Thursday, February 28, 2008

Which Way is She Whirling?

My sister Alex sent this image to me. It was accompanied by a discussion of right brain and left brain. I don't remember which was which.

The image is whirling. Either clockwise or counterclockwise. Click on the image to see her whirl. For some reason, she only whirls off-page.

The question is does she sometimes go the other way? Can you make her go the other way? And, if you can, or if sometimes it happens, how does it happen? What is in the mind's eye that makes it change direction? Can you make it change direction at will?

Where is the thing seen? On the screen or in the mind?

The Fear Machine Revvs Up

The Republicans are building up to a thunderstorm of criticism of the Democrats, and particularly Barak Obama, on the question of terrorism and security. For example, today's Washington Post carried the following lead:

TYLER, Tex., Feb. 27 -- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) accused Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) of making ill-informed comments about Iraq and al-Qaeda in Tuesday night's Democratic presidential debate, signaling that a general-election brawl between the colleagues would center in part on who has the foreign policy experience to lead a country at war.
The NY Times article about Colonel Davis, the former chief bulldog colonel for the military trials against Guantanamo detainees who has turned detainee supporter, quotes him stating the obvious: top Pentagon brass discussed timing the upcoming trials to match the run up to the 2008 election. Duh. How many salvos of fireworks can they keep coming? Building up to a crescendo in September, with the cooked "evidence" of these dangerous terrorists (who have been held in stinking hell holes in Guantanamo for the last 6 years and must look withered and wizened by now). Another round of fireworks in the hellish bouquet of attacks and fear-mongering being hatched by the Republicans.

The Republicans will run on two themes: security and taxes. On security, not war but security, who can better protect the nation? A McCain who knows the guts of war, who supported and supports the invasion of Iraq and the ongoing war or Obama, who was against the war?

Obama has to posit a totally different mythology of America in the post Cold War, flat earth reality: it has to be rooted in a view of the world that says that the war should not have happened, the it has inflamed rather than doused anti-American sentiment around the world, that it has cost way too many lives and will have mired us in an intractable position in the Middle East for decades to come. And that it is ruining not only our standing among nations but brand "America" and our capacity to export our brain products (no matter how low the dollar sinks). A vision that says that we not only should not have gone to war and brought down Saddam Hussein, but we now have to reverse the outcome, make it all better? Make it so the middle easterners like and respect us (but allow us to continue full support of Israel). Make it so that militant Muslim terrorism calms down to a whisper? A policy that makes it safe to be an American abroad again. That vision is going to not only have to be compelling, it has to SELL and counter act the fearful and fearsome vision the Republicans paint.

That is a tall order, when we are a nation that feeds off the notion of our superpower strength, our righteousness, and are more than willing to defer to the one who pounds the drum the loudest. Bush still dominates the debate. (Is the Democratic Congress impotent or what?) He will have to defend the war all the way to election day. It's his war. And he intends to assure his legacy.

Taxes on the other hand is easier to reframe and change the subject from "it's your money; they will take it away and spend it on bloated boondoggles" to the Democratic fear machine: "health care is a disaster, education is a disaster, the infrastructure is a disaster, we have allowed the richest 1 percent to siphon off all of the wealth of the nation that could go to reducing infant mortality, increasing literacy rates, improving inspection of slaughterhouses to assure humane animal treatment and healthy meat, etc., etc."

How can it be that the richest nation in the history of the world can't afford to pay school teachers? or care for the disabled and the elderly?

My Democratic friends think Obama can bring in enough new voters who aren't going to respond to the Republican fear machine and who will support the Democratic fear concerto to win the election.

I am worried. Fear is a poison and a stimulant. At least the Democrats can point to actual visible problems and actual, acceptable, visible solutions. So the fear can be alleviated. The Republican fear seeps into the country's bones. It aims at the lowest common denominator. It uses bogeymen to scare us. We are a nation addicted to fear and to the aggressive response. All adrenalin all the time. The Swift boating of Kerry may look like amateur hour compared to what will be mounted against Obama.

