Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Charlie Rangel is guilty of the ethics violations with which he is charged (and probably a lot more.) He ought to do the honorable and smart thing – resign. He won’t. He’ll bluster on and go down in flames.

Pakistan is guilty of everything they’re said to have done/are doing insofar as undermining our war in Afghanistan is concerned. They’re not going to change, not so long as they consider India to be their main threat. For us to continue to support the Paks in the face of decades of treachery on the assumption we need them is a short-term strategy that will come back to bite us in the ass.

Karzai and the Afghan government are guilty of the fraud and corruption that have been their modus operandi forever. We should accept the inevitable sooner rather than later and extricate ourselves from this deepening sinkhole.

The Republicans are guilty of using obstructionism to further their agenda, which is misguided and self-serving in the extreme. That the country and specifically the people whose interests they say they have at heart will suffer is of no concern to them. The only thing that matters is that they are elected in November.

The Democrats are guilty of stupidity in how they have squandered their ability to govern. They have managed to alienate the public both because of what they have done and not done. They’ve successfully implemented a lose-lose policy. And what matters to them? That they are elected in November.

For reasons I can’t fathom, Obama is guilty of doing what he said he’d do if elected and then managing his successes such that he is branded a failure. In the long-term history will validate his wisdom. In the near-term, the electorate in their dissatisfied and frustrated frame of mind will blame him for – everything.

The California legislature is guilty of incompetence because, what is it now? – the 20th year in a row? – they can’t pass the budget on time.

The Catholic Church continues to be guilty of covering up their countless past and ongoing sins.

Corporations are guilty of putting profits before everything else. The non-corporate world is guilty of expecting it would or should be different. The basic operating principle among people everywhere is “What’s in it for me?” If you’ve got a problem with that, find another universe that suits you.

I’m guilty of looking for examples of guilt that validate my assumptions, presuppositions and point of view. And so are you.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rob Buelteman

Rob Buelteman is a dear friend and gifted artist. I invite you to watch this short video that has been produced to introduce him and his extraordinary images.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Veil Nonsense

I don’t get it. It seems everyone’s got their knickers in a twit because some women want to wear a veil that covers their body, head, face, whatever. Called a burqa or jilbab or hijab or niqab (I’ve never been clear what word to use), it’s all the same to me. Who cares?

But obviously a lot of people do care. A few days ago the French voted 336-1 to ban the things. They’re talking about a ban in Spain. The British say they won’t ban them. It is a lively subject of debate around the world.

A variation on the same theme is the controversy about young women wearing head scarves in Turkish universities. It’s a symbolic religious statement that offends our secular sensibilities – says the ban-the-scarves crowd. It is our right of religious expression – argues the other side. Again, who cares?

Look, I’m not a fan of burqas. Head scarves, I think, can be rather attractive. I’m reminded of watching lithesome young lovelies walking with their friends alongside the Sarawak River in the Malaysian city of Kuching. Tight jeans and head scarves go very well together.

While the ban-the-veils zealots will deny it, I don’t for a minute doubt that their position has a lot to do with an anti-Muslim bias. If you’ve been checking into this website even infrequently you’ll know that my patience level for all religions is zero. So this is not about religious expression for me. It’s about the freedom to wear whatever the hell you want to wear. Geez! What’s so hard to get about that?

I’m not blind to the possibility that some who might want to conceal themselves could be up to no good. Given the way the world is today, I’m willing to acknowledge the need to show one’s face for security or other legitimate identification purposes. That isn’t inconsistent with the right to wear veils in public as one goes about everyday life.

Finally, I’m aware of the argument that this is about women being repressed. Don’t I care if women are repressed? Ridiculous. Of course I care. But if you really want to deal with that issue I suggest you start by getting at the source of the problem, which has nothing to do with a long piece of black cloth.

Get real, people.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Hard To Figure

Here’s the way if looks:

Obama has done a lot of what he said he’d do. Early on he succeeded in getting a stimulus package passed. We have health care legislation that provides coverage for 32 million Americans who previously didn’t have any. At long last the financial sector will be regulated more rigorously. He settled on a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan. And much more.

Yet the public gives him failing marks on nearly everything. In terms of how they’re viewed, the Democratic controlled congress and the Democratic Party is in the toilet. The outlook for the midterm elections heavily favors the Republicans both at the national and state levels. The American people are dissatisfied.

It seems that nothing can turn back the tide of unhappiness. Common sense is turned on its head. Tax cuts for the rich are favored by the middle class. Millions of new jobs are needed yet the government is told not to get in the business of creating new jobs. People are worried about the deficit but are opposed to measures that will reduce it. It’s not only the Tea Partiers that distrust government – most people do.

Now, I hasten to add that I too am unhappy about a lot of what I see. Our elected officials are gutless. Even if they know what should be done, if they think it will cost them votes they won’t do it. I don’t think more government is the answer. But neither is no government. We’re headed toward a no-win abyss in Afghanistan and don’t have the wisdom or courage to reverse the course we’re on.

At the same time the would-be messiahs on the fascist/conservative right aren’t even subtle as they play on racial and ethnic prejudices to promote their cause. In the 21st century, America First is doomed to fail. We need to cooperate with the world, not try to build economic or social moats to keep the barbarians from overrunning us.

