Joy…

“Joy is hidden in compassion. The word compassion literally means “to suffer with.” It seems quite unlikely that suffering with another person would bring joy. Yet being with a person in pain, offering simple presence to someone in despair, sharing with a friend times of confusion and uncertainty … such experiences can bring us deep joy. Not happiness, not excitement, not great satisfaction, but the quiet joy of being there for someone else and living in deep solidarity with our brothers and sisters in this human family. Often this is a solidarity in weakness, in brokenness, in woundedness, but it leads us to the center of joy, which is sharing our humanity with others”
-Unknown

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BBC News – Sir Terry Pratchett, renowned fantasy author, dies aged 66

Very sad news, indeed. I enjoyed his writing, and particularly his sense of the absurd, and I greatly admired his use if his Alzheimer’s diagnosis to promote the right of the terminally ill to choose when to die (although the obituary notes that his death was not suicide)

BBC News – Sir Terry Pratchett, renowned fantasy author, dies aged 66.

My own open letter to the 47 Senators that signed the open letter to Iran

Coming too close behind my recent rant on willful ignorance to ignore, there arrived news of the now infamous letter to Iran. Signed by 47 Republican Senators, the letter was intended to be a ‘cheeky’ reminder that Congress should not be excluded from any negotiations  – and damn! – who knew the White House had no sense of humor? The comments regarding cheekiness and the White House lack of humor came from Congressional staffers who worked on the letter and go a long way towards explaining my irritation. No kids, sorry, I don’t know, or care, whether the White House has a sense of humor. I’ve sure as hell lost mine. Along with my patience. And I think you will find that most of the country agrees with me on this (possibly a rarity). Certainly the newspapers from the home states of these Senators seem to agree. This was just wrong.

Dear Senator Cotton, et al:

Let’s be really, really clear – ‘cheeky’ and diplomacy never, never, never get used in the same thought. There is absolutely no context in which this is remotely acceptable. Did it rise to the level of treason? No, obviously not – we aren’t at war with Iran and that would have been required for it to be legally treasonous. Violation of the Logan Act? Impractical for many reasons, and even if you assume that Senators are not exempt from the act’s nonspecific wording, what Richard Nixon did in 1968 to President Johnson’s negotiations with North Vietnam fell much closer to violating the act (and to treason, for that matter). Serious ethical lapse? Absolutely – but of course, you aren’t going to hold yourselves accountable for anything, so forget any type of censure. Particularly since most of you aren’t seeing what the problem is.

In the time since the letter has been released, we’ve seen some backpedaling (strengthening the President’s hand? Seriously, Sen. Paul?!), very poor attempt to explain why this was a good thing (it really wasn’t, Sen. Cornyn), some “I knew it was not a good idea so I didn’t sign on (Sen. Corker).

But there are a couple of profound problems with the sheer hubris that led you to decide to sign the letter in the first place:

  1. A failure to realize that this is actually a UN Security Council negotiation (as were the sanctions that came before it). It isn’t a US treaty, executive action, or anything else. It is what we, as permanent members of the UN Security Council are responsible for doing – ensuring that member states comply with international law. I realize that the John Bircher in you wants to treat the UN as a satanic enemy hell-bent on destroying the God-given sovereignty of the US, but it isn’t. We live in an increasingly small world (made ever smaller by those corporations that you hold so dear), and we need international bodies to make sure that everyone plays together well in the sandbox. And that non-nuclear states stay that way. Your narrow-minded need to lambast the President really doesn’t factor into this particular equation.
  2. Putting the UN aside, this was a breach of diplomatic norms. The State Department and the Executive branch have long been responsible for diplomatic negotiations. Yes, Congress approves treaties, but they do not normally get involved in the delicate business of diplomacy (and this episode proves why). ‘Fuck You’ is rarely a good starting point in a negotiation. And ‘ignore the negotiator because I don’t intend to listen to him’ is NEVER a good approach to negotiations.
  3. “Cheeky” requires a common cultural understanding of words – I was born and raised here and I don’t understand how this qualifies as “cheeky” – imagine how a non-native reads it (likely the way it was intended). Diplomacy is serious business. Nuclear non-proliferation is particularly serious. If not completely serious, then this letter was very much out-of-place, and incredibly inappropriate. And if completely serious, then it was a significant violation of both common sense and political ethics, and incredibly inappropriate.
  4. Senators, you have just very publicly drawn your line in the sand – now you can spend the next 22 months pretending that President doesn’t exist. You have firmly established that they have no intention of working together with anyone, not even the more moderate members of your own caucus, to accomplish anything for the foreseeable future. Your term has barely started, and it’s already done. You, and your equally extreme counterparts in the House of Representatives, are willing to do anything – or nothing at all – to prove a point.

