Sunday, January 30, 2011

zen and the art of howling

an elderly cherokee man was teaching his grandchildren about life.

he said to them, "a fight is going on inside me. it is a terrible fight between two wolves.

“one wolf is evil — he is fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, competition, superiority and ego.

“the other wolf is good — he is joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.

“this same fight is going on inside you, too. inside all of us."

the children thought about it for a minute, then one of them asked, "which wolf will win?"

the old man replied: "the one you feed."

* * * * *

i stumbled across this little parable at (which you should check out, if you haven't already). hard to say if it's actual cherokee philosophy, but it works whether it's cherokee, hindu, buddhist or pee wee hermanist.

if you follow the path a little further, you realize there's a 66% chance that the evil wolf prevails. whether it's at work, at home, or at the security queue at the airport, you feed the negative, it does an invasive full body probe of your psyche.

feed (or neglect) them both equally, the wolves tear each other (and you) apart.

which makes option three -- the care and feeding of the positive -- a biological imperative. not coincidently, it's also the most difficult to sustain. because, really, who hasn't had the overwhelming impulse to snarl at the corporate state, howl at the oil industry, or lift a leg in the general direction of the nearest republican?

but if you shut off the electronic noise, close your eyes, and embrace the silence... that's when it happens. that's when you differentiate between the ravenous howls and decide which to feed.

safety tip: the one that howls the loudest in your ear is probably the one that wants to consume you, as well.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

walmart cares...but not about you.

walmart wants you to know, it cares.

it wants you to believe it cares about you, dear customer, and your family and your high cholesterol and the cardiovascular disease steadily, stealthily wrapping its cold fingers around your heart.

important note: walmart doesn't care about any of those things. what it cares about is that you keep buying the cheap, sweatshop-made, environmentally rapacious products that pump up its bottom line.

"Walmart is getting on Michelle Obama's bandwagon, announcing Thursday that it will start selling healthier foods.

"The four-year plan, which company officials announced in Washington with the First Lady, includes reducing salt and sugar as well as eliminating trans fats in packaged foods. Officials for the world's largest retail chain also plan to cut the prices of fresh fruits and vegetables — and will build stores in low-income neighborhoods where consumers have few choices to buy food beyond gas stations and convenience stores."

according to a 1994 article in the american journal of public health, trans fats cause 30,000 deaths a year from heart disease. and we've known since 1988 that trans fats are correlated with a "...large increase in coronary artery disease."

meanwhile, according to the la times, "Walmart has more than 140 million customer visits each week." which means over the years the company that cares has pumped its toxic products into billions and billions of its customers' arteries.

"In outlining the changes, officials said they plan to reformulate thousands of packaged foods by 2015. Their goals include reducing sodium by 25 percent and added sugars by 10 percent, and removing all remaining industrially produced trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils."

the information that trans fats kill people has been around for a generation. why did walmart wait so long to care about its customers, one might reasonably ask. is it because they just recently heard the trans fat news, or is it something else? tsk, silly questions!

what's most likely is that the friendly, caring, concerned walmart team recently decided they could make a different kind of killing by tinkering with their product mix, with the expectation of reaping ridiculous profits whilst still ridding the country of its small businesses. and if their little experiment doesn’t meet ROI expectations, it can die, quick and quiet. genius!

"In Washington, consumer advocates praised the news. 'I applaud Walmart for using its marketplace muscle to move the food industry in a healthier direction,' said Michael Jacobsen, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

"'This announcement will virtually eliminate artificial trans fat in packaged foods and help spur food manufacturers to cut the sodium in their products over the next several years,' he added. 'Those two moves by Walmart ultimately should save thousands of lives each year that might otherwise be lost to heart disease or stroke.'"

excuse me, michael, but isn't this a bit like praising the gila monster in the chicken coop for passing up the high-cholesterol eggs?

sure the chickens are all dead, but the risk of heart disease is greatly reduced. yay, gila monster!

and by the way, michael, doesn't walmart sell cigarettes and other tobacco products? yes, yes it does. and isn't it true that cigarettes kill 400,000 americans every year? yes, yes it is. just sayin', mister walmart cheerleader.

