Daily Archives: December 17, 2008

>Show Me ‘The Way’

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Who says you can’t look to the past for answers to the riddles of life? Over 2500 years ago Lao Tzu, an historian in the royal Chinese court, penned his thoughts on government and life; it was his philosophy of how man ought to live with, and rule, one another. His Tao Te-Ching appears isolated and ethereal, much like a nursery rhyme or riddle, as it describes a utopia–the perfect world. On the surface its ideas seem almost too simple: Lao Tzu tells us how to live a life of innocence and peace, without want or fear; he tells how to govern such a world, and how to protect yourself and your people in that environment. And even though, in this era of materialism, the ideas in the Tao Te-Ching seem simplistic, and the notions that Lao Tzu wrote of ages ago appear out of our collective grasps, we need to take the concepts of the Tao Te-Ching and apply them to our own lives–each of us, one at a time, ought to adopt Lao Tzu’s philosophy and see that governments follow suit. We need to understand strength and power and war in the ways of the Tao. Once we accomplish this staggering task we will have a world free from violence and fear, hate and injustices, want and desire. When we begin to act as the Tao instructs, treat others as Lao Tzu advises, we will no longer live in such a fearful state.

In finding a way to adapt the Tao Te-Ching to our lives I find myself returning to the passge that I believe holds the core ideals ofr a Taoist existence. In discussing ‘the way’–the path toward enlightenment–Lao Tzu writes:

There is now crime greater than having too many desires;
there is no disaster greater than not being content;
there is no misfortune greater than being covetous.
Hence in being content, one will always have enough.
A simple enough philosophy, and yet in this individualistic culture–this ‘me first’ society–it is the ideology that fails us first. We live on a planet fraught with jealousy and envy, teeming with mistrust and fear. We spend valuable time reaching for things that satisfy us temporarily, constantly yearning to take the things others possess because we feel they will bring us greater joy. But a Taoist would not desire what is not necessary to sustain life. A Taoist would only ask for the simple things: food, shelter, clothing and good health. If we could attain–and maintain–these central ideas we would have a world free of envy and desire and pain. A Taosit would not grow into a man like O.J. Simpson–men who seek to control and dominate others., who resort to murder when their attempts fail. A Taoist existence would not have bred the Menendez brothers or Dorothea Puente, so desirous of what others possessed that they deprived those individuals of the one thing each of us truly owns: life. The Taoist lifestyle could no more breed these individuals, than it could accept being ruled by such people. If the Tao Te-Ching were embraced by each of us, then the rulers of the world would be forced to accept and adopt these same beliefs.
A government run beneath a Taoist ideology would lead by example of modesty and humility, acting under the conditions of the norm of reciprocity–that we have a tendency to ‘get back what we give out.’ If the United States were ruled by a Taoist government there would have been no war in Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan, no pretext about our reasons and means for controlling Central America or the Middle East; no lies. A Taoist America would not have accepted the Civil War or Vietnam; that America would not tolerate the history of racial tension, of inequality–for its own citizens and for those of the world–that has endured in this country since its inception. If the United Sates ruled with a Taoist sensibility–and the rest of the world would most assuredly follow suit–there would have been no war or mass graves in Bosnia, no Saddam Hussein; no al-Queda. A Taoist planet would neither find, nor turn a blind eye to, the human rights violations in China. It would dismantle the maquiladoras that line the borders of the US and Mexico, and it would feed the starving in Africa; it would treat those suffering from HIV and AIDS around the world. Countries ruled by the Tao would return to the simpler ideals of isolationism–where countries don’t interact with their neighbors, choosing instead to care for their own. These Taoist countries would have no desire to dominate or posses what others may own–it is in not knowing what someone else possesses, that one does not suffer from want. In a world without want, envy, greed, mistrust or hatred, there would be no need for struggle, for petty acts of aggression, for war or warriors.
And yet a Taoist society would know of war–it may even suffer through it–but it would never feel the need to engage in acts of barbarism for the sake of power. In the Tao Te-Ching Lao Tzu acknowledges war, but teaches us how to achieve a safe world without it. He advocates a society that lives by the virtue of non-contention–a world that neither competes nor suffers competition. The Taoist society ‘excels a s a warrior [yet] does not appear formidable…it is never roused in anger…[and does not] join issue.’ But a Taoist world is not without power, for according to the Tao, strength is a virtue. But strength is about pride, not intimidation; it is integrity of character, not instigation. A Taoist world would not need war horses–which could then be relegated to plowing the fields, nor any use for ships or carts, or occasion for a show of arms. In a Taoist world the tools of war–and the warriors themselves–are used to give back to the culture, not take away from it. And yet in today’s world these basic ideals, these fundamental concepts of the Tao Te-Ching seem far off and long forgotten.
What shouldn’t be forgotten, however, no matter how far off it may appear, is the idea that we can alter the course of the world. Through the practice of Taoism, in spreading its teaching, we can stem the tide of ignorance and hatred, rid ourselves of want, and live in contentment. We would no longer desire material things to sustain our lives, to enrich our lives. And in being free of the strings that bind us to a material existence, we would no longer fear death, but rather embrace it. When we live without want and envy, we would live free from war. And in being free of war–which only brings reprisals that culminate in more atrocities–we would live without dread. When we accept the ides of the Tao–contentment of self, strength of character–we begin to live the life of simplicity and inner peace. Our differences, whether religious, intellectual, gender or racial, would merely dissolve; they would soon cease to exist and we would find ourselves on ‘the way’–the path toward enlightenment. In reading the Tao Te-Ching I am drawn to the passage: “…in being content man will always have enough.’ I realize that the chore of returning to a Taoist existence would be a monumental undertaking, but if the world–one person at a time–would put a foot down, it could happen. All it takes is one footstep to travel the oath toward enlightenment; one foot after another all along ‘the way.’
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Filed under Bob, Buddhism, Peace, Religion