There are so many things about this situation that I find troubling. But, besides the galling use of the term ‘cheeky’, what troubles me most is that blatant lack of respect for the Office of the Presidency. You don’t have to like the President, agree with his views, or his policies, but you, as government officials yourselves, do, in fact, have a responsibility to behave like adults and respect the Office. President Bush (GW) made many questionable decisions, showed terrible judgement, allowed Vice President Cheney to strong-arm the CIA into lying about the reasons for war, and tolerated the leaking of an undercover CIA official’s name in order to punish her husband, and yet any criticism of the administration was met by the same extreme right-wing of the Republican Party with shouts of “Treason”.

You don’t get to play that game both ways. Your own behavior is far from patriotic. It is barely skirting legal, comes damn close to sedition, and demonstrates that you have no apparent interest in performing the duties that go along with the role that you sought out. In case you’ve forgotten your civics, you are the Legislative branch of the US government. Act like it.

Tuesday’s Quote #15 – on willful ignorance…

“I am patient with stupidity, but not with those who are proud of it”

— Edith Sitwell

Edith Sitwell was a well-titled, eccentric, British poet and literary critic, who died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 77 in 1964. Fewer words ring more true for me these days.

When I look at the news, and see that so many people absolutely refuse to let established facts disrupt their belief system, I get very frustrated. And I get frightened – what the hell are we leaving our children and grandchildren?

When ‘news’ broadcasts continue to treat climate science as debatable. Or refuse to distinguish climate from weather. When legislators continue to argue evolution as only a ‘theory’ because no one wants to acknowledge the scientific definition of a theory. Nor have they apparently heard of antibiotic resistant bacteria – or how it got that way. Strange that I was raised Roman Catholic, in Cathoic schools, and somehow, I learned Genesis, and I learned evolutionary biology – the two really don’t have to be contradictory.

When the US Supreme Court rules that a Corporation can act based on its, scientifically inaccurate, medial views, and what that means for it from a religious perspective – it has not only declared that corporate entities are people, but that they can hold religious views as well, and don’t need to be too concerned with facts – we may have carried Corporate Citizenship to a dangerous new extreme.

And anti-vaccination proponents still manage to get news time. Parental rights? I (almost) respectfully disagree – public health needs really do win out here. Don’t want a flu shot, don’t get one. But measles, polio, rubella? The risks to your children, and especially to other people, is simply too great to choose to disregard. Societies exist for the support of all members. It’s why they form, and how they flourish. There is zero scientific basis for the anti-vaccination rhetoric out there – but there are still too many, well-meaning, affluent, and well-educated, people out there that refuse to be swayed by any facts that they are presented with (since facts themselves are apparently part of a larger conspiracy benefitting big pharma). And an alarming number of people who have no qualms at all about voicing their lack of concern for other people. Then move into a completely closed community and never travel outside of it, or let anyone else in. The world is too small for you to be that narcissistic. Or stupid.

When politicians have the incomprehensible audacity to require that doctors perform transvaginal ultrasounds on pregnant women seeking terminations – in spite of the fact the there is absolutely no medical reason. And don’t seem to be embarrassed by asking a doctor, in a public hearing, whether a woman could swallow a remote camera to test a pregnancy? Sorry, folks – the fact that the reproductive system is NOT a part of the digestive system is something most children learn in elementary school science class. Enough people voted for these people that they are responsible for making the laws that you will have to follow. Good luck with that.

When Cliven Bundy can be hailed as a hero for threatening an armed uprising to defend his refusal to either pay for grazing on federal land or to stop grazing on federal land, but the landowners in Nebraska had to go to court to stop Trans-Canada from taking their land for the Keystone Pipeline – which is a private enterprise benefiting none of the landowners – they were reviled as obstructionist.

