Notes from 2017 – A Funeral in India

Friends, family, and Indian government ministers at funeral rites for Srinivas Kuchibhotla in Hyderabad, India

Friends, family, and Indian government ministers at funeral rites for Srinivas Kuchibhotla in Hyderabad, India

Yesterday, hundreds of mourners held funeral rites for Srinivas Kuchibhotla, a 32 year old Indian software engineer who had called the United States home for ten years. A week ago, a man with with a history of alchohol problems yelled, “Get out of my country,” then shot Kuchibhotla as he watched a basketball game in a crowded bar in Kansas City. The shooter then wounded Kuchibhotla’s friend and a bystander who tried to disarm him. He reportedly told the bartender, “I killed two Arabs.”

In our recent presidential election, we didn’t just vote for candidates, we voted for their stories – both the stories they told and the stories told about them. The winning story played on our fears: the world is a dangerous place. Murderers, rapists, and terrorists are coming to get us. Other countries are “stealing our jobs.” We must close our borders, expel foreigners, hunker down, look after number one, and trust “a strong man.”

Stories can kill. People kill each other and go to war over stories. The narrative of hate that infected this country during last years election continues to grow and appears to have been a factor the Kansas City shooting.

The shooter didn’t just rob a family of their son. He didn’t just arouse the wrath of one of our key allies against us. He helped sink our nation’s prospects in the new century. He hammered a big nail into America’s rapidly fading greatness, both humanitarian and economic.

More than thirty years ago, in the right place at the right time, I joined Intel just before the tech boom really took off. The company, and its peers were oceans of diversity. The “best and brightest” from all over the world came to study at our universities and then go to work for the companies that sparked the revolution that changed our world. Indian engineers were probably the largest contingent at Intel and the other tech companies.

No longer. Srinivas’ brother also lives in American, but his mother said, “I will not allow him to go back. I don’t want to lose another son,” His father told the nation not to let their children come to this country. I wouldn’t if I was an Indian parent – would you? The president’s smooth sentence, read from a teleprompter last night, after a week of silence, will not convince a nation in morning that all is well in America. Indian politicians at the funeral held signs reading “Down with Trump,” and “Down with Racism.” The real message has been received.

Creativity is fueled by divergent viewpoints – it’s a heterogeneous soup from which marvelous things appear when the circumstances are right. The right circumstances are rapidly disappearing from an America that disavows science and cowers in fear of strangers.

The next big thing – clean energy, bio-technology, revolutions in food production, cures for epidemic diseases won’t happen here behind our walls, both visible and invisible. History tells us the fall of empires isn’t pretty, and they do not rise again.

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Notes from 2017 – Time to save Big Bird again!

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Last week, the New York Times reported on administration plans to cut popular domestic programs, including funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The move would save $500 million a year, about 0.016% of the federal budget.

Said Heritage Foundation economist and presidential advisor, Stephen Moore, “I think it’s an important endeavor to try to get rid of things that are unnecessary.” 

Here are some of the things Mr. Moore considers unnecessary:

Sesame Street
Downton Abbey
Ken Burns “Civil War”
Ken Burns “Jazz”
Sherlock Holmes (several versions)
Poirot
Cadfael
The Midsomer Murders
Ken Burns “Baseball”
Shakespeare plays (many)
Victoria
The PBS Newshour
Nova
Masterpiece Theater
The Antiques Roadshow

These are just a few of my favorite programs, past and present. Add yours to the list

Politicos periodically try to defund PBS. Remember the rumor that one of the Teletubbies was gay?  But I think the real reason is apparent in this dialog from The Power of Myth series, one of the most popular television programs of all time. The conversations between mythologist, Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyer’s, which first aired in 1988, are as relevant as ever today:

Joseph Campbell on "The Power of Myth" series

Joseph Campbell on “The Power of Myth” series

BILL MOYERS: Would the hero with a thousand faces help us to answer that question, about how to change the system so that we are not serving it?

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: I don’t think it would help you to change the system, but it would help you to live in the system as a human being.

BILL MOYERS: By doing what?

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Well, like Luke Skywalker, not going over, but resisting its impersonal claims.

BILL MOYERS: But I can hear someone out there in the audience saying, “Well, that’s all well and good for the imagination of a George Lucas or for the scholarship of a Joseph Campbell, but that isn’t what happens in my life.”

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: You bet it does. If the person doesn’t listen to the demands of his own spiritual and heart life, and insists on a certain program, you’re going to have a schizophrenic crack-up. The person has put himself off-center; he has aligned himself with a programmatic life, and it’s not the one the body’s interested in at all. And the world’s full of people who have stopped listening to themselves. In my own life, I’ve had many opportunities to commit myself to a system and to go with it, and to obey its requirements. My life has been that of a maverick; I would not submit.

BILL MOYERS: You really believe that the creative spirit ranges on its own out there, beyond the boundaries?

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Yes, I do.

By now it should be obvious – this year’s crop of would-be overlords, like all of their kind, want “a world…full of people who have stopped listening to themselves.” It’s up to ALL of us to deny them the pleasure!

We know the drill by now…when this budget item comes up, call and write elected representatives. Make #SaveBigBird go viral on twitter. It worked last time an administration tried to evict Big Bird, and it will work again!

Ken Burns, Downton Abbey, Sesame Street, and Joseph Campbell cut across party lines. They invite all of us to listen deeply to ourselves. They remind us not to let others drown out the still small voice of our souls.

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Notes from 2017 – Infrastructure

Infrastructure: in·fra·struc·ture – ˈinfrəˌstrək(t)SHər/ French noun
the basic physical and organizational structures and facilities (e.g., buildings, roads, and power supplies) needed for the operation of a society or enterprise.

This phrase comes dramatically to mind with the spillway failure at the Oroville dam, 100 miles north of here, which resulted yesterday in the evacuation of almost 200,000 downstream residents.

I lived near the dam in the ’80’s, so I followed #OrovilleDam on social media. Most of the messages were touching offers of places to stay for evacuees, tweets about open gas stations, and so on. As you would expect in today’s climate, some tried to politicize the event. A few moron messages blamed the crisis on illegal immigrants and were not worth reading, but one message caught my attention.

The San Jose Mercury News reports that in 2005, environmental organizations including the Sierra Club, warned federal and state officials that the emergency spillway was “fragile,” needed to be reinforced. That sounded like negligence, but putting this news in perspective on a PBS Newshour report, is Jeffery Mount, senior fellow with the California Public Policy Institute.

According to Mount, the request was reviewed, but finally rejected in a cost vs. probabilities decision. The benefit of coating the hillside in concrete seemed too costly for an event that was not expected to happen, and in fact happened this year for the first time in the 50 year history of the dam.

The issue now will be for reservoir engineers to review what we know of climate studies, which suggest that future storms will be more frequent and more intense than in the past.

Which brings us to the issue of infrastructure…

The Oroville dam, the tallest in California, was built in 1968, in a decade that saw America build it’s interstate highway system, open dozens of affordable public colleges, build dams, and bridges throughout the country, and put a man on the moon.

One of the ways we did this was with a 70% tax rate on the wealthiest 1%.  Nowadays, 70% is the percentage of US bridges with serious structural flaws. Since 2001 we’ve cut taxes on the wealthy and waged constant unfunded wars.  This is what our national infrastructure looks like:

Broken concrete, which makes the main spillway unusable.

Broken concrete, which makes the main spillway unusable.

If we continue down this same road, the Oroville dam and evacuations will be our future.

The new president backed off his campaign promise for an infrastructure program after learning how much it would actually cost. So much that it would behoove his fans to ask him to pay his taxes again. And forget about the Mexican wall PR stunt.

A few people, modeling their communication style on the new president tweeted that the damn failure at least would “wash the liberals away.” Aside from the blatantly cruel sentiment when thousands of people could loose their homes when the rains return on Wednesday, these morons failed to realize that the counties affected were red – they voted for Trump.

Look at the broken dam – it’s not a party issue. Is there’s an aged dam or bridge or a risky overpass near you? Wouldn’t you like it addressed? Wouldn’t you for once like to see leaders of both parties consider what is truly good for “the American people?”

Might be time to let them know how you feel…

oroville-dam

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Notes from 2017 – The Day of the Dove

The Day of the Dove, Star Trek, season 3, episode 7

The Day of the Dove, Star Trek, season 3, episode 7

A 1968 Star Trek episode, “The Day of the Dove,” is an apt metaphor for one of the perils confronting our nation 22 days into the new administration. The episode aired in November, 1968.

An alien entity traps Klingons and the Federation crew aboard the Enterprise, and incites them to anger and violence. It isolates individuals in different parts of the ship. It implants false memories of past harms to feed the anger. It materializes weapons as tempers build.

After recognizing the danger, Kirk and Spock convince the Klingon commander and their respective crews to lay down their weapons. They laugh, joke, and generally act like they’re having fun. The entity fades and disappears.

As David Brooks observed Friday night on The PBS Newshour, the new administration had ample opportunity to move toward “bringing the nation together,” the stated goal of every other victorious president I can remember. Instead they go out of their way to foment discord

Why? Continue reading

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Notes from 2017 – The dreams of our ancestors

"The Sower" by Jean-Francois Millet, 1866-67, Public Domain

“The Sower” by Jean-Francois Millet, 1866-67, Public Domain

My paternal great great grandfather Gustav, a farmer, was born in the Alsace-Lorraine, a region on the French/German border that had been fought over since the time of Louis XIV. As a young man, grandfather Gustav, his two brothers, and their families emigrated to America in 1870 to avoid conscription into the armies of Napolean III during the Franco-Prussian war.

As one historian noted, the ancestors of most Americans of European descent came here as paupers, petty criminals, war refugees, draft dodgers, or religious fanatics. I certainly come from such stock. I’m alive today, in part because 150 years ago, the US was not afraid to admit refugees from conflict zones. As Bill Murray put it in Stripes, “We’re Americans! That means we’re mutts – the most lovable kind of dog there is!” Mixed breeds are often the healthiest too.

