Archive for June, 2013


unite-againstWhat can Paula Deen learn from Edward Snowden, Tim Tebow and Chad Ochocinco? Frist circus’ are for clowns; and secondly, most adults hate the circus.  Bill Maher maintains that Deen shouldn’t have been fired, because it’s a “ … free country, even to be an asshole.” Technically Mr. Maher is correct, but most become significantly offended by assholes.

But let’s face it, many of us mess up. And we do it every day.

In a hate filled video ironically titled “Rated T for Tolerance,” ApoIogetics:

I’m not here to rally against that which the government legislates, I simply don’t support a mind that is reprobate. Homosexuality is not innate. It is not a genetic trait. It cannot replicate the love between a man and a woman in which God did indeed create.

T For Tolerance” uses many stereotypes about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities, while insisting that all gay people are going to hell.  Gee, just makes one feel all warm inside. Ok, pardon the pun. Secondly, I am not sure the author understands the word tolerance. Third, if this is your version of heaven or hell, I will stay Buddhist.

All of Deen’s troubles remind me of former UCLA Student Alexandria Wallace racist rant on Asians using their phone in the library. Unfortunately for her, the video went viral.  (However, Jimmy Wong created a wonderful response.)

The problem for Deen, Snowden and others like them is they tend to cast themselves as victims rather than a perpetrator.  In fact, Deen’s sons called racism charges ‘extortion.‘ The sad fact for Deen, Tebow, Snowden, Wallce, and the ignorant woman of “Rated T for Tolerance” and others is that Internet will follow their living days. As such, most employers or places of higher learning severely frown upon circus’ and tend not to be impressed.  If you become a one-person circus show, you tend to get few quality interviews.

As a Buddhist, I believe redemption is possible. But just because it’s possible, doesn’t mean you’ll get it. Redemption takes time – much more than an apology or “I is What I is.”   Instead, what Ms. Deen, as well as all of us, must continue to learn the deep lessons of racism clearly missed.  Read of Mandela’s journey; understand what Dr. Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers and many Civil Rights proponents across the globe are really about.

For those of us living in America, live past the racism of the South.

Scales of JusticeSeveral days ago, the Republican-led House passed an anti-abortion bill conservatives saw as a milestone.  Democrats condemned the measure as yet another example of the GOP war on women.

Everyone agrees that adult human beings have the right to life. Some people would say that the fertilized cell resulting from conception does not have the right to life. Therefore the right to life occurs sometime later between conception and birth. For others, the exact point a fetus reaches a right to life cannot be determined. Thus, society should assume it does have the right to life.

Allow me to sidestep the right-to-life or right-to-choice decision.

Personhood Ballot Initiatives would give legal rights to newly fertilized microscopic embryos (i.e., when life begins). Thus, for the moment, let’s presume abortion becomes illegal. Should the fetus have a “right” to life, how should we punish expectant mothers who are presumed to drink, eat, and participate in life events that may directly impact the health and safety of the fetus? For instance, when you’re expecting, what you eat and drink influences your child’s health, possibly forever. Some everyday foods and beverages take on new meaning, as some presents a danger to a developing child.

What if an expectant mother suffers heat stroke during a hot afternoon?  Should she miscarry, would she be required to prove her miscarriage was natural or face felony charges? For Christine Taylor, an Iowa mother of two girls and pregnant with her third child, a feticide law enacted in that state because of anti-choice efforts has wreaked havoc on her life. Being distraught and distracted, she tripped and fell down the stairs. Ms. Taylor found herself arrested and sent to jail for admitting uncertainty about her pregnancy and fear about raising three children on her own.

What if you’re a pregnant teen in the rural south?  Rural Americans live with the burden of poor health than those living in suburban or urban communities. There are fewer primary care physicians and emergency room doctors. Treatment options are often nonexistent and exacerbated by a lack of transportation. And using health care can be difficult, where tight-knit communities can amplify concerns about moral standing and confidentiality. Should society punish a mother for not ensuring their child receives the benefit of adequate healthcare? Should she be punished for simply not traveling long distances to a quality health facility? In the “personhood initiative” era, all of this basically means “… sucks to be you.”

So how do we police potential mothers and the rights of a fetus? How do we police every expectant mother fairly, equally? Who’s going to be the judge? Will a Buddhist or atheist be allowed to judge? Can a deeply conservative judicial system fairly and morally judge all?

Another thought? Do we punish those million or so women who had an abortion each year? As of 2008, there were 2.8 million people in jail. So what’s another 1 million more a year, right? For all the fighting over abortion, criminalizing women is not the solution; never has been. But then again, if abortion is equated to murder, should not the offender be adjudicated?

