal America's wealth."

If a Freeper is busy hating an 11-year-old girl, he doesn't have time to hate Goldman-Sachs for stealing his home or the health insurance companies who are killing his wife or the senator who is knifing his union in the back and causing him to lose his job.

Still and all, whether the trolls are getting paid or not, posting on the Daily Kos is a rather daunting task -- but if you still want to live dangerously and give it a try, perhaps you can learn from my mistakes. Another friend just e-mailed me and asked, "Jane, how in the freak did you manage to get permanently banned from the Daily Kos?" Well. That's a rather long story. Here it is. Watch and learn from my mistakes:

Originally, I opened up a diary page at the Kos under the screen name of "jpstillwater," but then I realized after I had actually started posting that I wanted my screen name to be "Jane Stillwater" instead -- so I wrote the DK to ask them if they could change my name. Their webmaster/gatekeeper then e-mailed me back, telling me to open up another diary under the second name. Which I did. That was Big Mistake number one. And the scene is now set for me to encounter my next Big Mistake.

I then posted a tongue-in-cheek diary about how our government money is going to everyone in the freaking world except for the victims of the bank-engendered U.S. foreclosure fraud. American money is even allegedly going toward providing housing in Israel -- and therefore U.S. foreclosure victims would probably find housing in Israel much faster than they can find housing here. And Katrina victims could find housing there too! Here's the essay I posted:!

I myself thought that the article was rather humorous, and definitely in line with Moulitsas' original stated intention for the Daily Kos to be "a haven for progressive complaints and observations about the state of the nation". However. A whole bunch of DK commenters then went pretty much crazy and started calling me a "Jew-baiter" and worse. And suddenly there were 252 comments about my diary entry, most of them tearing me to shreds. I was completely shocked! But then I figured that everyone is entitled to free speech. I could survive this. Live and learn.

But THEN I get an automatic message from the DK webmaster/gatekeeper stating that I was being anti-Semitic and that I would be banned if I didn't acknowledge the warning. Yikes! So I acknowledged the warning. And I also wrote to the W/G, asking him if he had actually read the entry, because I thought that it hadn't been anti-Semitic. He e-mailed me back, saying that he had read it and that it clearly WAS anti-Semitic. I didn't MEAN to be anti-Semitic. Good grief!!!

Not being really clear on the Daily Kos rules, I then posted a defense of my position on my original diary page, "jpstillwater". In this post, I included a poll to see if Kos readers actually did think I was being anti-Semitic -- or only anti-justice. 45% thought I was being anti-injustice. Only 20% thought the post was anti-Semitic. Here's the poll:

You with me so far?

And then I got banned.

So I wrote to the webmaster/gatekeeper again and asked him to please reinstate me (I didn't beg, BTW. Maybe I should have begged?) He then replied that I was being banned for having two accounts. Not for anti-Semitism. Not for being a bad writer. Only for misunderstanding the rules. And of course I protested (again), saying that the W/G himself had told me to open that second account. And it turns out that he had also told me to close out the first one, but I'm a little old lady. I forgot!

Kos's webmaster/gatekeeper then stated that he would take this issue up with Markos himself. But I never heard back. And still cannot log on. So now I'm banned. Forever.

I could probably open a third dummy account on the DK under yet another name -- but why bother. If people want to read my stuff they can just go to my blog or to I'm okay with not getting published on the DK. Of course I found many really nice, well-informed commenters on the Kos who gave me a lot of helpful comments and feedback, but is it really worth it to have to wade through the minefields of all the Kos trolls first and be intimidated into fearfully keeping my mouth shut? SuperMario might think so -- but I don't.

PS: Is the term "anti-Semitic" being used in this context in order to combat religious bias? Or is it being used by Kos commenters to conveniently divert attention away from the real issues.

According to an article on, "So far, [2009] is turning into the year that American Jews made hajj to Palestine, whether to break the siege on Gaza or to participate in and document the resistance to Israel's land grab in the West Bank. I must admit that it's been exhilarating to watch. It's much different from when Arabs and non-Jews go to observe and then report because those groups are quickly dismissed as anti-Semitic or they're just ignored. But, you can't really accuse Jews of being anti-Semitic..." This article seems to indicate that many American Jews realize that standing in opposition to the massive injustices in Palestine -- being funded by the U.S. government and committed by the Israeli neo-cons -- is both a Jewish and an American thing to do.

PPS: Here are some relevant quotes from Moulitsas' book:

"I mean, the idea that Kos could use his influence, such as it is, to intimidate Left Blogistan into a quivering reign of fear is simply laughable -- a paranoid fantasy that wandered away from the Free Republic." Page 34.

"We now live in a rapidly evolving entrepreneurial age, and so the first rule is we must speak our mind, follow our heart, and question all authority. We cannot wait to get permission before we act." Page 47.