the funny thing is, even if walmart makes available every manner of lowfat, low sodium, high omega-3 option and alternative, many of the store's clientele will take one look at the healthful array and say, "uh, no. none of that organic stuff for me and my family. that's for elitists and socialists and french-speakers. we like head cheese. pork rinds. gahddam beef byproducts! that's what's for dinner at our house!"

butbutbut...isn't it a good thing that walmart is offering healthier products, no matter how cynical and self-serving its motivations might be? sort of. if manufacturers can be pummeled into incremental product improvements by the threat of walmart's economic hammer, great. if, as a result, millions of walmart customers improve their unhealthy diets the tiniest bit, better still.

but if it's just another way for the company that doesn't really care to increase its clout--enabling it to continue its ravening, unethical, inhumane business practices--that's not so good.

clever PR campaigns and facile solutions to real problems are no reason to get all warm and snuggly with the corporate lizard.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Monday, January 17, 2011

the gospel of st. hochuli

"religion is the opiate of the masses." ~vladimir lenin

"the beatles are bigger than jesus christ." ~john lennon

"i'll take the seahawks plus 10 1/2 against the bears." ~jesus christ

america is suffering a crisis of faith.

we have no faith in our nominal leaders. no agreement on what defines "american values." we have little job stability and an escalating prospect we might never be able to retire.

so at a time when we trust so little and yearn for so much, what's left to believe in?

are you ready for some football?!?

in a perfect marriage between america's true religion and its other religion, some churches are combining the two in a holy communion of divine home-teamerism.

and really, in today's america, it makes perfect sense--church attendance is down, football attendance is down. so, you know, why not try an ecumenical hail-mary? "go jesus! go seahawks!"

check out the big screens at eastlake community church in the 'burbs of seattle. that is one inspirational place to watch football, isn't it? you have to think jesus would totally dig exalting his favorite team amongst the flock in a holy place like that. of course, whichever team that might be, they'd have a pretty decisive home field advantage.

losing locker room: "we were in this game all the way, but when jesus is on the side of the other team, you really have no margin for error."

winning locker room: "we made some mistakes early, and let them hang around too long, but we knew jesus was on our side, and we'd pull it out in the end."

what if he could've watched the christians versus the lions or the bears or the heavily favored romans on an array of 3D big screens! it's not hard to imagine the profound effect on sunday services.

"please power your kindalls to the book of matthew ryan, where we read 'if god so clothes the grass of the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is cast into the oven against the phoenix cardinals, shall he not much more clothe you with air conditioning, o you of little faith?' the answer, after this message from budweiser, the official beer of the nfl. remember, what would jesus drink? budweiser, the king of beers!"

do you know how many fans can congregate at eastlake? i don't either, but from the looks of things, it's more than a couple dozen. which helps explain how they can afford that kind of video technology for spreading the good word and watching slo-mo instant replays.

the ecc website says they are a "...somewhat disorganized church started by nine friends in 2005." don't you wish your church-home theater was that disorganized?

while were at it, can't you just see dr. martin luther king standing beneath some huge plasma screens, leading the cheers for the the atlanta falcons? now that americans have so completely embraced his messages of peace, justice, nonviolence, and league-wide parity, he'd probably have nothing better to do than get all geared up in a "vick" jersey and say a few words about the parallels between the gospel and the road to the super bowl.

if you follow the money, and believe in brand loyalty, you can totally see where this is heading. churches with the best viewer experience and the most spiritually enlightened cheerleaders will have the best shot at the blue-chip parishioners. by definition, they'll have the highest percentage rate in passing the collection plate. and their canonical defense will make the red zone a place no one wants to go, if you follow the metaphysical metaphor.

all that's missing is the theme song...

i got to get ready, make everything right,
'cause all my rowdy friends are coming over tonight.

do you want a drink,
hey do you want to party.
hey honey this is ole hank
ready to get the thing started

we cooked the pig in the ground, got some beer on ice
and all my rowdy friends are coming over tonight

are you ready for some churchball?!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

small talk

"she was a gymnast, you know."


"the girl in arizona. the one who was killed."

"yes, she was."

"she was nine years old, and a third-grader. she was the same level gymnast as me."

"i see."

"i saw her picture. she was pretty."

"yes, she was."

"she did ballet and played baseball and swam."