So when a national religious or political leader claims a woman should be criminally punished for having an abortion, questions must be asked and answers must be given. Does second hand smoke harm an unborn child? If so, do we punish the mother for harming the child or punish both the mother and smoker?  Here’s another; the automobile is great for personal freedom, but exhaust fumes are toxic. Should a car owner be punished for assault if their vehicle passes a pregnant woman? If “personhood initiative” backers really want to be fair, should we not ban air fresheners, ammonia, bleach, antifreeze, drain cleaners, laundry detergent and oven cleaners? Do we jail company executives who make, local stores that stock and sell and friends, family and neighbors who use such products? If a pregnant US citizen travels overseas and experiences a miscarriage in another country, how do we investigate and apply proper jurisprudence? Or do we simply perform extradition back to the country where the crime occurred? Can abortion doctors be tried for crimes against humanity?

So what’s the solution? The solution does not easily fit the into the black and white world of pro-life or pro-choice. Real solutions never do.

John MontacueDear Johnny:

I have to admit that over the last several days I have thought of you relentlessly. Love is not easy to write and my heart grasps for that which seemingly cannot be said. Johnny, regardless of your challenges and difficulties, I found you to be such a beautiful person.  Your laughter, enjoyment, love of guitar and politics were my first thoughts.

In a beautiful way, Johnny seemed bigger than life. I remember you with a grasp that remains elusive to me.  You were able to touch and bond with people in ways I never could. And in truth, in many ways, you are and remain more the man than I will ever become.  All of us has themes which pour throughout the stories of life. Yet, I have found everything changes but change itself.  What I loved most about you Johnny was the unchangeable. Like many before could attest, I found an uncommon bond. Like me, you could understand those in pain; like me, you could understand the strength in overcoming disability; and like all of us, you struggled and fought through many difficulties. Yet you overrode common thoughts of being puny or weak.

No one knew better in the power of words. Your ability to see and cut through tedious political rhetoric was astounding and remains for me today as a guide. Your intellect was deep, often requiring considerable effort and gave hope to those embattled in life’s struggle. You relished learning and public service. And while often feeling slighted, I believe you experienced satisfaction in knowing character contributed greatly to the direction and success of your students. You taught them well.

As I flew over the Rocky Mountains this morning, I looked down upon all the masses. The seeds of your life lay not in some uncommon burial ground in Southern Illinois. Rather your spirit and life remains stowed in the treasure chest of all our hearts. We embrace you and remain a treasure all would have been honored to know.

Unfortunately, some of the brightest flames burn quicker courses. But your flame forever etched my soul. Oh Abba, wherever Johnny resides, I know he has the immortality of love surrounding him and I believe that because we live, he lives.  As I looked upon stars the stars, I remember an Eskimo legend:

Perhaps they are not the stars,

But rather openings in heaven where,

The love of our lost ones pours through,

And shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.

Johnny, I will always carry you in my heart.

With Love … your friend.

Cloud Atlas“Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”

~~David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas~~

—————————————————————————————————————————————

Several days ago, I read of a friend passing in December of 2012. Johnny lived unknown to most.  Yet, as a paraplegic, he was a remarkable man. I remember his laughter, love of politics, his guitar music and his smile. He is so much more the man I ever could become.

If one held his hand, he would instantly bond. I cannot explain, but he had something special. He was an instant friend and whenever I was in Southern Illinois one would seek to find him time and again.

I restlessly thought of Johnny these past days.  My unease and restlessness was self-created. I traveled near and far. “Ah, too busy,” I would say. “There will be another day.” I convinced myself with lovely phrased internal deceits until the one I miss becomes so deeply missed.  My very angst displays the many life lessons remaining to learn.

In watching the movie “Cloud Atlas,” I found some peace. In essence, Cloud Atlas is about the world you see and those you don’t. Six interrelated and interwoven stories span different time periods. But Cloud Atlas’s riveting story lines and nonstop action veil weighty lessons about bigotry, oppression and resistance. All things are interconnected.

For the true Buddhist, everything is interconnected. The crux of our own individual story is that every action has a reaction. Maybe our role changes throughout life. Maybe we learn one lesson at this moment while learning another more poignant time changing experience another. Does this sip of whiskey that currently nips my lips impact my life now as much as it does later?  Can we carry love and hatred forward at the time our death? And more importantly, does one believe all living creatures experiencing awareness deserve an awakened life, either now or forever? Will I connect with those whom I’ve lost and loved somewhere between here and heaven? Will I remember Johnny for all his strength and love of life?

In truth, to condense such a wonderful man into a homily of words seems next to impossible. Yes I will remember Johnny. I will remember his life, and want to see him again, again and again.

So Johnny, in the words of David Mitchell:

“I believe there is a another world waiting for us. A better world. And I’ll be waiting for you there”

15_01_33_webI received a few negative comments from yesterday’s post “The Ignorance Within.”  Some question my commitment to pro-choice movement while others claim I did not hold the pro-life movement accountable for perceived injustices.

In truth, I tend to neither think in such black or white perspectives.  From a pro-life perspective, if any simply believe signing legislation will eliminate abortion is delusional. Abortion will simply go underground and I’m positive no one will adore the face of such inequity and ignorance.

From a pro-choice perspective, while choice is an essential aspect of our humanity, everyone’s humanity, we are called to those in need, to understand and make an effort to eliminate the need for such unwanted love. Surely, there are efforts all humanity can put forward to reduce this perpetual cycle.

I will paraphrase from the Dalai Lama’s book “Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World:

When people are strongly motivated by dedication to a single cause or by feelings of closeness to a particular group, they are capable of great things. Such feelings can bring people together and help transcend their narrow self-interest. In this sense these feelings are beneficial. Unfortunately, when such affiliations occur they are often accompanied by the discrimination between “us” and “them.”

A woman is more than her choice for or against abortion and an abortion is larger than simply a personal right. Black and whiting such complicated issues often negates our capacity to love.  Accordingly, the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor. Charles Darwin believed love for all living creatures was the most notable attribute. Thus, when discrimination between the “us” and “them,” between pro-life and pro-choice movements, each forgets their own personal connection to a larger humanity of Christ and the connectivity He commanded of all human beings.

Rather than believing any of us can effectively legislate abortion, we need pro-life and pro-choice movements to work together, to explore abortion’s role in the lives of our families, communities, faith, culture, and beyond. I cannot think of a more powerful way to honor the living Christ or living Buddha than for adversaries to find commonality and work for the good of all nations, all families and all mothers.

As such, finding commonality demands conscious day-to-day decisions. Preventing our own ignorance and that of our legislative leaders requires tremendous effort and flows against the current of incredible pressure to do the opposite.

nothing-in-the-world-is-more-dangerous-than-sincere-ignorance-and-conscientious-stupidityAs the Komen walk for the cure nears, I am once again confounded by a somewhat black and white position religious affiliates craft.  Specifically, I read with interest the Respect Life Apostolate of the Archdiocese of St. Louis has taken:

The Respect Life Apostolate of the Archdiocese of St. Louis acknowledges the beneficial work of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, formerly known as the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, in the area of breast cancer detection, prevention, research and treatment. Due to its policy allowing affiliates to offer financial support to abortion providing facilities and its endorsement of embryonic stem cell research, the Respect Life Apostolate neither supports nor encourages participation in activities that benefit Susan G. Komen for the Cure.”

I contrast the above position against the backdrop of Bishop Robert Lynch, who wrote in 2009:

“… Nancy Brinker, former ambassador to Hungary and then Chief of Protocol for the United States during the last Bush Administration. Ambassador Brinker is also the sister of Susan G. Komen who died at age 36 of breast cancer leaving a husband and two young children. The day before she died, Susan asked Nancy, her sister, to devote her life to seeing that fewer and fewer women die of this disease, through early examinations, medical and scientific research and education programs. Nancy said that after her sister’s death one night in her sleep she had a dream and saw hundreds of people dressed in pink dancing and upon awakening she knew that her contribution would be to start a “race for breast cancer cure.

I was impressed by her vision and captivated by what might be done if others would join in the effort against breast cancer. On occasion someone will mention that the Susan G. Komen Race for a Cure gives money to Planned Parenthood and they do. But the money is earmarked solely for mammograms and nothing else and is monitored closely for this. Some people spend a lot of time and energy shadow boxing with friends.”

While I find the salary Nancy Brinker abhorrent, a lot people count on both the Catholic Church and Komen. Yes Planned Parenthood provides abortion services. However, they predominately serve several million people a year; mostly women, but also men and much of their activity is focused on contraception, STI screening, and cancer screening, and providing reproductive health care to people who otherwise wouldn’t have access.

Paraphrasing a speech from President John Kennedy just before his death, I currently believe that no social system or religion is so evil that’s people must be considered lacking in virtue. We can still honor the man, woman or child who has an opposing view, their thoughts and their individual acts of courage.