"The [Kos] movement's direction and interest flow directly from the people who compose it. The movement is a bottom-up type of thing, not something that a guy leads from the top." Page 271. [Damn straight, Markos! From what I can tell, every single bottom-up type in the country and half of Canada gets to post on the Kos -- except, of course, for me.]

"The world is often changed most radically by people who refuse to 'know their place'." Page 67.

"Bypass the Gatekeepers." Page 23

"Crush the Gatekeepers." Page 30

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The special "Jeopardy" issue of my housing co-op newsletter

In the last few months, I've been coming up with a lot of answers regarding why things are falling apart here at my housing co-op -- but nobody seems to be asking me the right questions. I sometimes feel like I am Alex Treback. But then if I actually WAS Alex Trebeck, then I'd be the host of "Jeopardy," and would finally be able to supply some of the right answers -- and people would be coming up with the right questions too.

Here's how my show would go:

"Savo Island," would be the first answer, and then some contestant would ring the buzzer and yell, "What is the name of the HUD-sponsored housing co-op where you live?"

"That is correct."

Then I'd read off the next answer. "We don't have one because it got canceled."

Contestants would then wave their hands in the air and shout, "The question here is, 'What happened to Savo Island's property and mortgage insurance policy?'" Right again. Our insurance got canceled last month, probably because our roofs were leaking, our siding was falling off and, because we couldn't afford to pay our gardeners, the area was a dry and weedy fire hazard. Do you know what it's like to be without insurance? It's scary. But luckily our management company searched around and found us another insurance company to sign up with. Whew.

Next answer. "We don't have one because it got canceled."

That answer sounded familiar, but I slogged on. "Is the question, 'What happened to our re-hab loan?'" Right again! These contestants are on a roll. After approximately eight years of having our re-hab stalled off by our board of directors, the bank we had contracted with just got tired of waiting around for them to get on with it. Our re-hab plans have been on hold longer than the war on Iraq.

Then I would pause, adjust my tie and ask the next answer. "We don't have one because it got canceled."

And the contestants would know the question to ask about that one too! "What happened to our management company's contract?"

My next answer: "Because Savo's board of directors let the management company's contract lapse without arranging to have a new contract in place."

The question? "Why did the management company's contract lapse, when the board was totally aware that HUD requires a management company for the property?" But by now the contestants would be all excited and came up with a question even before I could give them any answers. "If your housing co-op has no re-hab loan, no property or mortgage insurance and no management company now, how are they going to survive?

I have NO answer to that one.

But just as the show was starting to wind down and the contestants were getting ready to pack it up, I came up with just one more answer. "He forgot."

And the right question to that one is, "Why did the board president let the management contract lapse?" Then, as the show was finally ending, one last contestant buzzed in with a question that I thought was particularly good: "Does this board of directors have a death wish for the co-op?"

I had no answer for that either.

PS: Here's an update: Our management company just scrambled around and found us some new property insurance. Whew! We missed a bullet on that one. And two lenders have offered to re-finance our re-hab. Another bullet missed. And the board president managed to get our management contract signed six hours before it was due to expire, thus dodging a third bullet.

But now I think that Savo Island is about to have to dodge a whole cannon ball! Our entire board of directors was just summoned to appear before HUD on July 28, 2009. "What is THAT meeting going to be about?" is the next question. And I have no answer for that one at all -- but it really doesn't sound very hopeful. I don't think there are going to be any big prizes involved.

Our sanctions at work: 168 dead in Iran

(That's a photo of me in Esfahan and of a sign that my daughter Ashley saw on a lawn in Berkeley)

Sure, I know that there's a big power struggle going on in Iran right now and that the politicos and the ayatollahs are playing tug of war over who will get control of what. But let's focus on something else for right now -- that the Iranian people are some of the nicest, kindest, best-educated, intrepid and interesting people in the world and that these people have all suffered greatly since 1953, when Iran became a political football as the local power elite and foreign super-powers all struggled to get a piece of Iran.

And now all this bickering, hatefulness and spy-vs-spy sub-plotting has gone too far once again (as if the Shah's torture chambers and the ayatollahs' crackdowns weren't already enough) -- causing 168 people, all innocent men, women and children, to spin downward into a fiery and terrifying death from the air.

According to the Associated Press, "A Russian-made Iranian passenger plane carrying 168 people crashed shortly after takeoff Wednesday, nose-diving into a field northwest of the capital and shattering into flaming pieces." And politicos all over the world are responsible for this disaster. If your country voted to sanction airplane parts to Iran, you personally killed all these people. Every single one.

When are human beings ever finally going to grow up, start to evolve and put an end to all these stupid Stone Age power struggles that cost American taxpayers at least $110 for every man, woman and child on the planet? We need to stop acting like cavemen! What is modern warfare if not just a more glamorous (and expensive) version of what cavemen used to do with clubs and rocks? Peaceful people all over the world -- especially women and taxpayers -- are getting really tired of having to constantly put up with all this "military" crap.