PS: I am sad about Hillary. She would have made a much better president in terms of dealing with problems. Whether she could lead is another question. She has the chops on the war issue that Obama doesn't. Hillary is a realist. Iraq IS. We have to deal with it. "I was against the war from the start" means Obama has to create a whole new vision that gets us out of the very dangerous quagmire the Republicans have put us into (along with Democratic complicity).

PPS: The issue isn't who is right but who can paint the most compelling vision of how to deal with the world as it is (while painting the picture of what that world IS to suit the proposed remedies). The Republicans will paint a dangerous world that only more aggression can make safe. The Democrats have to paint a vision of a world with different premises and different outcomes. The US has seldom opted for the kinder gentler vision.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Abu Graib of American Food

The NYTimes, Wash Post and LA times at least, as well as numerous TV news reports, featured stories about the “largest meat recall,” focusing on the fact that most experts thought there were no safety risks and that most of the meat had already been eaten over the last two years with, obviously, no ill effects. The scare was particularly vivid given that the meat from this particular company is used for school lunches.

A Humane Society of the United States staffer filmed it. If you haven’t already seen some of the footage, here it is. My soul went into anaphylactic shock seeing it. It's rough stuff.

What does this say about our nation? The solution may or may not be to stop eating meat. I'm not sure that gets us into the end zone where the animals that we eat are treated humanely. We need to radically change the way America raises the food it eats and the way we each choose what we eat.

I commend one book on the subject that has a gentle title for a not so gentle issue, The Omnivore's Dilemma
, which may be the Silent Spring that helps to turn this ship away from its many cruelties as well as toward much healthier ways of eating. I'm a convert.

PS: Both because of the humaneness issues, but also because of health issues. The meat we eat that comes from mega-slaughterhouses, whether beef, pork, chicken, etc., is not healthy for human beings.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

My daisy: Hillary, Barak, Hillary, Barak, Hillary, Barak, Hillary, Barak . . . .

I must confess to terminal ennui with this election.

I can't tell whether Barak will draw so many new and once hopeless voters to the polls that he can beat the Republican terror and taxes machine. Or whether we need a Democratic candidate with chops on the issue of security, namely Hillary.

Here's how I see it: Actually, Bush said it: they will run on taxes and security.

Taxes is easy: "it's your money, and you know how to spend it. They want to take your money and spend it on government boondoggles."

Security is the anti acid to The War. The security line goes: "we haven't had a suicide or other attack on American soil There is a vast radical Muslim conspiracy that wants to crush America. We need a strong defense. And the best defense is a strong offense." This message will be delivered from every loudspeaker in America, over and over and over and over. Loud and clear. If there is one thing the Republicans are good at creating, it's fear.

So, the question is how does the Democratic candidate either win the debate on security and change the subject on taxes? Or, change the subject on security as well?

Changing the subject on taxes isn't too, too hard. (Our little version of fear): schools are crumbling, millions have no health care, our infrastructure is aging, etc., etc.. So we need targetted investments (shades of Al Gore and the oak tree versus the dandelion schools of economics). More fear of public failures than fear of having your money taken away. That's the easy one.

Security: not war. NO, not war. Only Democrats raise the issue of war, and they do it by being against it. Republicans support strong security. And, we could be attacked any where any time any place by virtually any means. We can all imagine where the terrorists could strike. And kill, maim, create chaos and real fear. Just tweak an American and he or she can tell you their favorite predicted terrorist attack. So, the question is change the subject or be able to point to strength on the security issue.

Being against the war is easy. It's like being against taxes. Against waste. Against, well, evil.
Doing security well, and with visible action and results is hard.

On this last score, Hillary has chops and Barak is weak. He can be painted as McGovern, Eugene McCarthy, Paul Tsongas, Ed Muskie. In a flick of the Republican brush. Obama is weak on security (whisper, he was weak on war). Hillary, on the other hand, voted to authorize the president to use force. And SHE HASN'T APOLOGIZED FOR IT. She has taken a principled stand. She has all of the chops a Democrat needs to counter the Republican fear mongering. And double them on diplomacy and restoring respect for America.