There are glib explanations about why we’re in our current mess, some of which contain morsels of accuracy but otherwise fall far short. It’s Obama’s fault. He hasn’t explained himself well. We have not paid enough attention to the economy. We need to stimulate innovation to revive our economy and create jobs. We need more regulation. We need less regulation. It’s the Mexicans’ fault. Pelosi is the problem. The Chinese are catching up. Etc., etc., ad nauseum.

It isn’t an accident that we are in the middle of a sense of national unease. There is something wrong. But we’re looking in the wrong places are answers. It’s like the guy who dropped his keys at night and went across the street to look for them.

“What are you doing?” a passerby asked.

“I’m looking for my keys.”

“Oh, I see. Where did you drop them?”

“Over there.”

“Well, why are you looking here?”

“Because this is where the light is.”

Until we face up to the real issues, the hard-to-find but fundamental problems, we’ll never move past band-aid solutions. We’ll stay mad at each other. We’ll continue to spend our energy blaming the ‘others’ and appealing to our worst selves. We will get the leadership and the government we deserve. They’ll be insufficient and we’ll be disappointed. And then we’ll begin the process again and get the same results.

We need to take a good look in the mirror to find out where the problem is. As Cassius said in “Julius Caesar”: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

Monday, July 12, 2010

Viva Espana

Bye bye World Cup. Congratulations to Spain. I’ll miss my daily fix of good football. And for those of you who may have forgotten, this is what I wrote before the tournament began:

What do I think will happen?

The U.S. should do well. I don’t think we’ll win, but we’ll make it past the group stage. I was happy with the final team chosen by Bob Bradley. Our defense is porous and that could be our downfall.

England, as usual, will underperform. Their defense is also weak, and they don’t have enough offense to compensate for it.

Many expect Brazil to win. I don’t think so. Italy will also disappoint. And so will Argentina, which may have the best players but is burdened with the worst coach. I don’t think any African or Asian team will be among the best.

Who will win? Either Spain or the Netherlands. And if I’m wrong? I’ll enjoy the tournament anyway.

Well, I wasn’t wrong and I enjoyed the tournament totally.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Message #6 - Take Risks

This is the sixth in a series of monthly messages:

Message #6 – Take Risks!

An Old Russian proverb says:

If we knew beforehand where we were going to fall, we could lay down a mattress.

The truth is I don’t know if this came from Old Russia or not. I found the attribution when I found the proverb and so I pass it on. It’s a good example of how misinformation is perpetuated, mindlessly, and takes on a life of its own. But I digress.

I want to talk about taking risks. My message is not complicated. Take Risks!

I’m not telling you to be stupid about it. I’m not saying you should check your common sense at the door. I am saying that being too careful is not the way to live your life. I am saying you should pay attention to the sarcastic Old Russian. He points out you can either take the safe, predictable path or you can step out and take a chance, not knowing in advance just how it is all going to turn out.

This business of risk-taking is a favorite subject for clever wordsmiths:

A ship is safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are made for.

We are continually hiding our light under a bushel because we feel safer that way

Karl Wallenda, the famous circus daredevil, said:

Being on the tightrope is living. Everything else is waiting.

Be a little careful with this one. Karl died when he fell off a tightrope stretched between two hotels in Puerto Rico.

You can’t steal second base if you always keep one foot on first.

Finally, Poet/Management Consultant David Whyte makes the point eloquently:

And the spark behind fear

recognized as life

leaps into flame

Always this energy smolders inside

when it remains unlit

the body fills with dense smoke.

It’s fair to ask, what is the point? Is taking risks worth it? Does the upside more than compensate for the downside? How do I know if I’m being smart or foolish?

Ask yourself, “What keeps me from taking risks?” If you’re pretty much like everyone else, and you are, here are some likely responses:

I’m afraid of failing.

I don’t know how to do it.

I’ll look foolish.

It’s not that I’m afraid of failing. I’m just too scared to try.

I’m not sure it’s the smart thing to do.

Now, ask the question again and use your own experience to answer it. Think of a time when you took a chance, when you tried something that you hadn’t done before and weren’t sure you could succeed. You won’t have to look far to find some examples.

You jumped into the deep end of the pool for the first time.

You asked that really cute girl to go out.

You interviewed for a job that seemed out of your reach.

You decided to make a soufflé even though everyone said ‘don’t even try.’

You said you’d raise $2,000 for breast cancer but had never before asked anyone for money.

You committed to improve the bottom line of your department by 50% during the coming year.

OK, what happened?

You didn’t drown.

She said ‘no.’

You didn’t get the job.

The soufflé was delicious.

You raised $2,300.

You improved the bottom line by 30%.

So you batted 50%. That’s either half good or half bad, depending on your point of view. But if you hadn’t taken any risks would you have been better off? Not likely. How did you feel, though, about stepping out beyond your comfort zone and challenging yourself? You felt great, didn’t you? Exhilarated. Triumphant. Proud of yourself.