When I was in Iran last fall, I needed to fly from Tehran to Yadz. My experience on that flight was hair-raising. Why? Because of the sanctions. Under the current foreign sanction policies, Iranians can NO LONGER GET PARTS FOR THEIR PLANES. That's disgusting. And now 168 innocent people are dead. "Collateral damage". I guess that means that the sanctions are working.

PS: I'm currently writing a book entitled, "Iran, Iraq and North Korea: From Axis of Evil to Hot New Tourist Destinations". Here's the chapter on my flight from Tehran to Yazd:

October 13, 2008: Hot milk topped off with coffee -- what a luxury! Don't laugh. It's something that I just never had at home. And dates and yogurt for breakfast. This is about the most exotic thing about Tehran. Almost everything else is fairly Westernized. This is a truly Westernized country. I don't think that Americans realize that. Iranians are not "camel jockeys" at all.

"One day a Persian died and was sent to Hell because he was from the Axis of Evil. In Hell, he looked around and one section of Hell looked sort of fun. 'This is the Persian Hell,' he was told. 'Why are you not like the American Hell and get burning tar poured into your mouth with a funnel every day?' 'Ah because this is the Persian Hell and we are very disorganized -- plus we have sanctions, so one day we don't have the tar and the next day we don't have the funnel.'"

We drove along a street that used to be called "Eisenhower Boulevard". Now it is called "Freedom Street".

"After the revolution, the very first company to come to Iran was Coca-Cola," said my guide. "Also Iran is the world's second largest exporter of copper." And also the second largest producer of oil.

"What about sanctions?" I asked.

"They are not working as well as expected for two reasons. First, the European community has too many investments here to support most sanctions, and, second, Iran is industrially self-sufficient in a whole bunch of areas. We even make our own cars." If sanctions were ever applied to America, we'd be screwed -- because we are in no way industrially self-sufficient.

"Our plane to Yazd is going to be delayed," said my guide. "This is due to sanctions. Airplanes and airplane parts are being sanctioned."

"But why?" It's not like these planes are being used for military purposes or nothing. Doesn't that put civilians in danger?"

"Yes. We have had a crash recently and it's hard to make repairs. We are forced to improvise. We rent planes for instance -- from Russia, Turkey and even Bulgaria. Many of our planes are in such poor shape that they aren't allowed to land at European airports." Great. That's just what I needed to hear right before our flight to Yazd. "But don't worry. We are flying on a Dutch plane today."

"But why doesn't Iran make its own planes?"

"Specialization. In today's world economy, it's not possible to make everything." Oh. So the sanctions actually do end up hurting Iran. "However, the EU can trade with Iran for anything up to 20 million dollars, and there is a lively black market." But what black market do you go to if you want to buy airplane parts? And, more important, will they serve lunch on our flight?

Once on the plane, the captain announced, "We can't take off just yet because we are missing a...." I couldn't hear exactly what it was that we were missing -- but do I really want to know?

There was a famous Iranian actor aboard our plane and he came over to talk with us. "I hear that you are the Iranian Sherlock Holmes," someone said. The actor smiled.

"I am. Only I'm better." We all laughed.

The city of Yazd appears to be pretty big from the air. Who cares! I just want to see it from the ground!

Friday, July 10, 2009

They might be giants: Old-school Tibetan lamas in 1970s Berkeley

Yesterday I went off to the Academy of Chinese Culture & Health Sciences teaching clinic in downtown Oakland, where they are training new acupuncturist wannabees. I was hoping that they could do something to help my poor knees. And while one of their students was poking me full of needles, we got to talking about Buddhism and soon we were both chatting away, reminiscing on all those old stories from back in the 1960s and 1970s -- back at a time when Berkeley seemed to be suddenly flooded with refugee Tibetan lamas. And not just ANY Tibetan lamas. These ones were the cream of the crop.

And how extraordinary they were!

Does anyone remember The Karmapa? He was the loveliest man in the world. And the poor man had stomach cancer and had just had a major operation and was still giving an empowerment dispite his pain -- and somehow or other I managed to drop baby Joe right onto his lap. To the great lama's credit, he never even flinched even though Joe must have undone some of his stitches at the very least. I was mortified. The Karmapa just smiled.

Then there was Gyaltrul Rinpoche, who tried to teach all us American hippies some of the more exotic practices of Tibetan Buddhism. Good luck with that one! I wanted to learn the practice of staying warm in a blizzard because I have really cold feet and wanted to heat them up -- but the lama said that I was too old to learn it. You gotta start practicing that one when you are four or five years old. "Get an electric blanket!" he advised. So I did. But it just wasn't the same.

I got all pissed off with one lama once because my boyfriend at that time had become more interested in studying Tibetan Buddhism than he had been in studying me. Humph. But we made a deal. The lama would empower me to do divinations if I stopped being so pissed off. But, in the end, it didn't matter one way or another. My boyfriend ran off with another woman anyway.