When Sarah Palin, who has frequently made little sense in the last few years, can deliver an astonishingly incoherent speech, raise an equally astonishing amount of money from it, and express shock that anyone think she wouldn’t be a serious contender for the White House? Maybe we should be worried that she might be. Who the hell are these people giving her money and encouraging her, anyway?

Stupid seems to be in these days. And we’re damn proud of it. So proud that we will continue to elect people at the local, state, and national levels, that seem to be under the impression that refusing to adjust an opinion in the face of opposing facts is a sign of weakness.  And we are making our voting decisions based largely on well-funded fear-mongering that is using our own prejudices, and legitimate fears, to keep us focused on single, tightly drawn wedge issues, so that we don’t get distracted by any other issues, or facts.  I’m reminded of Spiro Agnew and the disdain for the ‘effete intellectuals’ – why confuse anything with facts?

And the photo? – An endless highway shot seemed quite appropriate to accompany my rant. In the immortal words of Bob Dylan:

“I’m walking down that long lonesome road, babe. Where I’m bound, I can’t tell.”

Okay, well, driving, on I40 East near Gallup, NM, in August 2013, but you get the point…

Not Daylight Saving Time again…

“You will never find anybody who can give you a clear and compelling reason why we observe “Daylight Saving Time.”

— Dave Barry

My least favorite time, of my least favorite season, has arrived – the beginning of the ever-expanding construct known as Daylight Saving Time. Not only do I dislike it because I hate giving back that hour of sleep – to be honest, I hated that more when I was in my early twenties and had a part-time job that required working on Sunday mornings – but I dislike it as a parent, who hated the battle of getting young children to reset their internal clocks, and having to get older children out the door to their own part-time Sunday morning jobs, but I really dislike it because it serves absolutely no useful purpose. And yet, the US Congress, in an occasional attempt to pretend to do something, will extend it as a part of one energy bill or another (now it runs more than half the year).

The logic behind it, initially as a way of shifting extra daylight into the evening hours – may have had some practical applications when the country was largely agrarian, and may possibly have some benefit if we assume that people will do more outside activities in the evenings. At the time that Benjamin Franklin advocated for it, the assumption was that no one was up early enough on summer mornings to make use of the earlier daylight. Ah – but I am, and based on the highways, so are many, many other people. There have been conflicting studies over the last forty years, but there is some indication that we use less oil, presumably in the colder climates, during DST, and possibly even enough to offset the fact that we need to use more in the mornings to deal with the lack of sunlight. But, as we become an increasingly global society, our work hours, and lifestyles, have changed, and there have been several studies done in the past ten years that indicate that any energy savings are negligible, and that electricity usage may actually increase during DST partially because of an increased need for air conditioning later in the day. And interestingly enough, a 2014 study done based on data from the, government funded, American Time Use Survey indicates that during DST people sleep less overall, and do use more energy for both heating (mornings) and cooling (evenings), as well as for lighting. My suspicion is that increased evening activity also correlates to increased gasoline consumption as we drive to the places where we can participate in our evening outdoor activities. But that might just be me.

More importantly, there are studies that indicate that DST causes a decrease in worker productivity that last longer than the day of the change. We simply do not recover from the lost hour of sleep that quickly. And out circadian rhythm is tuned to the sun – we want to sleep when it isn’t there, and be awake when it is – anyone who has worked night shifts knows this. Sleeping in the daylight is hard, waking up in the dark might even be harder. If we aren’t getting sufficient rest, we are tired, do not concentrate well, make mistakes, and we can negatively impact our health.

I hope that someday sanity will prevail, and the rest of the US will join Arizona and Hawaii in no longer observing DST.

The image is, of course, Salvador Dali’s painting “The Persistence Of Memory”, painted in 1931. My favorite clock painting.

Winter

The photo above was taken last month on a bright, clear morning (somewhat rare this winter). It reminds me that winter scenes can be beautiful.

Today, of course, is dreary, gray, cold, and a bit snowy. Thankfully (for me), the worst of this storm is to the south of here, so we won’t get any accumulation. But the temperatures will be falling all day.

Just to remind myself that perspective is everything..

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness”

— John Steinbeck