Recently in Our Thoughts Category

Are These Things Connected?

Belt.jpgSpanking lowers a child's IQ, according to recent studies.  An article in the LA Times discusses work by long-time writer on corporal punishment, Murray Straus of the University of New Hampshire.  Straus and a team of researchers tested children at age 2-4 and then again four years later at 5-9.  "The more spanking, the slower the development of the child's mental ability," Straus said.  Additional research also shows a link between early spanking and aggressive behavior later on, at least in white children.  (Spanking in African-American families tends to make for more passivity, as it is likely intended to do, as a kind of preventative medicine so young black men don't draw attention to themselves later on.)
Teabag Protest3.jpg
This article might not have caught my attention except for two things.  A long-time friend, Sally Giovine-Kerr, now deceased, used to talk a lot about how destructive corporal punishment was and Sally was a damned good observer of people.  Then, earlier this week, I heard Max Blumenthal, author of the new book "Republican Gomorrah" talk about the history of "stupid" that has come to dominate the Republican Party.  I will probably talk more about his book once I read it.  I was struck by the connection that Blumenthal made in his talk between the belt-wielding, child-rearing practices recommended by child psychologist James Dobson, whom Blumenthal sees as the very center of the Right-wing Christian movement, and the growing teabag/anti-Obama/anti-government anger.  Blumenthal talked about Eric Fromm's take on the movement.  He said it was a combination of sado-masochism toward others designated as "less-than" and prostration toward the big macho guys.  He also said it generally had to be beaten into people, literally.  

Others, including George Lakoff, have talked about the linkage between child-rearing practices and one's politics as an adult.  Blumenthal pulls no punches and he backs up what he says with a prodigious amount of research into the Right-wing Christian movement.  Had I read this article on spanking prior to listening to him the other night, I would have asked him, "Does this early spanking/beating account for some large portion of the aggressive stupidity that we are constantly baffled at that comes from this group of people?"

I'd also like to see the statistics about spanking children broken out by state or county and correlated to voting patterns.  

Quite a Couple of Weeks

Mark Alone.jpgI've been away for most of the last couple weeks, quite unexpectedly.  My brother, Mark, died suddenly a couple weeks ago and I went to northern California to be with my mother.  He was younger than I and most likely died of a heart attack or perhaps something related to his diabetes.  I don't think we will ever know.  I haven't begun to do my grieving.  There are now a slew of questions about what my mother will do and thinking about that with my sisters has shoved my grieving about my brother to the side.

My brother was a very good person but he had never quite gotten his life going.  I think much of my grieving is for a life largely unfulfilled.  He had many skills and talents but wasn't able to focus them into a career or even a consistent job.  I miss him.  I miss our talks, long conversations about politics on the phone.  He worked quite hard on Jerry McNerny's campaign in the neighboring Congressional District in 2006.   He was particularly interested in registering people to vote; stories about Republicans dumping voter registrations make him quite angry.  

With Uncle Mark.jpgHe was also, like everyone else in our family, completely taken with our sister's daughter, Nadia, shown here about three years ago.  He doted on her and when I went down to help my mother clean out his room, we found several books and games that had to be very early Christmas or birthday gifts for her.
I've found from other deaths that there is nothing like it to make everything in my life come into clearer focus.  It's been no different this time.  Life has just seemed more poignant; my emotions are closer to the surface.  I'm sleeping more.  I've given up wearing eye makeup for the time-being; every time I go out something makes me cry and I come home with smudges under my eyes.

But of course the world has not stopped even if I have been too busy and too distracted to be writing about that.  I've got a back-log of things I want to write about and should get to now.  There are a couple of posts remaining from my trip to Netroots Nation in Pittsburgh, now a few weeks past, a belated Labor post, and more on Healthcare Reform.  For the next few days I'm resting in the spaciousness of my friend Barbara's house in the Okanogan.  The timing couldn't be better.  But I expect that I'm make it down to the local coffee shop once a day to get a post out. 


Drinking from a Fire Hose

Pittsburgh Convention Center.jpgThere is so much going on here and it is hard to get writing done when the next panel or dinner or discussion is so compelling that I can't find the time to get the next post done.  Every slot during the day has 6-8 panels, of which I'd like to go to 2-3.  Plus there have been incredible speakers 2-3 times per day.  Add to that that I organized a panel yesterday for my work, entitled "The Challenges of Organizing in Rural Areas".  

So, this morning I was taking notes on what Valerie Jarrett, Obama's ambassador to Netroots Nation, was saying while I'm finishing up my piece on President Clinton.  I'm so behind but I expect to put up pieces on Healthcare, Howard Dean, Valerie Jarrett, The Impact of the Netroots, Darcy Burner Keeps Going, and How Progressives Can Make a Difference.