Of course everyone knows the Dalai Lama. He never made it to Berkeley during that time, but he would pick out lamas over in India who might possibly be intrepid enough to survive a year or two in Bezerkeley and send them over here.

Then there was Chagdud Tulku, a man among men. Trust me. Since the Chinese took over Tibet and destroyed most of the training schools there, they just don't make men like that any more. An unbelievably good artist, an all-around scholar, strong as an ox, a workaholic and a kind-hearted man who would help you with anything, he taught me P'howa, a practice taken from the Tibetan Book of the Dead -- and just in time too! The very next day, my father had a serious heart attack and I was able to save his life.

Chagdud Tulku also taught me Chod -- which is practiced in graveyards. But mostly Chagdud Tulku taught me that the ability to do good deeds is the main reason for living and that it surpasses all other reasons. And he showed me what an evolved human being could be like. He was my favorite. I watched him do P'howa on a dead bird once.

These lamas were mostly born in the 1930s in Tibet. And then there were the older-generation lamas, born in the 1920s and before -- the finest lamas that approximately a millennium of Tibetan lama-training traditions could produce. And we Berkeley hippies were lucky to have them.

There was Gompo Tsedan, a lama who had been through the Communist take-over (all of these lamas had been through that ordeal), had suffered through the flight into India and had ended up living in East Oakland and teaching Dsog Chen. "I'm tired of living abroad," he told us one day. "I don't care how dangerous it is. I want to go back to Tibet." And he did. And, once there, he practiced forgiveness. And even Chinese soldiers came to study with him. I will always remember Gompo Tseden.

Then there was His Holiness Dudjum Rinpoche. He was the most holiest of men. And his daughters all wore designer clothes and hung out in discos. East meets west.

Dingo Kentze? That man was solid as a rock. I'm still surprised that he didn't hold off the Chinese army all by himself -- just by staring them down. And he was a top scholar. And not a mean bone in his body.

And there were other lamas that came to Berkeley back then. One of them was pretty crazy and had his students doing all sorts of weird things. But crazy or not, this lama was powerful. He could even bend the IRS to his will. That old-time training really paid off.

Yeshe Dorje's specialty was ghost-busting. He stayed in my home. But even though Yeshe Dorje tried really hard to exorcise him, we still continued to be haunted by the ghost of Jimi Hendrix. But the ghost did stop waking us up in the middle of the night, and after that I always felt safe in my home. Yeshe Dorje was a powerful lama who harnessed the wrathful energy of human beings -- and turned it into kindness.

And then there came the new generation of lamas, just arriving from India -- and Cambridge. Remember Chogum Trungpa? He used to come over to a friend of mine's house in the evenings, sit around the kitchen table drinking tea with Allan Ginsberg and talk about poetry and I forget all what else.

And me and my friends Paul and Ray would meet every Friday at La Fiesta restaurant on Telegraph Avenue and discuss things like the latest visiting lama, which tantric empowerments were HOT, which dharma groupie was trying to get her claws into which student of tantra, how living in poverty while trying to study Buddhism sucked eggs, my latest boyfriend, who had the most "red strings" (protection cords), road trips to Oregon -- and stuff like that. We called ourselves "The La Fiesta Dharma Center". Recently La Fiesta restaurant moved around the corner to Haste Street, but they still make the best chicken enchilada verde in the world (with the possible exception of Picoso over on Shattuck in Epicurious Garden, across from the Cheese Board).

Then, as me and the acupuncture student continued to tell each other stories about these old-time old-school lamas, I started to remembered all over again how amazing these men were, how evolved. You had to have been there, in Berkeley, back then. Most of these old-school lamas are dying off now and their power and legacy is being lost. But we got to see these men at the height of their powers -- or whatever powers they had left after surviving the ordeals of fleeing Tibet, living on grass for a year as they crossed the Himalayas on foot into India and then living in the refugee camps for almost a decade.

One lama who came to Berkeley to give empowerments had been tortured in Chinese jails for years before he could escape to the West. Half of his head had been bashed in. But he was STILL an amazing man, and a more loving, forgiving and compassionate person than I ever could possibly be.

Those old-time Tibetan Buddhist lamas? They might be giants.

PS: Has hanging out with all these high lamas brought me any good karma? Not really. I still have bad knees, spend my summer vacations in places like Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Afghanistan, Palestine and Burma, hardly anybody buys my books any more, and I just got permanently banned from the Daily Kos!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Visiting America's "Mini-Me": Palestine on $5 a day

(Photo is of my son Joe and my granddaughter Mena asleep in the drive-through line of In-N-Out Burgers. We need to spend more money on protecting American children and less money on over-kill weaponry!)