"yes, babe. she did."

"why did that man have to shoot her?"



"yeah, babe..."

"why did he have to shoot her?"

"i don't know...[sigh]...he's mentally ill."

"what does that mean?"

"it means...[sigh] means there's something wrong with his brain."


"grandpa don lives in arizona."

"yeah, he does."

"is he gonna be okay?"

"yes, he'll be fine."

"how do you know?"

"these things don't happen very often. the chances of it happening to him are really small."

"does it happen here?"

"not very often."

"she was a lot like me."

"i know, baby. i know."

Sent from my iPad

Saturday, January 08, 2011

shut up! no, you shut up!

it says here that you're a rude mother%@#&)*.

but it's not your fault. you have brain damage.

according to doug fields, phd., "A disrespectful, stressful social environment is a neurotoxin for the brain and psyche, and the scars are permanent. [The impairment] is associated with increased risk of craving, drug abuse and dependence, and a weakened ability to make moral judgments."

this explains so much.

it explains, for example, republicans. if we're being honest here (and we are), we have to agree that the gop is the party of rude mother%@#&)*s everywhere.

they're egregeously uncouth on so many fronts it's hard to sort them all, but for starters, republicans are painfully ill-mannered toward the u.s. constitution, the poor, the sick, the homeless, the environment, endangered wildlife, the economy, brown people, and countries with imaginary WMDs.

on the other hand, republicans are exceedingly polite to the wealthiest 1% of americans, wealthy wingnut media celebrities, and wealthy transnational corporations. so, go figure.

but look, it's obviously not their fault. at some point their brains must've been filled with noxious socio-environmental neurotoxins, which they can't help but pass along, generation to generation. these are sad, destructive, cringe-worthy family values, but they're family values nonetheless, n'est-ce pas?

to be fair, one needn't be a republican to be a rude mother$%#&!*. consider the many homes around the country, wrongly foreclosed on and siezed by predatory banks, forcing families into the street. and how about the man in pittsburgh whose home was mistakenly demolished by the the city while he was at work? that's some rude sh*t, isn't it?

more? mel gibson. jesse james. charlie sheen. john edwards/reille hunter. lyndsay lohan. ann coulter. sarah palin. tiger woods. all are hilarious, outrageous boors (though you could make the case that they're just barbarians).

again, not their fault. we have to assume they were raised by vampires or reality tv producers or potted poison ivy.

dr. doug, redux: "Studies have shown that children exposed to serious psychological trauma during childhood are at risk of suffering increased psychiatric disorders, including depression, anger, hostility, drug abuse, suicidal ideation, loneliness and even psychosis as adults."

that's us! is not america chock-full of people just like that? oh my, yes. which means we're constantly cultivating even more deeply disturbed people, then sending them out into the world to create more stress, more neurotoxins, and more rude mother%@#&)*s.

eventually we will be overrun with rude zombies who exist in a spiritual semidarkness that never lifts, snarling their way through each day, then scuffling home at night to sit in their home theaters of rudeness, refueling in preparation for more of the same the next day.

it is a disturbing prospect, certainly, one that must be countered with large quantities of great art, great sex and great wine. there are other antidotes, of course, including excellent food, copious sunshine, happy puppies, healthy children, and books instead of television.

interestingly, not everyone exposed to the rude is doomed to contract the disease. some people are simply immune. gravitate to them like garden plants to the sun, in the hope that some of what they have might rub off on you. literally or figuratively, whichever you can manage in good conscience.

and if it helps your state of zen, remember the rude can't help the way they are. it's not their fault.

it's the brain damage talking.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

on a lighter note

elvis is dead.

obviously. well...probably.

anyway, for the purposes of this discussion, it doesn't matter. because whether he staged his death and skipped off to a tropical island or died an unkingly death in1977, his music and his legacy appear to have disappeared as well.

music comes and goes, of course, and some collections hold up better than others. but didja ever think, really, that elvis would go the way of, say, michael bolton?

these days, outside some am stations in the middle of the country, elvis tunes get no play. the movies~there were 33 of them, you know~but when was the last time you saw one?

it's odd, because for at least a couple generations, elvis was a singularity. he affected light and gravity. he was everywhere and everything. all entertainment was compared to him, and no entertainment was comparable.

