Tuesday, October 14, 2008
I like Billy Collins's poetry and I plan to share one here from time to time.
Here's a poem from this new collection that seems apropos:
New Year's Day
by Billy Collins
Everyone has two birthdays
according to the English essayist Charles Lamb,
the day you were born and New Year's Day—
a droll observation to mull over
as I wait for the tea water to boil in the kitchen
that is being transformed by the morning light
into one of those brilliant rooms of Matisse.
"No one ever regarded the First of January
with indifference," writes Lamb,
for unlike Groundhog Day or the feast of the
this one marks nothing but the passage of time,
I realized, as I lowered the tin diving bell
of tea leaves into a little body of roiling water.
I admit to regarding my own birthday
as the joyous anniversary of my existence
probably because I was, and remain
to this day in late December, an only child.
And as an only child—
a tea-sipping, toast-nibbling only child
in a colorful room this morning—
I would welcome an extra birthday,
one more opportunity to stop what we are doing
for a moment and reflect on my being here on earth.
And one more might be a small consolation
to us all for having to face a death-day, too,
an X in a square
on some kitchen calendar of the future,
the day when each of us is thrown off the train of time
by a burly, heartless conductor
as it roars through the months and years,
party hat, candles, confetti, and horoscopes
billowing up in the turbulent storm of its wake.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
I spent the middle part of the day in one of the places I love most: Tomales Bay. I raced my Laser with a small group from the Santa Rosa Sailing Club.
Out on the race course it was quite windy today, but the beach where we launch from is well protected from the wind.
Afterwords, I went to a four-hand piano concert at my neighbor's house and met with the candidate I'm supporting for Sebastopol City Council, Guy Wilson.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Sarah and I try to get out at least once each weekend to enjoy the natural beauty of Sonoma County. Sunday we took a walk on the bluffs just south of the Russian River. Being outdoors helps one recover from the often captivating and debilitating mind cramps brought on by the politics and the news about the implosion of the world economy....
Sunday, October 5, 2008
If we had a government in Washington that cared for the regular people I live among, the discussion would have gone more like the letter below.
(I didn't write this letter; it was sent to me by a friend, and I'm just passing it along as food for thought.)
The richest 400 Americans -- that's right, just four hundred people -- own MORE than the bottom 150 million Americans combined. 400 rich Americans have got more stashed away than half the entire country! Their combined net worth is $1.6 trillion. During the eight years of the Bush Administration, their wealth has increased by nearly $700 billion -- the same amount that they are now demanding we give to them for the "bailout." Why don't they just spend the money they made under Bush to bail themselves out? They'd still have nearly a trillion dollars left over to spread amongst themselves! Of course, they are not going to do that -- at least not voluntarily.
George W. Bush was handed a $127 billion surplus when Bill Clinton left office. Because that money was OUR money and not his, he did what the rich prefer to do -- spend it and never look back. Now we have a $9.5 trillion debt. (That's $9,500 BILLION!)
Why on earth would we even think of giving these robber barons any more of our money?
I would like to propose my own bailout plan. My suggestions, listed below, are predicated on the singular and simple belief that the rich must pull themselves up by their own platinum bootstraps. Sorry, fellows, but you drilled it into our heads one too many times: There... is... no... free... lunch. And thank you for encouraging us to hate people on welfare! So, there will be no handouts from us to you. The Senate, tonight, is going to try to rush their version of a "bailout" bill to a vote. They must be stopped. We did it on Monday with the House, and we can do it again today with the Senate. It is clear, though, that we cannot simply keep protesting without proposing exactly what it is we think Congress should do. So, after consulting with a number of people smarter than Phil Gramm, here is my proposal, now known as "Mike's Rescue Plan." It has 10 simple, straightforward points. They are:
1. APPOINT A SPECIAL PROSECUTOR TO CRIMINALLY INDICT ANYONE ON WALL STREET WHO KNOWINGLY CONTRIBUTED TO THIS COLLAPSE. Before any new money is expended, Congress must commit, by resolution, to criminally prosecute anyone who had anything to do with the attempted sacking of our economy. This means that anyone who committed insider trading, securities fraud or any action that helped bring about this collapse must go to jail. This Congress must call for a Special Prosecutor who will vigorously go after everyone who created the mess, and anyone else who attempts to scam the public in the future.