I've been receiving a lot of e-mails lately, asking me why I'm always hatin' so much on poor Israel. "Its leaders are only trying to do their job and keep their country safe -- but you just keep picking on them." And I've even begun to wonder about this myself. Geez Louise. What if I really am becoming anti-Semitic? I sincerely hope not...but maybe? And then yesterday I read an article by Ira Chernus that put everything back into perspective for me (Thank you, Ira!)

I'm not being anti-Israeli. I'm being anti-American! Whew.

Churnus pointed out that when Israel was formed, the Zionists only wanted their own nation, just like almost every other ethnic or linguistic group in the world had their own nation too. "The early Zionists," wrote Churnus, "assumed what all Europeans of their day assumed: Every nation-state is the political expression of a specific ethnic group -- France for the French, China for the Chinese, etc. In their day that was not considered racism. It was just common sense. So they concluded that the Jews would be normal only when they had their own nation-state, with Jewish prostitutes, Jewish pimps and Jewish police to arrest them (or take bribes to look the other way). For most of these early Zionists, the important point was not morality but nationalism. They wanted all the roles in their new society, moral or immoral, to be played by Jews."

And for Israel to be a normal nation like almost every other nation in the world, it thought that it had to play hardball too. "After all," Churnus continued, "what does it mean to be 'normal' in the world of modern nation-states, all modeled on the states of Western Europe and North America? It means not merely to have cops and criminals but to have governments that get the most power they can, by any means necessary.... Normal governments in the modern world use their power for lots of reasons, but ultimately it's always about extending their control over both their own people and others."

Okay. I got it. Israel is only trying to be America's "Mini-Me". And they are succeeding, too. And, therefore, I am always picking on Israel for the same reason that I'm always picking on Washington. Hey, I'm not anti-Semitic. I'm anti-WAR!

For instance, America gives Israel seven million dollars a DAY, earmarked solely to be spent on weapons and military solutions to its problems with the Palestinians. If you assume that there are approximately 1.5 million Arab and Christian Palestinians living in an area that even Ben Gurion himself referred to as "Palestine," then that comes out to approximately 4.66 American dollars per Palestinian that are currently being spent on bombs, white phosphorus, bullets, tear gas, etc. $4.66. Every single day. For every single man, woman and child in the Occupied Territories. (So much for Palestinian "Natural Growth").

But for convenience's sake, let's round that $4.66 up and make it five dollars a day.

So. What can we safely say is the current American and Israel policy toward Gaza and the West Bank right now? "Palestine on $5 a day"! Spending that much money on weapons aimed at a mostly-civilian population, 52% of whom are under the age of 18, is like shooting fish in a barrel -- only these are human beings being destroyed, not sardines.

But let's pull back a little bit here and look at this from Israel's perspective. They want to be a nation-state? They want to be America's "Mini-Me"? Well, then, just look at their role model. According to The American Prospect, "The U.S. defense budget for 2009 is $655 billion." Assuming there are six billion people living on the planet right now, that comes out to $109.66 dollars per DAY that America is spending for every man, woman and child on the planet -- spending it on ICBMs, tanks, cluster bombs, white phosphorus, nuclear warheads, pre-imptive strikes, riot gear, tear gas, and other things that go bump in the night. You name it. If it destroys human flesh, we got it!

"The World on $110 dollars a day"!

So now, thanks to Ira Churnus, I have finally come to terms with my issues about Israel. It just wants to be like its Big Brother. However. If spending just $5 a day per person in Palestine has turned Palestine into a grim open-air concentration camp and killing field, then just imagine what spending $110 a day per person would do right here in America!

Yep. I am DEFINITELY anti-war.

PS: I just got another e-mail from a Marine mom who is keeping me informed about what's happening in Afghanistan. "Well, I guess we can pretty much see why we are building that huge permanent Camp Leatherneck," she wrote. "You ought to go there and see it being built! Marines in tents, and Seabees building the largest structure since WWII!!!" It sounds like we are in Afghanistan to stay.

"Gen. McChrystal and Marine Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson saying we are there to secure civilians from the Taliban. But that could be done with the Ugandan guards such they had at Al Asad airbase in Iraq. Just send some Ugandan guards to the villages, with some of those Afghan forces we have been busy training for the last eight years. I have great faith they will secure the villages. Marines should be only used to fight a war, not for occupation or to 'secure' villages." Yeah. We need to keep our Marines fresh and ready so that if we ever really need them to defend us here at home, they can do it -- and won't be all wasted after spending years out in the middle of nowhere, defending some corporate CEO's wet-dream of owning the Silk Road.

PPS: The business section of Bloomberg has just announced that DynCorp and Fluor just won five-year contracts serving our troops in Afghanistan. These contracts are "worth as much as $7.5 billion.... DynCorp will take over services KBR provided for tasks such as laundry, food services and maintenance for existing base camps in southern Afghanistan. It also will build new bases as needed to accommodate an increase to about 68,000 troops from about 57,000 today. Fluor will take over similar services in northern Afghanistan."