>Person Of The Year 2008

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On Friday, Dec. 5, the President-elect sat down with TIME managing editor Richard Stengel, editor-at-large David Von Drehle and Time Inc. editor-in-chief John Huey in Obama’s spartan transition offices in Chicago to discuss his plans for the coming months, the improbability of his victory and how he’s fighting to stay in touch with the real world from inside the presidential bubble. Excerpts from their conversation:

What kind of mandate do you have?
Well, I think we won a decisive victory. Forty-seven percent of the American people still voted for John McCain. And so I don’t think that Americans want hubris from their next President. I do think we received a strong mandate for change … It means a government that is not ideologically driven. It means a government that is competent. It means a government, most importantly, that is focused day in, day out on the needs and struggles, the hopes and dreams, of ordinary people. And I think there is a strong mandate for Washington as a whole to be responsive to ordinary Americans in a way that it has not been for quite some time.

When voters look at your Administration two years from now, in the off-year election, how will they know whether you’re succeeding?
I think there are a couple of benchmarks we’ve set for ourselves during the course of this campaign. On [domestic] policy, have we helped this economy recover from what is the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression? Have we instituted financial regulations and rules of the road that assure this kind of crisis doesn’t occur again? Have we created jobs that pay well and allow families to support themselves? Have we made significant progress on reducing the cost of health care and expanding coverage? Have we begun what will probably be a decade-long project to shift America to a new energy economy? Have we begun what may be an even longer project of revitalizing our public-school systems so we can compete in the 21st century? That’s on the domestic front.
On foreign policy, have we closed down Guantánamo in a responsible way, put a clear end to torture and restored a balance between the demands of our security and our Constitution? Have we rebuilt alliances around the world effectively? Have I drawn down U.S. troops out of Iraq, and have we strengthened our approach in Afghanistan — not just militarily but also diplomatically and in terms of development? And have we been able to reinvigorate international institutions to deal with transnational threats, like climate change, that we can’t solve on our own?
And outside of specific policy measures, two years from now, I want the American people to be able to say, “Government’s not perfect; there are some things Obama does that get on my nerves. But you know what? I feel like the government’s working for me. I feel like it’s accountable. I feel like it’s transparent. I feel that I am well informed about what government actions are being taken. I feel that this is a President and an Administration that admits when it makes mistakes and adapts itself to new information, that believes in making decisions based on facts and on science as opposed to what is politically expedient.” Those are some of the intangibles that I hope people two years from now can claim.