in another generation or so it'll be "elvis who?"

ah, well. easy come, easy go.

but i didn't sit down here to type about elvis. not really. no, that was just preamble to a review of the music of 2010. but since i have a such a limited grasp of "music 2010," this review includes only the music i added to my itunes library in the past 12 months. some of it was actually released in 2010, and some not.

i made some good choices last year. and some not. to wit...

courtyard hounds ~ courtyard hounds. this set is by two-thirds of the dixie chicks, emily robison and martie maguire, and is excellent if you like sheryl crow. which is to say, every track, as sung by robison, would sound exactly the same sung by crow. vocally, lyrically,'s all very crowian.

this isn't meant as a criticism. i mean, i like a lot of sheryl crow's music. and this album is no different. wait, that didn't come out right. i meant to say, this album shares many of the same qualities and characteristics of, um, excellence.

don't misunderstand, robison and maguire are ridiculously talented musicians, composers and lyricists. and there's not a thing wrong with robison's singing. so you should totally check out this album. especially if you're a fan of that other artist, mentioned previously.

the roots ~ how i got over. my tastes don't usually stray toward the hip hop, but on the recommendation of someone i know in the business, i downloaded this set. good decision. how i got over is lyrically intriguing and musically poetic, weaving funk, soul and jazz into something silky and muscular and edged. like a yoga master with a guitar made out of a scimitar strung with razor wire. which sounds kinda cool, but probably would be really hard to play.

carole king & james taylor ~ live at the troubador. these two have been around forever. literally. their earliest recordings have been carbon-dated to just after the big bang, and yet somehow they manage to sound not-old. this live set includes songs that have been part of pop culture for more than 40 years, and they still aren't past their expiration date. taylor's voice is strong and resonant, and king...well, she hits most of the high notes, and tries really hard to hit the rest.

unlike some of the reunion acts from the musical archives, this one actually works.

mavis staples ~ we'll never turn back. so i was shopping at the wine outlet on 15th ave., listening to whatever was playing on richard kinnsies' ipod, when mavis staples came on. the song was "down in mississippi," and it made me stop shopping. it made me walk over to the counter and ask who was singing, and what was the name of the song. it made me write "mavis staples, down in mississippi" on a little slip of paper, and go home and find it on itunes.

after i bought a case of wine, that is.

mavis staples wrings the guts out of a blues song. this set evokes segregation and civil rights marches and countless generations of african-americans who didn't live to see a black man become president. it makes you stop what you're doing and listen.

ten feet ~ everyday. this little group is well-known in the hawaiian islands, and possibly elsewhere, but i'd never heard of them before our stay on oahu in early 2009. their cover of jason mraz's "i'm yours" was getting a lot of airtime, and now it's forever part of the soundtrack of a memorable trip. at least i think that's how it went.

turns out the rest of the album is pretty solid as well. if you like music that emanates a relentless island vibe and transports you to the beach no matter how far away you are, this set does the trick. if you've never been to the islands, and couldn't care less about the vibe, steer clear of this band. and me. 'cause, you know, you're kind of bumming me out.

the beatles ~ help! i bought this vinyl when i was in fourth grade, and memorized every song. i had no idea who the beatles were, really; all i knew was the songs had a certain je ne sais quoi about them, and i could sing along and feel pretty damn happy about it. even if i didn't know je ne sais quoi from jenny sasquatch.

a lot of other people felt the same way, apparently.

the collected works of the beatles were made available, to much fanfare, on itunes in 2010. perhaps you heard about it. on that day, i bought help! and sang along again. i was pretty damn happy about it.

bad company ~ bad company. i bought this because i liked it back in high school. big mistake.

the archies ~ greatest hits. i bought this because i liked the archies when i was in grade school. big mistake.

also in 2010, i let my daughter download some of her favorite music. big mistake. my collection now includes several selections from taylor swift, demi lovato, jordin sparks, selena gomez, and i don't know who-all else. more seem to pop up every day. and mostly they're unlistenable.

but she's my daughter, and she's cute, and her music makes her happy, which makes me happy.

so, there it is. 2010 is over like elvis, but the music lives on.

unless it doesn't.

in which case there's always 2011.

Sent from my iPad