2. THE RICH MUST PAY FOR THEIR OWN BAILOUT. They may have to live in 5 houses instead of 7. They may have to drive 9 cars instead of 13. The chef for their mini-terriers may have to be reassigned. But there is no way in hell, after forcing family incomes to go down more than $2,000 dollars during the Bush years, that working people and the middle class are going to fork over one dime to underwrite the next yacht purchase. If they truly need the $700 billion they say they need, well, here is an easy way they can raise it: a) Every couple who makes over a million dollars a year and every single taxpayer who makes over $500,000 a year will pay a 10% surcharge tax for five years. (It's the Senator Sanders plan. He's like Colonel Sanders, only he's out to fry the right chickens.) That means the rich will still be paying less income tax than when Carter was president. This will raise a total of $300 billion.
b) Like nearly every other democracy, charge a 0.25% tax on every stock transaction. This will raise more than $200 billion in a year.
c) Because every stockholder is a patriotic American, stockholders will forgo receiving a dividend check for one quarter and instead this money will go the treasury to help pay for the bailout.
d) 25% of major U.S. corporations currently pay NO federal income tax. Federal corporate tax revenues currently amount to 1.7% of the GDP compared to 5% in the 1950s. If we raise the corporate income tax back to the level of the 1950s, that gives us an extra $500 billion. All of this combined should be enough to end the calamity. The rich will get to keep their mansions and their servants, and our United States government ("COUNTRY FIRST!") will have a little leftover to repair some roads, bridges and schools.
3. BAIL OUT THE PEOPLE LOSING THEIR HOMES, NOT THE PEOPLE WHO WILL BUILD AN EIGHTH HOME. There are 1.3 million homes in foreclosure right now. That is what is at the heart of this problem. So instead of giving the money to the banks as a gift, pay down each of these mortgages by $100,000. Force the banks to renegotiate the mortgage so the homeowner can pay on its current value. To insure that this help does no go to speculators and those who have tried to make money by flipping houses, this bailout is only for people's primary residence. And in return for the $100K paydown on the existing mortgage, the government gets to share in the holding of the mortgage so that it can get some of its money back. Thus, the total initial cost of fixing the mortgage crisis at its roots (instead of with the greedy lenders) is $150 billion, not $700 billion. And let's set the record straight. People who have defaulted on their mortgages are not "bad risks." They are our fellow Americans, and all they wanted was what we all want and most of us still get: a home to call their own. But during the Bush years, millions of them lost the decent paying jobs they had. Six million fell into poverty. Seven million lost their health insurance. And every one of them saw their real wages go down by $2,000. Those who dare to look down on these Americans who got hit with one bad break after another should be ashamed. We are a better, stronger, safer and happier society when all of our citizens can afford to live in a home that they own.
4. IF YOUR BANK OR COMPANY GETS ANY OF OUR MONEY IN A "BAILOUT," THEN WE OWN YOU. Sorry, that's how it's done. If the bank gives me money so I can buy a house, the bank "owns" that house until I pay it all back -- with interest. Same deal for Wall Street. Whatever money you need to stay afloat, if our government considers you a safe risk -- and necessary for the good of the country -- then you can get a loan, but we will own you. If you default, we will sell you. This is how the Swedish government did it and it worked.
5. ALL REGULATIONS MUST BE RESTORED. THE REAGAN REVOLUTION MUST END. This catastrophe happened because we let the fox have the keys to the henhouse. In 1999, Phil Gramm authored a bill to remove all the regulations that governed Wall Street and our banking system. The bill passed and Clinton signed it. Here's what Sen. Phil Gramm, McCain's chief economic advisor, said at the bill signing: "In the 1930s ... it was believed that government was the answer. It was believed that stability and growth came from government overriding the functioning of free markets.
"We are here today to repeal [that] because we have learned that government is not the answer. We have learned that freedom and competition are the answers. We have learned that we promote economic growth and we promote stability by having competition and freedom.
"I am proud to be here because this is an important bill; it is a deregulatory bill. I believe that that is the wave of the future, and I am awfully proud to have been a part of making it a reality." This bill must be repealed. Bill Clinton can help by leading the effort for the repeal of the Gramm bill and the reinstating of even tougher regulations regarding our financial institutions. And when they're done with that, they can restore the regulations for the airlines, the inspection of our food, the oil industry, OSHA, and every other entity that affects our daily lives. All oversight provisions for any "bailout" must have enforcement monies attached to them and criminal penalties for all offenders.