Why in the world would global corporations like DynCorp and Fluor even think about wanting the war in Afghanistan to ever come to an end!

PPPS: People also keep reminding me about all the wonderful things Israel has achieved in academic and scientific fields. According to them, Israel has probably even invented the wheel! I'm not arguing with that. Go them! They are also America's "Mini-Me" in that respect. America has achieved many amazingly wonderful things too. In that regard, I am proud of my country -- and proud of Israel as well.

The part of the American nation-state that I am NOT proud of, however, is the part that killed approximately one million Iraqis -- after Bush and & Cheney deliberately falsified critical information justifying Shock and Awe. And the part of the Israeli nation-state that I'm not proud of either is the part that has caused the deaths of approximately one million Palestinian civilians since 1948, including victims of various ethnic cleansing campaigns, the carpet-bombing of Gaza City, the violent attacks on Hebron, Nablus, Bethlehem and Jenin, and lack of access to food, water, jobs and medical care.

America and Israel should stick to trying to find cures for cancer, solving global warming and stuff like that -- then they both can evolve away from being just your typical run-of-the-mill, been-there-done-that, Banana Republic nation-state and become IDEAL nation-states. Why settle for less?

Monday, July 06, 2009

Our Marines in Afghanistan: A made-for-TV movie

I just got an e-mail from my secret source of intelligence in Afghanistan -- a Marine mom. And this Marine mom was livid. "My husband and I are writing to our Representatives and asking for an investigation into this poorly-planned forced march of our Marines through Helmand province in Afghanistan. They are having heat issues -- heat exhaustion, dehydration, etc. Who planned this march in 120-degree-plus heat while carrying backpacks that weigh over 100 pounds?" wrote this Marine mom.

I am totally grateful to my Marine mom for two reasons. First, her good reporting and actual legwork in the field (she has two sons in the Corps and they keep her up-to-date) lets me know what is really going on over in Afghanistan. And, second, she's saving me from having to return to Afghanistan in the middle of summer. Been there, done that. It's HOT over there.

According to a report from the Associated Press, "Taliban militants were nowhere in sight as the columns of U.S. Marines walked a third straight day across southern Afghanistan. But the desert heat proved an enemy in its own right, with several troops falling victim Saturday to temperatures topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The Marines carry 50-100 pounds (23-45 kilograms) on their backs. But because they are marching through farmland on foot, they can't carry nearly as much water as their thirst demands."

So. My next question is, "Just exactly WHY are these Marines on a forced march through Helmand province at this point in time?"

Journalist Stewart Nusbaumer has the answer to that one. In an article published on the Huffington Post, Nusbaumer informs us that 4,000 U.S. Marines are now storming down into southern Afghanistan in order to provide security for future development projects in the area that will help give villagers incentives to resist the the Taliban's lure. Hey, weren't we supposed to have already done that back in 2001? And all this time since 2001? But I digress.

According to Nusbaumer, "This is not a conventional war, but an irregular war; the focus is not on killing the enemy but on protecting the people and enabling development. Further...only brain-dead foamers believe the Taliban will go head-to-head against large numbers of Marines, with their mean Apache gunships circling overhead. A few hundred Marines, one company, would have been sufficient to dampen the Taliban enthusiasm to fight. But this is 4,000!"

So. Why are the head generals and muckity-mucks in the Pentagon forcing 4,000 of our best Marines out into the hot sun while carrying 100-pound backpacks and order them to madly dash off to Helmand province -- if fewer Marines could do the job and the job itself will take years to complete? What's the hurry? Nusbaumer has a theory.

"This current mad dash in the south," Nusbaumer writes, "is reminiscent of the mad rush to Baghdad, both predicated upon the viewpoint that 'faster is better.' Strange, since the US military is a huge bureaucratic machine that doesn't do anything fast, which is probably why they want to do something fast. But in the mad rush to Baghdad, the Marines and Army refused to stop and secure hundreds of munitions depots -- 'time is of the essence!' And these by-passed unguarded explosives were soon blowing up Americans. The rush to Baghdad was stupid, with deadly consequences. But I'm missing the real story of this mad blitz. The moving of large numbers of troops ... pressing relentlessly forward ... the stress and strain ... bold goals proclaiming this is a 'decisive operation!' It is simple, dramatic, important, all wrapped up in a short time frame. It's made for TV!"

No wonder my Marine mom is hopping mad. Our troops' mad forced march to Helmand is nothing more than a made-for-TV movie! And probably an after-school-special at that. Except that these Marines are not actors. These Marines are some mother's sons.

But the Pentagon has succeeded in their mission. They have filmed, edited and shown their made-for-TV movie -- and it's gotten extensive air-time and rave reviews. Good. So NOW can we bring our troops home?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Madam Jane predicts: It's every man for himself!