But, here's the rub. Hillary is not an attractive candidate (particularly in the beauty contest with Mr. Universe, Obama). Obama is ravishing. As EJ Dionne pointed out in the Washington Post, Barak Obama has had one message from day one. Hillary has had umpteen and they keep changing. Bill overstepped (he was right in what he said, but he shouldn't have said it (how often are we "right" but "wrong" to say it?)). Her venues look set up. She is distant with the press. She is distant from most everyone. So? And actually, her best message is "we need a president who is ready on day one." But that can't compete with the litany of examples of where hope and courage changed history, as Obama is fond of parading in soaring rhetoric.

So, what's a person to do? Chops on security or mountains more voters?

(PS, if Hillary has to use the super delegates at the convention and twist a lot of arms, she will loose horribly. She can't do that. Lots of the old power politics are off the table for the Dems.)

My ennui has turned to perplexity and a wish to get to go and to have it be over with. (Plus, I haven't even begun the chapter about the horrific sexism that pervades reporting about Hillary that she simply can't charm her way out of. They did it to Geraldine Ferraro as well. It's a kind of pervasive, leering, ever so thin veneer of sneer. Disgusting. And women columnists do it too -- Dowd, for example, but she does it with knives.)

What think you?

Happy Valentine's Day

Monday, February 11, 2008

Don't You Wish You Were a Dog? I Doo.

You gotta believe. Another world from mine at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

Going on this very moment while men and women and children are being killed in Iraq, two towering Democrats are dueling for the nomination while Bush sets off his last series of fireworks, to keep the nation on the edge of fear, starting the trial . . why so late? why now? of 6 Guantanamo inmates (put McCain several notches higher on the ladder). That will go on during the whole campaign and beyond. Just to remind us which party is focused on our SECURITY.

How I would love to live in a world where some buttleresque, so very proper gentleman, would stand by me while I eliminate next to a fire hydrant, placed there just for me (and my pals, so we can smell who's been there and leave our scent for the next guy). Wouldn't you?

Or have someone sew me a perfect cold winter weather suit, my favorite warm-ups to keep me toasty AND to handle my hair, every last strand. No more tired, listless hair.

Or to have personal coiffeurs attending to my every look.

I must be in a very curmedgeonly mood right now to begrudge this clan their joys and fun. Yes?

Have I taken too serious a road? Have I lost my joi de vivre? Have I equated grumpiness with virtue?

My main goal right now, in the animal world, is to habituate my very neurotic cockatoo, Cleo, poor thing, to Poonsy, my young Maine Coon boy who circles around her with visions of some atavistic triumph in his eyes. If only they could be friends. Stuart, my other lovely boy cat (domestic short hair) doesn't alarm Cleo. Maybe someday they will be friends.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Art and Copies

La finalidad del arte es dar cuerpo a la esencia de las cosas no el copiar su apariencia.

Loosely translated: the point of art is to embody the essence of things, not to copy their appearance.

But what about life imitating art?

Friday, February 8, 2008

A Graceful Death; Death with Dignity

Jany Brody writes in today's New York Times about people who want to die and those who help them (within the boundaries of the law, of course). Her Heartfelt Appeal for a Graceful Exit opens the door to thinking and talking about the death of an older person.

I wrote her an email that I quote below because I can't really say it better:
I read your column on a Graceful Exit. I had two thoughts. One is that as I age -- I am now 64 -- I am becoming much more aware of the differences between me and younger people. I have led a very dynamic, active life, and in fact, I believe I look, feel and act a lot younger than I am.

But, the actual fact of age, of having lived a lot of years, of having had hopes and dreams and disappointments, of having invested in love and seen it both succeed and fail, of having an aging body, of the difficulty in rebuilding muscle after a total knee replacement and the like, are inhabiting my mind in ways that makes me look at life very differently.

When I watch young people, the children of friends, young men and women striding on sidewalks, riding in elevators, chatting it up in restaurants, I am struck by a feeling of how little they know of what will come to them with life, with time. Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait.

As a young person, I looked at life from the rim of the volcano, from the front edge of the white water on a wave. Tomorrow was a real but empty concept. My energy and love of life would carry me forward through whatever I aspired to.

