Archive for September, 2013

30
Sep
13

myth and reality

Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite
The other day I was talking with a British friend on the phone, and she said the American Dream doesn’t exist… and furthermore, it never has.
Americans believe that our system of justice is so much better than anyone else’s, and yet with nearly 1 in 100 Americans in prison, it is one of the worst. People of the world are horrified by the barbarity of our courts and our system of prisons, yet we smugly take pride in our codified system of “tough love.”
How delusional.
The other day, a friend in Spain sent me a map showing all of the countries of the world that imprison kids for life, and it was a map of just one country: the USA.
Today another friend from South Africa sent me a link to a story about a 17-year-old who repeatedly stabbed his stepfather and was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, illustrating, he said, that compassion is entrenched in law outside of the USA. Can you imagine such a thing happening in America?
Americans are hated the world over because they think they are so much better than everyone else. Foreigners love nothing more than seeing American know-it-alls like George Dubya trying in vain to get through locked doors, falling on their asses, being shown up by reality.
the beatings will continueIt is amazing to me that people will stubbornly believe in a myth and deny reality. For example, time and again we are shown evidence that the Big Stick doesn’t work, and yet we keep thinking that harsher prison sentences or longer school years will somehow make things better. It is like falling for the old marketing trick of bigger faces and thinner boxes resulting in less product for more money.
Why don’t we swallow our pride and open ourselves to the possibility that other nations and cultures may know a better way?

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Groove of the Day

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“The myth of Kevin Mitnick is much more interesting than the reality of Kevin Mitnick.
If they told the reality, no one would care.”
– Kevin Mitnick*
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* American computer security consultant, author, and hacker.
At the time of his arrest, he was the most-wanted computer criminal in the US.
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29
Sep
13

promises

promise 2
Sometimes I think I’m nuts to have taken this on.
My goals are so far away that, faced with the reality of how things are today, I often have moments of doubt that establish a spiritual kinship with the kid looking at a prison sentence that extends well into adulthood or the rest of his life. How can one maintain hope in the face of such daunting prospects?
The answer, of course, is that one must be satisfied with intermediate steps to the promised land. My ultimate goal is nothing less than a total change of heart within society towards parricides, but it will take a long time for that to happen and for us to see a change in the law. I may not even make it there. In the meantime, we must be satisfied with the purchase of an airline ticket so Alex King can start a new life, the purchase of a psychological report so Paul Gingerich can have a fair trial, etc. These are things we have recently done with your help.
Promises are an uniquely human way of creating the future, of making it predictable and reliable to the extent that this is humanly possible. All of the time I find myself making commitments that I cannot immediately keep, but that I work towards. For example, we have recently committed to Nathan Ybanez to raise the funds for an expert witness at his upcoming new trial, if his attorneys agree. We have also recently offered to place Estrella Vista at his disposal in a “parole plan” that his prison advisor has asked him to devise.
I don’t know if Nathan will ever make it to Texas. A lot of unknowables can happen between now and then. He has dreams of his own. I don’t know if Alex King’s plan for a new life will ultimately succeed. Life for most of us life is filled with disappointments, and he’s got a lot to learn knowing only prison since the age of twelve.
But in the meantime we can offer kids hope. We can tell them that we will always have their backs; that our help is always just a phone call away. They may stumble and fall, but they’ll never spend much time on the ground again.
We are able to offer certainty to kids in an unknowable future because of you. It is because of your support, and my faith in your always being there, that I am able to go out on a limb and offer help that I know will be there when it is needed. Right now it is baby-steps, but I know in time we will be able to run.
I am careful not to make commitments we will be unable to keep. These kids have known too many empty promises until now. The change of heart is the ultimate goal, but I never promise that. I never even promise reconciliation within families. That is out of my control. All that I can promise is an airline ticket, a car, a lawyer, the expert testimony of a psychologist or other expert witness at trial.
These are measurable indicators that we are successfully working towards the ultimate goal of experiencing love and understanding in a love-starved world.
28
Sep
13

smarter

baby einstein

Maybe it will work after all, regardless of your age.

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baby einstein 2

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Bach’s “Minuet in G” and get smarter

27
Sep
13

beefcake

einstein-beefcake001-645x1024

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Groove of the Day

Listen to the Chiffons performing “He’s So Fine”

26
Sep
13

anti-authoritarianism

albert einstein

Last week Sparkynitro sent me a link to another article, this time by a psychologist commenting about how people who question authority are being diagnosed as mentally ill by mainstream psychology and psychiatry. It immediately brought to mind how mental hospitals in the former Soviet Union were used to house political prisoners.