"Madam Jane," I asked my favorite fortune-teller yesterday, "what does the future hold for us? I mean, really. The seas are rising, billions of people seem to be dying of starvation, most of our tax dollars go toward keeping bankers in caviar and buying enough weapons to blow up our entire solar system -- and most Americans are missing the Big Picture entirely and going around with their heads in the sand when they should be out taking action. The future looks grim. I'm all confused. What should I be doing to make the future look better?"

Madam Jane just sighed and looked disgusted. "What are you asking me for? I got problems of my own. Go ask Harry Potter."

So. It looks like I'm not going to get any help from Madam Jane this time around. I'm going to be in this mess all on my own. "It's every man for himself now," snarled Madam Jane. "Go find your own freaking lifeboat. Get out of mine."

Madam Jane seems to be having a bad day.

Still and all, I hate being on my own. I hate not knowing what the future will hold.

"Oh, okay, just stop whining. I'll give you a few hints -- but just this once," said MJ. Then she took out her cards. "The future.... Hmmm.... When you think about the future, there is really only one thing to think about: Babies, children, the next generation. Do whatever you can to keep babies safe."

Oh crap. As much as I dearly love babies in the abstract, in reality they are a whole bunch of work. They keep trying to mess up my computer. They hit the delete button by accident, don't keep quiet while I think and spit up on the keyboard.

But Madam Jane continued on despite my grumblings. "You educate them, you be kind to them, you make sure that every single baby in this world is wanted, nurtured, protected and loved. That's mankind's most important task. That's mankind's only hope. Madam Jane has spoken."

Does this mean that I'm going to have to go off to the Pentagon and explain to the Generals that if they really want to make America safe, they gotta give up spending trillions of dollars on Star War missiles, pre-imptive strikes, torture and fomenting military take-overs in Honduras -- and start learning how to change diapers instead? Yeah right.

Have I got to go to Congress and teach all our Representatives about the "Five S" method? Apparently so. "Senators! When a newborn is crying from colic, you gotta activate its Calming Reflex by performing five actions -- swaddle the baby, turn it sideways, swing it, shhh it in imitation of its mother's heartbeat, and give it something to suck on." Do I gotta send every legislator in America a copy of "The Happiest Baby on the Block"? I'm an expert on this "Five S" method. You got a colicky baby? Call me! I'll have it quietly smiling in under two minutes. I got skills.

But I digress.

Instead of giving Israeli neo-cons seven million dollars a DAY to spend on weapons, give them seven million dollars a day to spend on Palestinian schools, colleges and universities. And do the same in Baghdad and AfPak. And then spend seven million dollars a day on educating California's children too. Why not.

Hey, Madam Jane! You might actually be onto something here.

Friday, July 03, 2009

New foreclosure remedy: Become Jewish & move to Israel!

Lately I've been hearing a whole bunch of horror stories about American families who've been forced to go through foreclosure and stand helplessly by as their homes were repossessed and their posessions thrown out on the streets by the banks. According to USA Today, "Foreclosure filings surpassed 3 million in 2008." Watching this happen is like watching the grim 1930s dust bowl foreclosures happen all over again. As Woodie Guthrie once said, "Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen."

But not to worry. Help is on the way.

In these hard times of trouble, our government is spending billions of dollars on financial programs and bailouts designed to strengthen our banks. And our government is also spending billions of dollars on manufacturing weapons far above and beyond even Dr. Strangelove's wildest defense needs. But does our government spend billions of dollars on programs that will also help out the approximately six million ordinary salt-of-the-earth Americans who have lost their homes in the last three years?


Our American government is currently financing and maintaining a fabulous all-comprehensive housing program that can provide you with modern newly-constructed state-of-the-art housing at either subsidized prices -- or free! And talk about location location location. This wonderful model housing program isn't located in undesirable places like the grungy old Boston inner city or shabby run-down parts of L.A. And, unlike those tacky bankrupt schools in California and Mississippi, this place has outstanding schools too. And its healthcare services, shopping centers and freeways are also top-of-the-line.

These fabulous new housing programs are located in a place that is sunny, modern, upscale and family-friendly -- Israel!

According to USA Today, "Nefesh B'Nefesh, a non-profit organization, provides grants of $3,000 to $10,000 as an incentive for Jews to move [to Israel]. Nefesh B'Nefesh, which means 'Soul to Soul,' also helps arrange housing, jobs and schools for immigrants' children."

"But what do I have to do to be eligible for all this wonderful subsidized housing?" you might ask. That's easy. Just become Jewish. And apply. It's your birthright. You're in!

"But America doesn't actually pay for any housing programs there, do they?" No, not exactly. But they do give Israeli neo-cons seven million dollars per DAY to spend on weapons. Do I think that all that money goes into just "defending" Israel from a few skraggly Palestinians? Maybe. We may never know. But it sounds like a scam to me.