6. IF IT'S TOO BIG TO FAIL, THEN THAT MEANS IT'S TOO BIG TO EXIST. Allowing the creation of these mega-mergers and not enforcing the monopoly and anti-trust laws has allowed a number of financial institutions and corporations to become so large, the very thought of their collapse means an even bigger collapse across the entire economy. No one or two companies should have this kind of power. The so-called "economic Pearl Harbor" can't happen when you have hundreds -- thousands -- of institutions where people have their money. When you have a dozen auto companies, if one goes belly-up, we don't face a national disaster. If you have three separately-owned daily newspapers in your town, then one media company can't call all the shots (I know... What am I thinking?! Who reads a paper anymore? Sure glad all those mergers and buyouts left us with a strong and free press!). Laws must be enacted to prevent companies from being so large and dominant that with one slingshot to the eye, the giant falls and dies. And no institution should be allowed to set up money schemes that no one can understand. If you can't explain it in two sentences, you shouldn't be taking anyone's money.
7. NO EXECUTIVE SHOULD BE PAID MORE THAN 40 TIMES THEIR AVERAGE EMPLOYEE, AND NO EXECUTIVE SHOULD RECEIVE ANY KIND OF "PARACHUTE" OTHER THAN THE VERY GENEROUS SALARY HE OR SHE MADE WHILE WORKING FOR THE COMPANY. In 1980, the average American CEO made 45 times what their employees made. By 2003, they were making 254 times what their workers made. After 8 years of Bush, they now make over 400 times what their average employee makes. How this can happen at publicly held companies is beyond reason. In Britain, the average CEO makes 28 times what their average employee makes. In Japan, it's only 17 times! The last I heard, the CEO of Toyota was living the high life in Tokyo. How does he do it on so little money? Seriously, this is an outrage. We have created the mess we're in by letting the people at the top become bloated beyond belief with millions of dollars. This has to stop. Not only should no executive who receives help out of this mess profit from it, but any executive who was in charge of running his company into the ground should be fired before the company receives any help.
8. STRENGTHEN THE FDIC AND MAKE IT A MODEL FOR PROTECTING NOT ONLY PEOPLE'S SAVINGS, BUT ALSO THEIR PENSIONS AND THEIR HOMES. Obama was correct yesterday to propose expanding FDIC protection of people's savings in their banks to $250,000. But this same sort of government insurance must be given to our nation's pension funds. People should never have to worry about whether or not the money they've put away for their old age will be there. This will mean strict government oversight of companies who manage their employees' funds -- or perhaps it means that the companies will have to turn over those funds and their management to the government. People's private retirement funds must also be protected, but perhaps it's time to consider not having one's retirement invested in the casino known as the stock market. Our government should have a solemn duty to guarantee that no one who grows old in this country has to worry about ending up destitute.
9. EVERYBODY NEEDS TO TAKE A DEEP BREATH, CALM DOWN, AND NOT LET FEAR RULE THE DAY. Turn off the TV! We are not in the Second Great Depression. The sky is not falling. Pundits and politicians are lying to us so fast and furious it's hard not to be affected by all the fear mongering. Even I, yesterday, wrote to you and repeated what I heard on the news, that the Dow had the biggest one day drop in its history. Well, that's true in terms of points, but its 7% drop came nowhere close to Black Monday in 1987 when the stock market in one day lost 23% of its value. In the '80s, 3,000 banks closed, but America didn't go out of business. These institutions have always had their ups and downs and eventually it works out. It has to, because the rich do not like their wealth being disrupted! They have a vested interest in calming things down and getting back into the Jacuzzi. As crazy as things are right now, tens of thousands of people got a car loan this week. Thousands went to the bank and got a mortgage to buy a home. Students just back to college found banks more than happy to put them into hock for the next 15 years with a student loan. Life has gone on. Not a single person has lost any of their money if it's in a bank or a treasury note or a CD. And the most amazing thing is that the American public hasn't bought the scare campaign. The citizens didn't blink, and instead told Congress to take that bailout and shove it. THAT was impressive. Why didn't the population succumb to the fright-filled warnings from their president and his cronies? Well, you can only say 'Saddam has da bomb' so many times before the people realize you're a lying sack of shite. After eight long years, the nation is worn out and simply can't take it any longer.
10. CREATE A NATIONAL BANK, A "PEOPLE'S BANK." If we really are itching to print up a trillion dollars, instead of giving it to a few rich people, why don't we give it to ourselves? Now that we own Freddie and Fannie, why not set up a people's bank? One that can provide low-interest loans for all sorts of people who want to own a home, start a small business, go to school, come up with the cure for cancer or create the next great invention. And now that we own AIG, the country's largest insurance company, let's take the next step and provide health insurance for everyone. Medicare for all. It will save us so much money in the long run. And we won't be 12th on the life expectancy list. We'll be able to have a longer life, enjoying our government-protected pension, and living to see the day when the corporate criminals who caused so much misery are let out of prison so that we can help re-acclimate them to civilian life -- a life with one nice home and a gas-free car that was invented with help from the People's Bank.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
I decided to drop my plan to go to the gym in favor of paddling on Tomales Bay, a mid-week workout in the real world. It was first outing of the new fall season.