That’s much more important than whether you made your target or got the job. Which is the point. It’s about you and you. It’s about how you live your life. It’s about not settling for half a loaf when there is a possibility that the full loaf can be had. Not a guarantee. A possibility. But without taking a risk there is no possibility. Maybe by accident you’d have succeeded anyway, but why leave it up to fate or good luck when you have what it takes to make your own luck?

I have an atypical relationship with risk. I tend to consider how risky something is after I’ve done it. Looking back I think, “I might have been intimidated had I given any real thought to that in advance.” And then, almost always I’m glad I did it.

Almost always. I can remember some times when brain fade took over and I did some truly stupid things. Two, both having to do with swimming, stand out for me.

The story begins innoncently enough. In 1974 I went down to Cozumel with my daughter Lys for a vacation. Lys was a very good scuba diver. The deep sea off the coast of Cozumel is a favorite spot for divers. We arranged to go out in a small boat so she could dive. There were half a dozen other people and a couple of professionals who would lead them down to the depths. Another person and myself were not going to dive. We were told that if we went into the water to swim or snorkel we should be aware that the boat would continue to follow the divers down below, not us.

I loved to snorkel even though I was a terrible swimmer. With a mask and snorkel I could go anywhere. Without them I could barely stay afloat. I knew that in deep water there wouldn’t be much to see, but I wanted to check it out, so after the divers headed down I left the boat too. I was by myself. I could see the group of divers far below as they neared the bottom, which was 125’ down. I didn’t notice that the current was taking me away from the boat. By the time I realized where I was I’d drifted quite a distance away. I didn’t panic, but I wasn’t far from that state.

I needed to fight the current to get back to the boat. I wasn’t a strong swimmer. It was a real challenge. Finally I made it, and by then I was tired and frightened. I realized I’d made a very bad decision and had lucked out in not paying for it. Time may have tricked my mind into increasing the distance I think I’d drifted from the boat. Even so, when I recall this episode I am terrified all over again.

Incredibly, I clearly hadn’t learned my lesson. Four years later, when I was in the Caribbean on an assignment for the United Nations I was stupid again in a similar way. I decided to swim across a channel off the coast of St. Lucia to a small island. Again I was alone. No companion to help in case of an emergency. I don’t know how far it was across the channel. Certainly a lot farther than I could swim without a mask and snorkel. In addition, the channel was used by large ships who were arriving or leaving the port in St. Lucia. They would never notice a lone swimmer in the water below.

I didn’t see any ships around, so in I went and headed off. I remember thinking my little island was further away than I thought it was. I don’t think I thought about drowning if my mask or snorkel failed. Finally I reached the island. So far so good. However, I was very tired and wondered if I had the strength to return. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much choice since the island was totally deserted. It was getting late in the day, and if it got dark I’d be stranded. So without sitting around to regain some strength I returned to the water for the trip home.

I made it without incident, but I was exhausted. At that point I again realized how dumb I’d been. I’m generally a risk-averse guy, so these water adventures were really out of character. I’ve never come up with an answer that explains my behavior.

To be accurate, I’m risk-averse when it comes to physical risks. For example, I’m a very defensive driver. I assume I’m surrounded by idiots with bad judgment who are quite capable of seriously damaging me and my vehicle. As my swimming adventures show, I’m willing to take on physical risks, but I’m much more likely to challenge myself in other aspects of life.

Most jobs I’ve had over the years have been challenging and risky. It would have been easy not to do well. That possibility didn’t enter my mind. I was quite willing to take them on without a second thought. I went with my instinct. The same with relationships. I was never worried that they might not work out.

I know many people who are the reverse. They’ll take on physical challenges without a second thought. Sky diving, scuba diving, mountain climbing, whatever. But put them face-to-face with a career or financial or relationship decision and they are totally at sea (so to speak).

You can either let your fears determine how far you’ll go or you can acknowledge that your fears are there and go ahead anyway. Either you are in charge of your life – or your fears are. The decision is yours.

Take Risks!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Corey Allen

The headline was “Corey Allen, Actor and Director, Dies at 75.” It got my attention. Before he was Corey Allen he was Alan Cohen, my roommate in 1953-54, when we were both students in the Theater Arts Department at UCLA.

Alan and a couple of guys were living in a great little house in Brentwood. When one of the roommates left he asked if I wanted to replace him. I was more than happy to do so. The house was owned by an artist, John Ferren. It was at the end of a short road, Chenault Street, that abutted the back fence of the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center. Now, Brentwood is an upscale area filled with expensive homes and apartments. Then, it felt almost rural, quiet with simple one-story houses, and a lot of vegetation.

While we were living in Brentwood, Corey got his first big acting break, a featured role opposite James Dean in “Rebel Without A Cause.” As it turned out, for most people this part was to define his career. He was the gang leader who clashed with Dean and challenged him to a ‘chickie run.’ They would each drive a car toward a cliff to see who would chicken out first. Corey ended up going over the cliff and was killed.

Corey Allen went on to have a successful career as an actor and director. After those early years we weren’t in touch. I’d notice his name on film or TV credits, and that was about it. Still, seeing his obituary reminded me both of my own mortality and of some very pleasant memories from a long time ago.