In this day and age, there is more which connects us than separates us. Yet we focus solely upon that which divides us. Our humanity and love for another should trump our differences. I honor the men and women of the Catholic Church and the Respect Life Apostolate, but I liken this whole debate to moral insanity.

I have seen the enemy: it’s our ignorance within.

MedicalWhen I do attend church, I am often invited to pray and willingly do.  But the blend between science and faith is blurred rather easily. For instance, a friend recently had cancer surgery. While grateful for prayers, just prior to surgery she was more concerned with the surgeon’s skill and hospital cleanliness than prayers.

As our society integrates and intimately dances with high technology, do we fully engage our inner self, meditate and practice spirituality that embraces Eastern and Western religious traditions? Or do we kick spirituality and prayer to the door. Kick the dust from our shoes and get on with living? Except for Sunday, do any of us really care about our faith Monday through Friday?

In truth, I am not stating that one needs to kick faith to ebb of life.  Surely, all of us can count the litany horrors done in the name of religion, including Buddhism. But I presume that in a time of need, prayers from any religion, including goodwill thoughts of the non-religious are equally beautiful and powerful. And to the secular, I don’t believe that as a Catholic, only a Catholic prayer will work. Accordingly, as a Muslim, should one be so strict that only Muslim prayers are welcome? Surely not!

If this were true, how would one parse the prayers of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami or the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami? “Well, we received 13,000 Catholic prayers, 26,000 Muslim prayers, 40,000 Presbyterian prayers, 38000 Hindu prayers, etc.?” We need to see and understand the new reality. Our world has millions of Sikhs, Christians, Jain, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Muslims, Hindus, Taoists, etc. Personally, I just do not envision the living Christ or living Buddha parceling and segregating love.

From a technological perspective, I’ve seen pastors using iPads and posting sermons onto websites; the Dalai Lama has a Twitter feed; and Muslim worshipers can choose whether they want to podcast the call to prayer. So why can’t we blend faith with technology?

The answer is that both technology and prayer demand an uncommon element: people. Regardless of faith, social justice requires action. Promoting nurturing values as kindness, compassion and forgiveness cannot be done solely via an iPad or prayer. Micromedical technology can help patients unheard in days gone by. Prayer can provide strength and presence of a living God. But damn it, you still need a skilled surgeon that blends both.

At the end of the day, technology is connecting a world full of diversity. That very diversity is our strength.  Honor all those of faith, for it strengthens us all.

UtahRevelations that the Government is collecting millions of phone records and digital communications stored by major Internet services should come as no surprise. The Government is building a data center in Bluffdale, Utah that is five times larger than the U.S. Capitol. The problem is that information can be misinterpreted that may unfairly stereotypes people and may be possible someone might be classified as a potential risk simply for buying products commonly used.

The same holds true for State Health Insurance Exchanges being created under the Affordable Care Act. Big medical information data warehouses have existed for decades.

Many consumers are surprised to learn of the existence of a reporting agency for the health industry, the Medical Information Bureau (MIB). Two other large medical data collection agencies include IntelliScript (Milliman) and MedPoint (Ingenix).  All three companies will very likely have data minded records on all prescription drugs you have purchased over the past five or more years. This data is often used by life insurance or disability insurance companies to determine whether or not to sell you insurance.

According to its website, MIB Group, Inc. is a member-owned corporation that has operated on a not-for-profit basis in the United States and Canada since 1902. MIB’s Underwriting Services are used exclusively by MIB’s member life and health insurance companies to assess an individual’s risk and eligibility during the underwriting of life, health, disability income, critical illness, and long-term care insurance policies.

What Information does the MIB Collect? The MIB does not collect copies of actual medical records. Rather, members report information to MIB using highly confidential codes that signify different medical conditions. These are conditions can have a significant impact on an applicant’s health.  Medical codes may include the following:

  • Credit information
  • Medical conditions
  • Medical tests and results
  • Habits such as smoking, overeating, gambling, drugs
  • Hazardous avocations and hobbies
  • Motor vehicle reports (poor driving history and accidents)

In theory, MIB data is used to prevent fraud, potentially identifying those who attempt to hide known medical conditions when applying for insurance and insurers using MIB data cannot use the information obtained as the basis for denying insurance. However, those medical codes can be used during insurance premium classification. Thus, your insurance rate will be higher or lower depending upon “Rules Engine” calculation.

MIB, IntelleScript and MedPoint codes are commonly feed into insurance “Rules Engines.” In Health Insurance Exchanges, Rules Engine for Eligibility & Enrollment will maintain the “rules repository” for calculation of premiums and for eligibility determination and enrollment. It allows processing of individual & household information and calculates premium amount and eligibility results.