It was lovely out there on the water just before sunset. I saw no other boats while on the water for a little more than an hour.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
In the afternoon we hiked along the southern portion of the Kortum Trail from Shell Beach to Wright's Beach. The weather was splendid, a dramatic mixture of sun, fog, and clouds that changed from moment to moment. At times the sea was really dark and it would seem almost wintry, then, moments later, a bright blue opening in the sky would appear and voila: summer again!
We stayed back from the water's edge on Wright's Beach which is among the most dangerous beaches on the whole California coastline. Sneaker waves, cold water, and a steep drop off make it particularly hazardous.
We intended to take a hike today as well, but got started on the boxes in the livingroom and next thing you know we're cleaning out the hardware drawers in the kitchen and straightening up the garage... and then it was time for me to go to a dharma study meeting hosted by Robin Cohen (the woman we met at Spirit Rock, Ted). I really liked the group and it looks like some of their members will join the Society of Friends meeting at our house. Yeah!
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
He'll be gone for 27 months (we're counting). It's painful to separate from those you love.
Each morning I take a moment to recall that I must be separated from all that I hold dear. I also remind myself that I'm not the only one who must be separated from all they hold dear; all must be separated from all they hold dear. These reminders serve to help me savor what is dear to me each day. They also help to soften (if only a little) the pain of separations and goodbyes.
We knew we had to do something to lift our spirits after the tearful goodbye, so we planned a hike at Point Reyes National Seashore. I'm really glad we did. The beautiful surroundings lifted our moods somewhat. But truth be told, we both had pretty heavy hearts.
We walked about 6 miles in all and had lunch at Coast Camp where Ted and his friend, Mitch, from college had gone backpacking last month.
We talked to Ted on the phone from his hotel this evening. He had a good first day in training and is feeling really excited about the adventure he's about to begin.
I'm feeling better already.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Very calm and quite warm for Tomales. We launched from a new spot along Highway One, a turnout a little ways south of Nick's Cove. We paddled down to Cypress Grove and then went across the Bay to Marshall Beach. We paddled along the western shore until almost Hog's Island before crossing back to the eastern shore.
Monday, September 1, 2008
In thinking about future generations, I cannot imagine anything more important than taking action to deal with climate change. It's a concern I carry with me a lot.
If we don't act now, I worry that the students I'm teaching kindergarten will face as adults problems much more severe than anything any generation has faced before. See the movie "An Inconvenient Truth" if you have not seen it already.
For my part, even though I live only about 10 km from my work, I carpool with the second grade teacher. It cuts in half the amount of CO2 spewing into the atmosphere from my getting to work.
My family manages to have at least one car-free day each week. We often manage more. Neither of our kids has a car or drives.
Still, as Americans, my family contributes far more to global warming than our share as citizens of the earth.
I try not to fly.
Did you know that when you fly in a commercial jetliner you are responsible for adding MORE CO2 if you were to drive a car to your destination?
Think of each jet aircraft in the sky as a giant caravan of RVs in the sky. One RV for each passenger. I've seen estimates that put the mileage per passenger on a jet from 2 miles per gallon per passenger to about 15 MPGPP.
I have no idea which estimate is right. But For the earth's sake, flying should be rationed. If you've ever flown, even once, you're among the 5% of the people on earth who have ever flown.
19 out of 20 people never have been in an airplane, and never will.
The story below appeared last Wednesday on the Yahoo! news site. Read below, or follow this LINK
By SETH BORENSTEIN and DAN JOLING, Associated Press Writers Wed Aug 27, 7:23 PM ET
WASHINGTON - More ominous signs Wednesday have scientists saying that a tipping point" in the Arctic seems to be happening before their eyes: Sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is at its second lowest level in about 30 years."
The National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that sea ice in the Arctic now covers about 2.03 million square miles. The lowest point since satellite measurements began in 1979 was 1.65 million square miles set last September.
With about three weeks left in the Arctic summer, this year could wind up breaking that previous record, scientists said.
Arctic ice always melts in summer and refreezes in winter. But over the years, more of the ice is lost to the sea with less of it recovered in winter. While ice reflects the sun's heat, the open ocean absorbs more heat and the melting accelerates warming in other parts of the world.
Sea ice also serves as primary habitat for threatened polar bears.
"We could very well be in that quick slide downward in terms of passing a tipping point," said senior scientist Mark Serreze at the data center in Boulder, Colo. "It's tipping now. We're seeing it happen now."
Within "five to less than 10 years," the Arctic could be free of sea ice in the summer, said NASA ice scientist Jay Zwally.
"It also means that climate warming is also coming larger and faster than the models are predicting and nobody's really taken into account that change yet," he said.
Five climate scientists, four of them specialists on the Arctic, told The Associated Press that it is fair to call what is happening in the Arctic a "tipping point." NASA scientist James Hansen, who sounded the alarm about global warming 20 years ago before Congress, said the sea ice melt "is the best current example" of that.
Last year was an unusual year when wind currents and other weather conditions coincided with global warming to worsen sea ice melt, Serreze said. Scientists wondered if last year was an unusual event or the start of a new and disturbing trend.
This year's results suggest the latter because the ice had recovered a bit more than usual thanks to a somewhat cooler winter, Serreze said. Then this month, when the melting rate usually slows, it sped up instead, he said.
The most recent ice retreat primarily reflects melt in theoff Alaska's northwest coast and the off the coast of eastern Russia, according to the center.
The Chukchi Sea is home to one of two populations of Alaska polar bears.
Federal observers flying for a whale survey on Aug. 16 spotted nine polar bears swimming in open ocean in the Chukchi. The bears were 15 to 65 miles off the Alaska shore. Some were swimming north, apparently trying to reach the polar ice edge, which on that day was 400 miles away.
Polar bears are powerful swimmers and have been recorded on swims of 100 miles but the ordeal can leave them exhausted and susceptible to drowning.
And the melt in sea ice has kicked in another effect, long predicted, called "Arctic amplification," Serreze said.
That's when the warming up north is increased in a feedback mechanism and the effects spill southward starting in autumn, he said. Over the last few years, the bigger melt has meant more warm water that releases more heat into the air during fall cooling, making the atmosphere warmer than normal.
On top of that, researchers were investigating "alarming" reports in the last few days of the release of methane from long frozen Arctic waters, possibly from the warming of the sea, said Greenpeace climate scientist Bill Hare, who was attending a climate conference in Ghana. Giant burps of methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas, is a long feared effect of warming in the Arctic that would accelerate warming even more, according to scientists.
Overall, the picture of what's happening in the Arctic is getting worse, said Bob Corell, who headed a multinational scientific assessment of Arctic conditions a few years ago: "We're moving beyond a point of no return."
Science Writer Seth Borenstein reported from Washington and Dan Joling reported from Anchorage, Alaska. AP writer Arthur Max contributed from Accra, Ghana.
For me one of the best ways is to take a walk in nature.
Today on Labor Day my wife and son went on a hike in Armstrong Redwoods State Park. As nice as the old growth redwoods on the valley floor are, we prefer the trails that take you up and away from the crowds. Fewer redwoods there, but it's much quieter.
I actively sailed (and raced) Lasers when I was a much younger man, before I became a father. I thought that the duties of fatherhood would not be enough to tear me away from a sport I loved so much, but I was wrong. My Laser remained unused for most of the past 24 years.
This summer I've had it out three times and it's been a blast. It's really true what they say about muscle memory: it's stable. Although it had been almost a quarter century since I sailed my Laser my body more or less got right back into the boat. Although I feel older in many ways, I still feel youthful on my boat. I notice that it takes an unusual degree of concentration to sail a Laser.
To give you an idea of what it feels like to sail a Laser in high wind, here's a YouTube video of a guy sailing a Laser in Spain in really windy conditions. (Tomales Bay wasn't this windy on Saturday, but it felt this windy. This clip is about 2:25 long; the part that shows what it felt like for me on Tomales yesterday begins about 50 seconds into the video.)
I came home tired and smiling after three hours.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
I'm back from a Metta Retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center with my son, Ted.
We spent a week in silence, cultivating Metta (lovingkindess) and the related wholesome mind states of Karuna (compassion), Mudita (sympathetic joy), and Upekkha (equanimity).
This Metta verse helped me get the Metta thoughts humming in my head and settled in my heart.
It goes like this:
May I be safe and well protected,
May I feel happy in my heart.
May I be healthy, kind, and helpful
May I joyfully do my part.
I like to modify this verse by substituting the word, "you" for the word "I" whenever it seems appropriate to direct it to someone in need. Maybe that someone is you. If so,
May YOU be safe and well protected,
May YOU feel happy in your heart.
May YOU be healthy, kind, and helpful
May YOU joyfully do your part.
A lotus to you, buddha to be.