"But if America is financing -- directly or indirectly -- a housing program that is available to only one religious group, isn't that against our Constitution and civil rights? Doesn't this program have to be available to ALL Americans to be legal? And doesn't it go against the separation of church and state?" Nah. Not a problem. No churches are involved.

"But I heard that it was hard to convert to Judaism and that it takes years of study and that you've got to learn Hebrew and get circumcised..." Surprisingly, that's not an obstacle either.

I recently talked with a visiting Israeli citizen and asked him just exactly what kind of bureaucratic hoops an American who had just been foreclosed upon would have to jump through in order to prove he or she was Jewish so that he or she could take advantage of all this free American-subsidized housing in Israel.

"You don't need to do anything," the visiting Israeli replied. "There are Russians and Ethiopians and indigenous peoples from the remote Andes of Peru who have been accepted into this program -- people who are no more Jewish than, say, Madonna or Brad Pitt. All they had to do was to SAY that they're Jewish. That alone got them in -- with full access to assisted housing, pre-arranged employment opportunities and even free single-payer healthcare! They got the whole schmear. And so will you."

I was shocked.

Apparently Israel is no longer just a safe haven for European Jews who survived the camps like it used to be. Sadly, most of that whole generation is pretty much gone. The new face of Israel is different. Israel is now home for Russian mafia oligarch wannabees who couldn't make it in Moscow or poor Ethiopians or Peruvians just trying to get a leg up -- and who aren't even Jewish. Apparently, according to my Israel friend, all you gotta do to be eligible to live in Israel with beaucoups benefits is to be able to produce a yarmulke and some bobby-pins and you're in! And American taxpayers will support you for the rest of your life.

Does anybody but me find that weird?

PS: Apparently I'm not the only American concerned about about out-of-control foreclosure issues who has thought of this solution. In an article entitled, "Thousands of Jews to immigrate to Israel this summer," Israel News states that, "The Jewish Agency is expecting an increase of about 15% in the number of immigrants to Israel in 2009 in comparison with last year." And if Washington keeps funding all those high-rise condos in East Jerusalem and the West Bank instead of funding badly-needed new housing back in the USA -- Katrina victims are STILL living in FEMA trailers for instance -- then hundreds of thousands more Americans will also be immigrating soon.

If you build it, they will come.

PPS: This essay just got banned on the Daily Kos for being anti-semitic. I didn't mean it that way, honest. It was just meant to be a satirical comment on how our government is spending our money on things that benefit anyone but the American taxpayer -- like occupying Palestine or looking the other way when there are military coups in Honduras. And that's just wrong.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Why Obama needs to visit North Korea: Mass Games and nuclear weapons!

Back during the Korean War in the 1950s, the entire city of Pyongyang was flattened by American bombers. An entire city, with a population of approximately 200,000 people, was destroyed by over 428,000 American bombs -- that's approximately 2.14 (500-pound) bombs per person. That's a lot of bombs! No wonder North Korea is still paranoid and pissed off at the US. Sure, this holocaust did offer Pyongyang a whole new city-planning opportunity but still.... How would you feel if Manhattan had been destroyed to make room for new state-of-the-art Stalinist housing blocks?

Twelve percent of the population of North Korea was annihilated during the Korean War.

But that was in the past.

As Eckhart Tolle is always fond of saying, "You gotta forget about the past and move on to the present." You lost 12% of your population? Get over it, North Korea! But old animosities die hard. Just look at the United States for example. America destroyed a hecka lot of Iraq and Afghanistan because Bush was pissed off after he failed to prevent 9-11. And, almost a decade later, we are STILL slogging away in Iraq and Afghanistan, unable to let go of Bush's paranoid grudge. "Start living in the NOW, America!" Tolle would not be best-pleased.

Yes, it's time for both America and North Korea to move on. Kim Jong Il needs to go online to Amazon, order a Korean-language version of "The Power of Now," read it, take notes, and let 1952 slide. And Obama? The same goes for him too. Barack, just pop down to the Library of Congress and check out the book. Let's live in the moment here, folks.

And what do we know about "Now," this point in time in both North Korea and America? We know that:

North Korea has a nuclear bomb.

North Korea has boats floating in international waters off the coast of China.

China is not going to let North Korea do anything stupid.

North Korea isn't going to do anything stupid because it doesn't want Pyongyang flattened again.

Obama likes to travel around to foreign countries that have ISSUES.

North Korea is a foreign country that has lots of ISSUES.

North Korea also has something called the "Mass Games". Mass games are wonderful. Mass games are amazing. Imagine the second-largest stadium in the world filled with 100,000 people all doing synchronized dancing and card tricks. It's awesome! I've been there. I have the photographs to prove it.

Obama could go to North Korea in August or September, see the Mass Games and chat with Kill Jong Il. They could both work on their ISSUES together, forget about the past -- and start living in the Now.

Go for it, guys.
PS: To read my full report on North Korea, "From Axis of Evil to Hot New Tourist Destination," click here: