Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Jeff Bridges, the Coen Brothers and Buddhism

Online, at a site called the hairpin, you can read a discussion between Jeff Bridges and his Zen master Bernie Glassman. They talk about all the Zen koans in the Coen brothers, "The Big Lebowski." Bridges, made a second movie with the Coen brothers, "True Grit."
Unlike the Kim Darby character in the John Wayne version, the adult Maddie you see at the end of the Coen brothers film is unmarried, missing an appendage and shows up to see Rooster Cogburn a week after his death.
The adult Maddie is suitably stoic and, like so many Coen brothers movies, leaves you with mixed emotions. It was a great movie, much better than its predecessor, but bleak and sad.
Over the years, since I first read "The Razor's Edge," I've been interested in Buddhism and attended some Buddhist gatherings, including a Tibetan Buddhist meeting in Santa Monica.
If you understand that Buddhist thought comes out of sixth century BC Indian society, which was filled with suffering, you can understand how Nirvana, a state in which you no longer have to be reborn into a world of pain, is very appealing.
The Jesuits are known for saying, "give him to us for the first seven years, and we will have him forever."
As someone who attended Methodist Church every Sunday since I was in preschool, you might understand how Nirvana has less appeal then "life everlasting." As my disability brings more pain, my Christianity seems more important.
I've met some wonderful Buddhists and know when the Buddhist protest somewhere in Asia, I should probably be on their side. I've given up caring how people reach a higher power and learn to behave ethically. I've chosen Christianity, but I probably never had any other choice. Jesus is a stalker.

Friday, January 25, 2013

So You Want an Unfettered Internet?

The younger you are, the more you probably believe in a completely open Internet. When I dropped Facebook after information connecting me to a relative was being sold, the person in question told me it showed how old I was.
It frequently isn't until a person gets turned down  for a job that they realize that a Facebook page has hurt their reputation.
Now, to show how ghastly it can be to have your information on the Internet we can look at a lawsuit against by a woman who was stabbed 10 times by someone she met through and did not want to date. This woman, Mary Kay Beckman, required surgery to repair her jaw and replace part of her skull. An operation was needed to preserve her eyesight.
Mitchell Ridley, her attacker, was sentenced to up to 70 years in prison. He committed suicide behind bars.
A young friend of mine, who is an expert in computing and highly sought after by many companies, understands how I feel. Perhaps it's because he sees so much, that he worries about the information that's out there.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Young Women in the White House

I've used the words "young women" instead of girls because after teaching African-Americans in college for 30 years, there's still a worry in my mind that "girls" flashes back to a time before the civil rights movement in which there was a stigma to the word that is perfectly acceptable when used for a white American.
The sight of Malia, now almost as tall as her father, and her younger sister, Sasha, filled me with great joy. The fact that the two of them have grown up in the White House somehow means something as important as the fact that their father is President of the United States.
Growing up in the presidents house is a unique and special experience that up until now was only possible for  very lucky white children. We got to know Chelsea Clinton (or as much as her mother allowed us into her life, believing she was raising a daughter, not a national icon). We've seen these two attractive people with great manners have a unique experience, granted to very few.
No longer is the term "all-American girl" reserved for the blond cheerleader in Moberly, Missouri. Malia looked elegant as her father took the oath of office for four more years.
Sometimes I'm disappointed in Pres. Obama but other times I'm proud to have voted for him. But, what never changes for me is how a child in Compton can look to her nation's capital and identify with Malia and Sasha. She can be anything, she thinks. She is now an American in every sense of the word.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Mozart and Mandarin

I was driving down Santa Monica Blvd. when my XM radio began playing Sarah Chang's recording of the "Lark Ascending," by Vaughn Williams. Her violin's transcendant sound practically transported me out of my Prius.

Sarah's parents are Korean. The greatest cellist in the world, Yo Yo Ma, has Chinese parents.

Since I live in a very Chinese-American world here in Los Angeles, I've noticed that parents whose children do not practice a  musical instrument, are parents who don't care if their kids get into medical school.

I once attended a violin competition for elementary school students held at a Southern California university. Every child was Asian.

Asian music comes from a very different (wen hua) tradition. Mozart and Beethoven aren't part of the history of North East Asia. Yet today some great classical performers are coming out of China and Korea. Their orchestras are getting better.

My mother was a concert harpist, but I stopped playing my French Horn in high school. Neither of my brothers took up an instrument. At what point did Asia become a breeding ground for Western classical musicians?

One of my guesses involves the Chinese and Korean work ethic. As Malcolm Gladwell points out, putting 10,000 hours into anything almost ensures you'll be good at it. There are some white kids who will turn into classical music prodigies. However, the Chinese-Korean work ethic, with its expectations of excellence, will help musicians from those countries excel.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Stop Bragging. We're last in Life Expectancy

I never should've opened up the New York Times today. The paper told me that we were last among 17 countries in life expectancy for those under 50. At one point, when the world was recovering from World War II, I guess we looked pretty good. Growing up, I was always told we had the best medical system in the world. Maybe it was true then, but it sure as hell isn't today.
The reasons Americans die is because of guns, car accidents and drug addiction. If anybody doesn't think that's really screwed up for such a rich country, you must be taking money from the Koch brothers.
These figures are significant. We rank at the lowest level out of 17 countries for life expectancy. The countries we were measured against included Canada, Japan, Australia and Germany. Maybe we should start measuring ourselves against Bangladesh so we could look better in the eyes of the world.
A paper by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council calls it the "American health disadvantage." I'd hope that our Congress would look at this closely, but only 9% of the American people think the people in the national legislature are worth anything. They posture, they promise, and they failed to get anything done. So I don't find any hope there.
Can we now stop talking about how we're the greatest country on earth. I love America and my family has been here 392 years. I don't want to live anyplace else. But people who care about this place have to get past the foolish rhetoric to help fix things.
Why do we have to tolerate drugs? Why do we have to have automatic weapons? Why do we let our kids drive drunk? Other countries seem to have the answer to these questions, but we'd just rather brag about ourselves, even if the truth behind the hoopla isn't there.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Let Them Eat Cake

The castle stands like a bulwark against change at the tip of one of the Finger Lakes. Owen Morgan IV stands on a balcony overlooking his small piece of the United States and reminds himself how the tentacles of his power reach from New York to Washington to across the nation.
Standing next to him is one of his acolytes. He, like all the rest of them, has a Harvard MBA and is noted for  his marksmanship.
"I told Boehner to prevent a vote on hurricanes Sandy relief, but he couldn't stand the heat and decided the Congress had to vote to give away all that money to people who didn't have the brains to understand that waves sometimes get very high," Morgan said.
"He and the others take my money and let Obama raise my taxes. Now they're talking about taking away my right to have an automatic weapon and a 100 bullet clip. There are 100 of us who stake the Republican Party, and we expect these losers to play ball. They don't seem to have any fortitude at all."
The acolyte noted that many Americans were upset that there hadn't been a resolution of the fiscal Cliff issues earlier.
"You seem to think that the votes of all those little people mean something. People like me, the Koch Brothers and others of our stature decide what happens in America. We can block anything and make sure the clocks get turned back towards a better America. As for you Harvard boy, I can always replace you with an MBA from Anal Roberts and probably do just fine."
"I've been very clear with them that nothing is to be done that takes away our rights to assault weapons. They know they were put in there to cut Medicare and Social Security before those programs bankrupt us. I'm paying them to maintain a world that's good for those of us who have the money in America."
The acolyte shivered in the cold of upstate New York and knew he was there to help Morgan preserve the America where people knew their place and listened to their betters.