According to author Bruce Levine, anti-authoritarians are increasingly being diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, anxiety disorder, and other psychiatric illnesses. Young people who show signs of anti-authoritarianism are increasingly being diagnosed with “disruptive disorders,” which include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and opposition defiant disorder (ODD), the most common mental health problems of children and teenagers.

question authorityLevine says that anti-authoritarians may use psychiatric drugs to help them function, “but they often reject psychiatric authorities’ explanations for why they have difficulty functioning. So, for example, they may take Adderall (an amphetamine prescribed for ADHD), but they know that their attentional problem is not a result of a biochemical brain imbalance but rather caused by a boring job. And similarly, many anti-authoritarians in highly stressful environments will occasionally take prescribed benzodiazepines such as Xanax even though they believe it would be safer to occasionally use marijuana but can’t because of drug testing on their job.”

Psychiatric diagnoses for anti-authoritarian types may say more about the people making the diagnoses than the people being diagnosed. Levine defines anti-authoritarians as people who “question whether an authority is a legitimate one before taking that authority seriously.” They do not blow off all authority figures; they simply withhold to themselves the judgement as to whether a particular authority figure is legitimate. Authoritarians, on the other hand, demand unquestioning obedience to authority. Says Levine: “I have found that most psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals are not only extraordinarily compliant with authorities but also unaware of the magnitude of their obedience.”

Levine makes a good point when he asserts that Einstein would likely be pathologized in today’s environment. “Albert Einstein, as a youth, would have likely received an ADHD diagnosis, and maybe an ODD one as well. Albert didn’t pay attention to his teachers, failed his college entrance examinations twice, and had difficulty holding jobs. However, Einstein biographer Ronald Clark (Einstein: The Life and Times) asserts that Albert’s problems did not stem from attention deficits but rather from his hatred of authoritarian, Prussian discipline in his schools. Einstein said, ‘The teachers in the elementary school appeared to me like sergeants and in the Gymnasium the teachers were like lieutenants.’ At age 13, Einstein read Kant’s difficult Critique of Pure Reason—because Albert was interested in it. Clark also tells us Einstein refused to prepare himself for his college admissions as a rebellion against his father’s ‘unbearable’ path of a ‘practical profession.’ After he did enter college, one professor told Einstein, ‘You have one fault; one can’t tell you anything.’ The very characteristics of Einstein that upset authorities so much were exactly the ones that allowed him to excel.”

Think about the implications to progress in our society. Our unthinking, absolutist obeisance to authority is holding us back.

Father Knows Best

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Groove of the Day

Listen to the “Father Knows Best” TV Theme

25
Sep
13

constancy

young_and_old_eyes

Held in low esteem in a culture like ours which so highly prizes innovation and the constant adoption of the novel, consistency is widely thought to be the “hobgoblin of little minds.” I happen to hold the opposite view.

I have a friend, now in his fourth marriage, who jettisoned his second wife (I didn’t ask about the others) because she had become overweight. I have another friend who was a devoted father when his son was young, but became disinterested as the son grew up and began thinking for himself. The bloom goes off the rose. We grow bored with the familiar. Friends grow apart. Love withers and dies. It seems to be the way of the world.

I find special joy in old friends, in seeing how they turn out as they grow older. They are a source of unending fascination to me. I find enduring satisfaction in constancy, in remaining true to friends as they change.

The other night I paid a visit to Kosmic Kathy—she was tending bar at the Starlight—and she asked me what my secret was to having had a long marriage. I told her that for me, it was to disregard all thought of vows and ball-and-chain commitments (a demotivator for me), and to keep it fresh by finding new reasons to renew one’s commitment each and every day. As I thought about the question some more, I think that you must also develop a certain love for imperfection. This requires a certain amount of creativity.

It is easy to fall in love with a college sweetheart. It is easier to overlook imperfections in the young because those imperfections are harder to see. But as one ages, the imperfections become more pronounced. As one ages, the positives are enhanced, as well. Our core values rise to the surface and tend to take over the whole person. But in the end and taken as a whole, it is always a mix.

I think the transformational moment for me was when a friend told me of the Oriental practice of mending broken teacups with precious metals, much like a stained-glass window is constructed. Rather than being hidden as in the West, the repair is enhanced as if to show that the teacup’s history of use as a treasured item is more valued than the cup itself. Eventually we all become broken teacups.

Perfectionism is a dangerous state of mind in an imperfect world. Love conquers all. A wise man once said that we come to love “not by finding a perfect person, but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly.” How true.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Lou Reed & The Velvet Underground performing “Perfect Day”

24
Sep
13

tells a story

American Gothic (1930) by Grant Wood

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American Gothic Models

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Rod Stewart performing “Every Picture Tells a Story”