To handle the sheer number of applicants, rules-based core systems will be mandatory when Health Insurance Exchanges open. But each system has a life of their own and creates problems when improperly governed. The amount of data exchanged between federal and state agencies is tremendous and proper management and maintenance is critical.

For individuals and families using a State Health Insurance Exchange, will MIB information be used to set premiums? Will “rules” engines calculate premiums so high that it makes the premium impossible to pay? Hard to say, for one cannot find an easy answer at the moment.

Hidden WarU.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss suggested that the dismaying rate of sexual assaults in the military may simply be due to the “hormones” of youthful soldiers.
 
The young folks that are coming into each of your services are anywhere from 17 to 22, or 23. Gee whiz, the level — the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur. So we’ve got to be very careful of how we address it on our side.
 
Being a retired Air Force Officer, I reflected upon when I was 18 years old and based overseas. All those hormones and still I never once assaulted a fellow Airman or Officer.  Maybe times have changed but can Chambliss simply claim “hormones” caused:
  • Two male officers convicted by courts martial of sexual assault were given clemency without explanation by respective three-star generals, Gens. Craig Franklin of the Third Air Force and Susan Helms of the 14th Air Force.
  • Air Force lieutenant colonel Jeffrey Krusinski, the officer in charge of sexual assault prevention programs for the Air Force was being investigated for sexual battery.
  • An Army sergeant first class assigned to the sexual assault prevention unit at Fort Hood, Texas, is being investigated for alleged sexual assault, pandering, abusive sexual contact and maltreatment of subordinates.
  • In early May, an Air Force officer who worked with an assault prevention unit was charged with sexual battery after being accused of grabbing a woman and groping her buttocks and breasts in a parking lot not far from his Washington office.
  • Three U.S. Naval Academy football players are under investigation in an alleged sex assault involving a female midshipman at an off-campus “football house” party in April 2012, according to a Defense Department official. The victim says she learned from friends and social media that the players claimed to have had sexual intercourse with her while she was intoxicated, her lawyer said.
From my perspective, the pedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church, the child sex abuse scandal in the US Hasidic Jewish community, ongoing sexual assault problems of the military and recent sexual assault allegations of Buddhist Zen masters has demonstrated, the disparity between leadership and mentors can have tragic consequences. There is something about our beliefs, our faith and religion, that allows one to dismiss the victims, to cast aside shame and allow the scales of justice to be unfavorably balanced.
 
Let’s be clear, this is not a hormone problem. This is not a consensual misunderstanding.  This is rape, assault and abuse. This is a violation of our inherent human goodness, violence against humanity. We must vow not to repeat inaction and a lack of compassion.
 
If you are a victim of sexual and need assistance, contact National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) at 1-877-739-3895.

imageStudent debt in the U.S. totaled $900 billion as many college students sign large loans than they can’t. Many students miss or do not completely understand the fine print detailing compounding interest and or other penalties. Should congress not act federal student loan rates on July 1st, interest rates will rise. That means that the average student will accrue thousands in additional debt.

The cost of a college education has been about three times that of inflation since the 1970s. Fueled by government subsidies, colleges and universities experienced large incentives to jack up tuition and fees. Thus, many well-educated adults are struggling to navigate one of the worst economies of modern times while simultaneously awash in debt.

Buddhism recognizes the importance of the fulfillment of the minimum material needs for a decent living, even in the case of the aspirants of its higher spiritual goal. But as I travel around the world, I find individual and social values cannot be de-linked. For me, poverty, consists in the non-possession of the basic material requirements for leading a decent life free from hunger, malnutrition and disease. And while I am not promoting material needs or the albatross of debt, for most, a solid useful education is a significant key for reducing poverty and ending exploitation.

It seems almost impossible to remove poverty from society. As emergency savings take priority in household budgets, American families are failing to reach educational goals. People living in poverty lack opportunities, role models showing them what’s possible to achieve and contacts to guide them in reaching their dreams. Across the globe, women and children are more likely to be poor and malnourished and less likely to receive medical services, clean water, sanitation, and other benefits.

To combat this trend, education has been particularly emphasized for reducing overall poverty. Expanding education has a positive effect on fertility, infant mortality, nutrition and enrollment rates of the next generation. Keeping children in school is an awesome strategy for reducing child labor.

Allowing student loan interest rates to rise to combat sequestration would be tragic. Government and educational institutions need to reduce the cost of continuing education and raising education costs will not positively impact society.

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