When you look at the economic issues that you ran on in the campaign, does [all the bad financial news] change your priorities about how quickly you’ve got to act on, say, jobs vs. energy?
Fortunately, most of the proposals that we made apply not only to our long-term economic growth but also fit well into what we need to do short term to get the economy back on track. I have talked during the campaign about the need to rebuild our infrastructure, and that obviously gives us an opportunity to create jobs and drive demand at a time when the economy desperately needs jobs and demand. I’ve talked about a tax cut for 95% of working families, and that fits into a stimulus package, and we can get that money out into people’s pockets fairly quickly. I’ve talked about the need for us to contain health-care costs, and it turns out there’s some spending that has to be done on information technology, for example, that we can do fairly swiftly. So there’s no doubt that most of the priorities that I had are ones that will serve our short-term economic needs as well as our long-term economic needs.
The drop in oil prices, I do think, makes the conversation about energy more difficult, not less necessary. More than ever, I think, a wholesale investment in transforming our economy — from retrofitting buildings so that they’re energy-efficient to changing our transportation patterns and thinking about how to rebuild our electricity grid — those are all things that we’re going to need now more than ever. But with people not paying $4 a gallon for gas, it means it drops on their priority list. And that makes the politics of it tougher than it might have been six months ago.
So how long and how deep a recession should the American public be ready for?
I don’t have a crystal ball, and economists are all over the map on this. I think we should anticipate that 2009 is going to be a tough year. And if we make some good choices, I’m confident that we can limit some of the damage in 2009 and that in 2010 we can start seeing an upward trajectory on the economy. But this is a difficult hole that we’ve dug ourselves into. You know, Japan found itself in a somewhat similar situation in the ’90s, made some poor decisions, didn’t squarely face some of the problems in its banking system and, despite significant stimulus, still saw this thing drag on for almost a decade. On the other hand, you’ve got countries like Sweden that went through this and acted forcefully and boldly and in two years were back on track and were growing at a really healthy clip. So the decisions we make are going to have an impact on it. But next year’s going to be tough.

You made a very bold choice for Secretary of State. If she were sitting here with you now and you were to say, “Madame Secretary, here are the three stops I want you to make on your itinerary once you get in the job,” what would those three places be?
Well, since we’re literally having that conversation, I think, a day or two after this publication comes out, I’m not going to have her read it in TIME magazine. But I mentioned to you earlier some of our key priorities. There’s no doubt that managing the transition in Iraq is going to be a top priority. Managing a more effective strategy in Afghanistan will be a top priority. Recognizing that it is not simply an Afghanistan problem but it’s an Afghanistan-Pakistan-India-Kashmir-Iran problem is going to be a priority. Sorting through our policy with respect to Iran effectively — that will be a priority. Dealing with our transatlantic alliance in a more constructive way and trying to build a more effective relationship with the newly assertive and, I believe, inappropriately aggressive Russia, when it comes to the invasion of Georgia — that is going to be a priority. And seeing if we can build on some of the progress, at least in conversation, that’s been made around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be a priority.
Now, I mention those things, but keep in mind that some of the long-term priorities I identified in the campaign remain just as urgent today. I already mentioned nuclear proliferation. I already mentioned climate change. I think dealing with development and poverty around the world is going to be a critical component of our foreign policy. It’s good for our security and not just charity. And so, part of the goal that Senator [Hillary] Clinton and I both share — as do [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates and [National Security Adviser nominee] General [James] Jones — is moving our foreign-assistance agenda to the center of our national-security conversations as opposed to the periphery. Paying more attention to Latin America. You know, we have neglected our neighbors in our own hemisphere, and there is an enormous potential for us to work with other countries — Brazil, for example, which is in some ways ahead of us on energy strategies. That, I think, would be very important. And finally, managing our relationship with China and the entire Pacific Rim, I think, is something that will keep not just me busy but my successor busy.