In the meantime, a few stray observations on my 4th trip to this incredible conference of progressive political blog-writers, Democratic elected, and progressive organizations:

  • Labor had a great presence here, not just because we are in Pittsburgh; Labor really gets the need for the link between the two overlapping constituencies.  They fed us at times; talked to us as partners; helped sponsor us and talked pretty to us.  They know that we are far more reliable on Labor issues than the mainstream press.  I'm sitting here listening to the new President of the AFL-CIO, Richard L. Trumka.  He's great and I think his presence here speaks volumes about his understanding of where Labor needs to go.
  • We've become more mainstream; a lot of progressive organizations have paid for one or more of their staffers to attend.  As I talk to these young people, it's clear that they are having an impact on the Obama Administration.  Many say that they are filling the slots of people who have gone into the Administration.  It's also clear that they are a part of the same community.
  • Much to my amazement, Arlen Specter came across quite well and Joe Sestak was not as good as I expected.  Not sure if that would impact my vote if I were voting in the Pennsylvania primary next year but it was a surprise.  
  • We were being courted to influence the Health Care debate right now!  Clinton, Dean, Darcy and many more all asked us to work to get our side out to Town Halls and rallies to counteract the crazy teabaggers.
  • It's so fun to make fast friends with people from around the country because we know immediately that we all care deeply about the same things.
Much more to come.

On my Way to Netroots Nation

Plane.jpgI am once again attending the great progressive bloggers conference, Netroots Nation, formerly called YearlyKos.  This year it is being held in Pittsburgh.  Before I talk about the great sessions here this year and the tone of the conference, I want to talk about a great set of conversations I had on the plane ride here yesterday.

I started out talking with the woman on my left, Donna, who hailed from Homer, Alaska.  It was fascinating to hear her talk about life in the 4000 person (winter population) town that, as she said, had about an equal mix of saloons and churches and an equal mix of liberals and conservatives.  She works as a domestic violence counselor, which meant, as a I expected, that we would wind up talking politics and talking about the huge amount of attention that Sarah Palin has drawn to the state.

All the while, the man on my right was silent.  When I began talking with him, he made it fairly clear that he doesn't talk about religion or politics.  So we talked about his military experience and his daughter, whose graduation from Navy Boot Camp was the reason for his trip.  We talked about how he liked living in Bremerton and about his intention to retire in Texas.  I felt comfortable by then to make passing reference to Bush.  That started the political discussion.  He was contemptuous of Bush - and we were off.  

We talked the entire gamut of issues, starting with healthcare and ranging through the difficulties that military folks have with decreased benefits and Bush's legacy.  When we got around to climate change, I was very interested in what he said.  He was still waiting to see what the impacts were before he really saw this as being important.  I mentioned the crumbling glaciers in the Arctic and the Antarctic which he'd heard of.  I ran through what I think is the best, simple explanation about how far we are through the 6 degrees of atmospheric warming that we have before the climatic changes are likely irreversible, which I'll run through here soon.  It made sense to Cliff and reinforced for me how desperately little we collectively understand about the dangers of climate change and the reasons that we need to be focusing on that issue like a laser.   Over at my work website, I wrote about a poll that the University of Maryland had done to determine how important the citizens of 19 prominent countries thought climate change is.  It's rather instructive about why we at a nation are putting so little attention on this topic.  Take a look.

Hi, Cliff and Donna.  I really hope you do make it over here to read this blog.  If you do, feel free to jump in.

Integrating My Meditative Life and My Political Life

2123257808_ea0c2612b1_m.jpgYears ago I remember being in a Bed & Breakfast in north Indiana, on a work trip.  It was an election night, 1998 I believe.  I was reading a book by a western Buddhist teacher, maybe Pema Chodron, maybe Suzuki Roshi.  In the background, I was paying attention to the election results across the country.  I had to laugh.  The little bit I'd figured out about Buddhism by that time told me that one of the "goals" was to be less identified with the exterior definitions of who I was - a passionate Democrat, among other things - and to be less attached to the outcome.

And while I was reading, I was watching TV, waiting with bated breathe to see how people were voting on Senate and Congressional Gubernatorial candidates around the country.

So, I've had these two mostly disconnected parts of my life for the last decade or more: both have been quite important to me and there has not been a lot of overlap.  

Last weekend I was with 500-600 people in a large convention hall in Shoreline listening to my teacher.  Adyashanti became my teacher the second time I listened to him.  He regularly gave satsangs in the Bay Area where I lived up until 5 years ago.  These were talks, followed by dialogues with people who had questions for him.  What he said came into my body in many ways beyond what I got with my head.  I'd never felt that before quite in that way.  I'd never had a teacher, I mean since grad school, and I never expected to have one even though I'd listened to some wonderful ones.  After that, I got to go to many of Adya's satsangs and intensives and retreats up until I moved back to Washington.  Then I'd gone for the first few years once or twice a year for 5-day silent retreats.  I hadn't been in his presence for two years or so.

Here's one of many videos of Adya on YouTube.

Last weekend I heard him talk for the first time at length about what I would call the political world.  Adya doesn't say "politics", he talks about naturally being compassionate for people who are homeless and wanting to do something about it.  Or he says "out there", past our couches.   

On Friday evening, an audience questioner, Larry, felt that "New Age" for many people meant that they could sit back and not do much for the world because "all was well", "it's Karma", and such.  Given how important it is to make some changes in the world very quickly, Larry questioned the very idea of sitting on your hands and implied that teachers, Adya included, needed to encourage that.  Larry was persistent.  He asked a related question then next day as well.