As a sixty-year old I see life from the top of a rise on a big long hill, overlooking fields and bays. There are more mountains to climb and valleys to hike through, but it is at a higher altitude.

As I read Ms. Brody's words about eighty and ninety year olds talking about wanting to die, it seems so obvious that from the perspective of the lives they have lived, that death would be the most natural next step. Not something to be feared, or fought against. And that younger people can't really understand how it feels to be that old. Not simply the body feelings but the whole package of awareness, knowledge, understanding of the arc of a life.

Much as people in their twenties, thirties, forties haven't a clue what it's like to be sixty, even at sixty I can only imagine what it would feel like to be eighty or ninety. Not everyone feels that way, of course, but I imagine a lot do and the issue is not with their feeling that they want to die but with their younger family members who can't imagine that state of mind and so translate it into the feelings of a younger person. Of something that must be desperate or depressed or hopeless.

It's not like that at all. Death is not so far away. Not so much to be avoided.

My work takes me close to the dying; in fact, much of my work is helping people to die (not from a medical point of view but as the decision maker when there is no one else). My awareness and knowledge of death is very different from when I was young. It will be much closer still if I live to be eighty or ninety.

Jane Brody closes her column with a plea for her family to have the wisdom to allow her to die with dignity. My reaction was that each one of us must build that into our health care powers of attorney and advance medical directives. And, more importantly each one of us must talk to family members and possible caretakers and make sure they understand that they are not to substitute what they think is best for what you have said you wanted.

So often, so much damage is done to the elderly -- and those are my clients and wards -- by seemingly well intentioned family members (and other court appointed guardians, conservators and trustees) who think they know better.

It is cruel to be stripped of everything in life except one's joy in the moment (dementia having often robbed one of memory) and the ability to decide what one wants. To then have relatives and caregivers dictate what one can or cannot do is truly unkind.

Part of my law practice is pushing back against such misguided caregivers on behalf of an older person or a disabled person, and trying to get the caregiver to align him or herself with the older person they are caring for and not to substitute his or her own ideas and values for those of the older person.

So, I admonish every reader to be very clear and very firm with your family members about their not doing what they think best, but rather what you know you will want and have told them orally and in writing.

See my earlier post on The Right to Folly. Soon I will write a post on the hell of dying in America. Hell is on This Side of Death, not the other. Also, another post on how to think about advance directives and health care powers of attorney.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Why I'm For Hillary (and still love Barak)

Here's my take. I vote on Feb 12, and it may be all over baby blue by then.


1. Until I had to actually earn a living, I loved to fly in the high skies of broad groupings of related ideas, overseeing the globe and the universe, being an idealist, optimist, frowning on the fearful pessimists.

When I started to actually work for a living, I had to abandon my high flying ways and get down into the weeds and look at every detail, every third and fourth order consequence of one or another action. In other words, I became invested in reality.

Hillary is invested in reality.

2 Hillary has been excoriated on her vote on the war. Jeffrey Toobin explained it in great detail in the New Yorker a few months ago and came out thumbs up. She did what she has said she did all along. Many criticize her for failing to admit to a mistake. NO. Holding to the principle that she did the analysis appropriate to the time and making a tough choice (yes, driven by politics, but you can't govern if you can't persuade. It's great to be "right" but better to get things done.). It is much easier to be anti war than to deal with the tough problems of a dangerous world. She says she would vote differently now, had she known then what she knows now. That is very very different from saying she was wrong then with the hindsight of today. Until they invent a future prediction machine that actually works, the best one can do is to do the analysis and make the tough choices. Those who are running against their own records are craven cowards bending with the wind. The principled one is Hillary on this one.

3. One of my favorite lines: don't confuse the arrow on a wind vane with an arrow on a compass. Follow one and you'll go in circles, follow the other and you may get to where you want to go.


4. That said, I am thrilled to have such an excellent choice.

5. If Barak Obama is nominated, I will heartily campaign for him (and donate money because campaigning for a Dem in Virginia is a bit like watering flowers in a desert. It takes a LOT of water).

So, enjoy tonight. I am sure that at least twice as many Democrats as Republicans will turn out to vote. That's a tidal wave of change in and of itself.