Was there ever a point in the election when you thought you were going to lose?
Sure. When was it?
Well, let me say it this way: There were multiple points throughout the election when I thought I could lose. Including the day I announced. And honestly, you know, we had a bunch of ups and downs in the campaign. I’ll tell you what, though: the way Michelle and I talked about it before we made the decision to get in this race was, if we run the kind of race that I wanted to run, if we were engaging people and exciting people and bringing new people into the process, if I was speaking honestly and truthfully about what I thought my priorities were, then I always thought we had a good chance of winning. And if we lost, that wouldn’t be such a terrible thing. And that’s why I think I stayed pretty steady throughout this race, despite the ups and downs.
There weren’t that many occasions during this campaign — there were a few, but not that many — where I wasn’t proud of what we were doing or felt somehow that I was making compromises of my core principles. Michelle and I pledged that whatever happened, we’d come out of this thing whole. And there wasn’t any point in this campaign where I thought we were in danger of losing who we were.

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve gotten from someone about being President, about how to go about it, about how that feels?
Well, precisely because it’s sui generis, the only people that really know are the collection of ex-Presidents that we have. And I want to protect the confidentiality of those conversations since I expect to go back to them for advice, and I want to feel that they can give me unvarnished advice. I can tell you that all of them have said that it is important to carve out time to think and not spend your entire day reactive. Because there’s always a crisis coming at you, there’s always a meeting you could be doing, there’s always a press conference or a group of supporters that you could be responding to. And so I think maintaining that kind of discipline is important.
Something that I have already experienced, and I have not fully solved, is how to break out of the bubble, which is extraordinarily powerful … As a consequence of the security concerns surrounding this office, it is very hard for me to do what ordinary people do. That is the biggest adjustment, and that is not an adjustment I’ve made yet. And I’m not sure I’ll want to make it entirely. The inability to go to the gas station and pump your own gas. Or go to the store and buy groceries. Or take your kids to the park. Those are experiences that aren’t just intrinsically good, but they also keep me in touch with what Americans are going through. And so I’m trying to negotiate more space and do so in a way that doesn’t put Secret Service members in more jeopardy. I’m trying to negotiate hanging on to some sort of electronic communication with the outside world. And so far, between the lawyers and the Secret Service and the bureaucrats, I’m not sure I’m winning that battle.

Given the economic situation, the picture you’ve painted of ’09, are there any taxes that can be raised in this environment?
Well, I have said that I will be providing a net tax cut. Ninety-five percent of working Americans will be getting a tax cut. In part to pay for the tax cut for people who desperately need it, I’ve proposed that people who are making more than a quarter-million dollars a year lose the tax cuts they received from George [W.] Bush and that we go back to the rates they had in the 1990s. And that is a pledge I intend to keep.

But is that by letting them expire in ’10 or by repealing them in ’09?
Well, one way or another, they are going to lose those tax breaks under my Administration. My economic team is reviewing right now what the best option is.

Considering the economic hole we’re in, and particularly the joblessness crisis right now, does that move health care up or down on the agenda in terms of real structural reform of providing health care?
I think it keeps it right where it is, which is one of my top three domestic priorities. How we sequence a movement toward affordable, accessible health care may vary because of the current economic situation.

What is it about your executive style that makes you good at standing up to big organizations to meet unprecedented challenges — whether it’s the way you ran your campaign or now — so quickly?
I don’t think there’s some magic trick here. I think I’ve got a good nose for talent, so I hire really good people. And I’ve got a pretty healthy ego, so I’m not scared of hiring the smartest people, even when they’re smarter than me. And I have a low tolerance of nonsense and turf battles and game-playing, and I send that message very clearly. And so over time, I think, people start trusting each other, and they stay focused on mission, as opposed to personal ambition or grievance. If you’ve got really smart people who are all focused on the same mission, then usually you can get some things done.

Do you ever get angry, and if you do, how would we know it?
If you want to tail me and [spokesman Robert] Gibbs for a few days, I could tell you, we’ve had it out a couple times. You know, my staff knows when I get angry. I’m not a shouter. I find that what was always effective with me as a kid, and Michelle and I find it effective with our kids, is just making people feel really guilty. Like “Boy, I am disappointed in you. I expected so much more.” And I think people generally want to do the right thing, and if you’re clear to them about what that right thing is, and if they see you doing the right thing, then that gives you some leverage. Hollering at people isn’t usually that effective. Now, there are exceptions. There are times where guilt doesn’t work, and then you have to use fear.