This was wildly interesting to me since this was the one area that I hadn't heard Adya address much.  Adya is a totally unpretentious guy who happens to be enlightened and wants to help the rest of us become enlightened.  He talks and writes about the process of allowing ourselves to find that "emptiness" and to allow our actions to emerge from a place that was less "ego", more in touch with ourselves and the larger universe.  In his teaching, he works with people and their questions after he has talked about his initial 20-30 minute talk.  I have had occasion to have many counselors and therapists in my life, both in the past as a client and often as friends.  I love them dearly but I've met only one therapist who could hold a candle to Adya.  And, unlike Adya, that person wasn't in the business of connecting it with thoughts on how we could get in touch with the great presence or a haiku by Dogen.

And he's funny.  I've often said that Adya could go toe-to-toe against Leno and Letterman and come out even.  It's just that what we're laughing about is so often about our foibles or our yearnings or the stories we tell ourselves rather than the Top Ten things some celebrity did.  

But Adya's responses to questions of what to do about the starving children in Africa or the coming global warming era had always, in my mind, been the one area where he fell short.  I did hear and understand that it doesn't make sense to act out of anger, to bring our own resentment of how we were treated as children for example, into the political or cause-oriented world.  Anger just doesn't appeal much to people; it doesn't contribute a lot to what we think we are trying to do.

His answer to Larry's question was that yes, of course, when we see suffering we are going to want to respond.  He talked again about making sure we were responding from a place of love and compassion and acceptance.  He talked about accepting what was, not railing against what we can't change.  But, in addition, this time he said over and over again how important it was to get out in the world and implement the changes we see should happen.  Over the course of the next day, he brought it up in several ways.  Adya said (and I wasn't taking notes so this relies on my memory) that we wanted to gain enlightment when we could, not wait until everyone else could also be enlightened but then we would also want to bring the other 6 billion along as well.  So, getting out in the world and doing that which our hearts called out to us to do in the world was just right.   We weren't about sitting around on our asses.  

At another time, Adja talked about the huge shift he'd seen happening in these last few years - going from a place where we'd been quite stuck for a long while.  Then, in the last year or two, making a large shift in what we wanted and making it happen. People were conceiving of a new way of being.  (Of course, Adya isn't in the business of talking specifically about politicians by name.)  He went on.  Once we have a clarity about what we want to see happen, action will happen quite quickly.  

I so appreciated Adya's thoughts on this.  I could see how important that is for us individually but also collectively.  Once we find a clarity of purpose together, we will be able to make change.  

I went to find another video of Adya to show here and found a stash of videos of him talking in 2005 about very much what he was saying this last weekend.  So, he has been talking about it, more integrating of "political" and spiritual", in other settings or interviews, not so much until lately in his regular teachings and Q&A.

Democracy is a Participation Sport!

Old Letter.jpgAt Rebuilding Democracy, we believe that the story of the 2008 election was us.  It was people all over the country putting their shoulders to the wheel to be part of moving this nation-cart out of the rut it's been caught in for 8 years, 20 years, 30 years . . .  It's going to take a little while to to move this vehicle onto another, more sane path.

We've got a lot of work and a lot to learn from each other.  This site aims to allow us to share with each other what we're doing, what's working, what's not, what inspires us, what we need to know about to act . . . . and more.

I personally still well up when I read about Obama, whether he's announcing his latest appointments for addressing climate change or him walking with his daughters or talking to the CIA or wooing foreign leaders.  I am so truly grateful that we elected a sane, thoughtful President who knows how to make use of a hugely talented group of people who want to help move this cart.  I'm glad that he doesn't tolerate drama, realizes it's not all about him, and knows how to manage to get the best out of folks.  No small feats, these!

There is so much that needs to change.  The infrastructure for that change is coming into being but there is a lot more to do.  Most but not all of the local Democratic organizations are working to build on what they did last year.  Progressive organizations are working to enact change.  AND, as this soon-to-come-to-an-end legislative sessions shows, we are in a world of hurt when it comes to a concerted, thoughtful plan. 

It's Up to Us

So, it is up to all of us to pitch in.  If you're at this site, you read more about issues and research and elections, and you join local Democratic or service or issues organizations and then you work to strengthen those organizations so that they will function better and provide more leverage for better government.

You learn how to deal with your local town government; you learn how to track and monitor bills going through the legislature or through Congress; or you learn to bring people together to talk about what they want to see be different and how they might do that.  We'll provide as much assistance to help you participate as we possibly can.

Focus on Washington State

Paying attention to the national scene is critical.  But, there are many great national websites and a lot of emerging infrastructure. Our scope, both for organizing and for discussion, is Washington State.  That's where Rebuilding Democracy hopes to be able to join with other progressive infrastructure builders to have an impact.  

This Site

We are still working on this site and it will take a while to expand it out to where we want it.  But, please comment.  And, if you want to write, let me know and I'll work with you.  Let me know about events that you want to share with this public.

Thanks.  We look forward to joining with you in this adventure.


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