A century later, our open borders policy helped spark the technology-driven economic boom of the late 20th century. Andy Grove, one of the founders of Intel, was a Hungarian Jewish refugee who survived the Nazis and then the Russian takeover before before coming to America in 1960. Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian refugee. If you’re reading this post on a laptop or smart phone, you can thank these two pioneers, as well as the space race in the 60’s, which thrived upon a universal respect for science and affordable education which drew the world’s best and brightest to our shores. Microelectronics and the connected world were among the results.
Continue reading

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Notes from 2017 – #TheResistance, one week in

Today I set a photo of Lady Liberty as header for this blog, which is entirely consistent with its six year old title, “The First Gate.” She guards the gate through which many of our ancestors of non-native descent came to this country. Her light has been a beacon of hope for the world for several centuries. Never perfect – no institution is – this light is under attack in a war for the soul of the nation. Vicious forces, now in power, seek the transformation of our democracy into a tyrannical plutocracy.

Lady Liberty will remain at the top of this blog until the current administration is removed from power, or until writing a blog like this becomes illegal, whichever comes first…

This is not so much an article, as much as a collection of notes and images, like the jottings, sticky notes, and bookmarked URL’s that percolate into the articles I write. There hasn’t been time this week for percolation, so here are some tidbits, both distressing and encouraging…

1. Definition:  Plutocracy – A government controlled exclusively by the wealthy either directly or indirectly. A plutocracy allows, either openly or by circumstance, only the wealthy to rule. This can then result in policies exclusively designed to assist the wealthy, which is reflected in its name (comes from the Greek words “ploutos” or wealthy, and “kratos” – power, ruling).

To those who voted for the current administration – is this what you wanted? Because it is what you elected.

2. The Pledge of Allegiance:  Do they still make kids recite this in schools? If so, all school districts of integrity should immediately stop the practice. To force children to say, “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” is to make them repeat a lie, and indoctrinate them with the kind of hypocrisy which infects our overlords.

3. Donald Over the Edge? – The Washington Post reports that Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chair of the House Oversight Committee, is “weighing legislation to require presidents to undergo an independent medical examination, including for mental health. Chaffetz cautioned that he wasn’t ‘talking about some of the rhetoric that’s flying around’ about Trump. Still, he said, ‘If you’re going to have your hands on the nuclear codes, you should probably know what kind of mental state you’re in.’” The 25th Amendment to the Constitution outlines the means by which the Vice President and members of Congress may remove a president for office when he is unable to adequately serve. 

4. Join #TheResistance: This was a hashtag I first saw on Twitter back in December (I think), and thanks to three million women and their allies last week, has made it into the mainstream.  From the cover of Time to the millions following the rogue twitter accounts of the government agencies Trump tried to shut down, to those protesting at JFK this afternoon, to Jerry Brown, Bernie, Elizabeth Warren, to everyone who values the ideal upon which this nation was founded, now and every day until he is out of office is the time resist the lies, fear, and unconstitutional tyranny now propagated by Donald Trump and his cohorts. Push back against the bullshit storm!

resist

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-10-56-51-pm-copy

resistance-rises

And finally, from a tweet by Senator Chris Murphy (D Conn), a reminder of the absence of core American and human values in the Trump administration:

screen-shot-2017-01-28-at-3-15-13-pm-copy

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Notes from 2017 – What is your innermost truth?

truth-2

I  started this post several days ago – in what now seems like a galaxy far away – with something different in mind. My title is paraphrases a question asked by Zen priest, Edward Espe Brown, at a retreat in 2011: “What is your innermost request?”

In the context of the retreat, I took his question to mean, “What is the deepest desire at the deepest core of your being?”  The word, “request,” implies not just desire, need, want, but something akin to prayer. What do we want our lives to be about? What would it take , when our time comes to leave this world, to exit with a sense of peace, victory, satisfaction?

I mean the same kind of thing with, “innermost truth.”  Not just beliefs, ideas, concepts, deductions, or any of the contents of consciousness, for they inevitably change. How many beliefs, ideas, concepts, and so on do you hold from this time a year ago, let alone 10 years ago, 20, or from childhood? What do you know more deeply than emotion and reason both?  Jack Kornfield, in A Path With Heart described this as something you know so deeply that if Buddha and Jesus both said, “You’re wrong,” you would answer, “I am not!”

It’s not an easy question, and there is no simple answer, but it has never been more essential to look to our truths, try to clarify and hold them close over time.

Knowing what we truly believe is an anchor, a center, a “know thyself” tactic at a time when the new president and his minions are trying to normalize lies as “alternate facts.”

The day will come when telling “a Spicer” is a synonym for “telling a whopper,” but until that happens, we need to guard our sense of right and wrong, true and false, as the greatest safeguards we have against the fascist administration that now occupies the White House.

voltaire

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Notes from 2017 – Our Democracy

trump-mocks

“Our democracy is under siege by a moron.” – Bruce Springsteen

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