Now for a deeply personal question, which you may not feel comfortable answering. Did your grandmother die confident that you were going to be President?
You know, I don’t know. But I know she voted for me. The last week of her life, she was in and out of consciousness. But I’d say three weeks before the election — or was it two weeks? About two weeks before the election, I think at that point, you know, the signs were that I might pull this off.
She was incredulous, I think, until the very end. I mentioned this in another interview. My grandmother would not have believed that this was possible. Not because of the race issues but because she was just a very Midwestern, steady person who generally was skeptical of these kinds of things and would have preferred I’d never gone into politics and done something sensible like try to become a judge or something after law school. My mother, on the other hand, I think would’ve never had a doubt because she was absolutely convinced that her son and her daughter were perfect. So it’s a reflection more on their personalities.
But you think about my grandmother’s life. I mean, here’s a woman who was born in, let’s see, 1912 or ’22 — I’ve got to do my math — she was 86, so ’22, rather. She really grew up in the Depression, in a small town in Kansas, and never got a college degree. Somehow found herself in Hawaii. Somehow found her daughter marrying an African guy. Raised this mixed kid who got in all kinds of trouble during his teenage years. You know, the likelihood of that little boy ending up President of the United States was pretty low.
So in some ways her life tracks this American — this remarkable American journey, where all of these different forces and cultures can come together and the possibility of upward mobility and opportunity for successive generations is a reality. Maybe not as much as we’d like it to be. Maybe not as fast as we’d like it to be. But it’s there nonetheless.
All right?

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>Bugged

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Comb-overs bug me.
I saw a man in a restaurant the other day who had taken his hair from just above one ear and combed it all the way over to the other ear. Does no one say to this man, You’re bald! Step away from the comb! I mean, this man has to shower, right? And he gets out of the shower and the hair on one side of his head falls down to his shoulder, and he thinks nothing of it?
You’re BALD!

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People who are on their cell phones constantly….or texting. I’m a bit old school in this regard. I have a cell phone that stays in my car and is used only in case of emergency. If you need to talk to me, call my house. If I don’t answer, leave a message. If I don’t call back, well, maybe you aren’t so special to me anymore.
And what about the texting every two seconds? Where you write to your friends to tell them about the minutiae of your day?
I’m just getting to work. Send.
I’m in the building. Send.
I’m at my desk. Send.
I have a turkey sandwich for lunch. Send.
I have no life so I text all day. Send.

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People who tell me that they aren’t judging me for being gay, and then tell me I’m probably going to hell. Uh, that’s a judgement! I usually tell them that if it’s the homo’s going to hell, you know it’ll be one fabulous party.

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Gas prices that go up, or down, on a day-to-day basis. I drive by the same station to and from work every day. One day gas was $1.52 a gallon; then a few hours later it had fallen to $1.48. But isn’t the gas that was delivered to the station a day or so prior still in the underground tank? So, why is it cheaper? More importantly, why is it suddenly more expensive? I mean, the station has paid one price for the gas they receive, and yet it goes up and down and up. No sense.
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I heard a politician from New York–I didn’t get his name because I was eating my Shredded Wheat in the kitchen and the TV is in the other room–talking about Caroline Kennedy seeking to fill Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat. Now, I’m not some well-educated politician from up there in New York, but I do know that Caroline Kennedy went to Harvard, got a law degree from Columbia, and has done all sorts of work regarding education and literacy in her home state. But this nimrod politician said all he knows of Caroline Kennedy is that she has “name recognition just like JLo.”
JLo?
Caroline Kennedy.
JLo.
Pffffffft. Politicians. And they wonder while they’re the butt of so many jokes.
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Tom Cruise and his Apology Tour.
His royal Shortness is making the rounds to clear up the confusion about his insane ranting against Matt Lauer; he sort of apologizes for the things he said; he says he was misunderstood–like he doesn’t know about the Internet and YouTube, which replays his crazy 24/7?
Tom? You’re career is just about over. Seriously. Put Katie to work and start pimping out your little girl, and maybe, one day, we’ll remember for being more than an Underwear-wearing-couch-jumping-proselytizing-homophobe-with-a-modicum-of-talent.

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Filed under Bob, Caroline Kennedy, Celebrity, Cell Phones, Comb-Overs, Funny, Gas, Homophobia, Idiotic, Ignorant People, JLo, Rant, Tom Cruise