Archive for October, 2014

Michael SamThis past Tuesday, the Dallas Cowboys waived defensive end Michael Sam from their practice squad. As you may know Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL team, signed with the Cowboys on Sept. 3 after a final cut from the St. Louis Rams.

Sam took to Twitter on Tuesday to express his gratitude for the opportunity.

“I want to thank the Jones family and the entire Cowboys organization for this opportunity, as well as my friends, family, teammates, and fans for their support. While this is disappointing, I will take the lessons I learned here in Dallas and continue to fight for an opportunity to prove that I can play every Sunday.”

As a businessperson, most deduce that any 7th round draft pick has a negligible opportunity of making a final NFL team roster. But Sam was no ordinary 7th round draft pick. In 2013, Sam recorded 11.5 quarterback sacks and 19 tackles for a loss. He led the SEC in both categories, and tied Missouri’s single-season record for sacks. After the season, Sam was named the SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team all-SEC selection.

Furthermore, looking back, 12 players had 2.5 or more sacks during the NFL preseason. Ten (10) of those players made the 53-man roster for some NFL team. One’s on a practice squad. And the last, Michael Sam, hasn’t found work.

I am not a homophobic person. But as a businessperson, I knew Sam would never play for an NFL team. When Sam became the first publicly gay player to be drafted into the NFL and kissed his boyfriend on national television, his NFL career was over.

And therein lies the problem. The nation as a whole has made significant strides toward LGBT issues, but there are many pockets where personally affirming the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy is the only voice of reason.

Many claim Sam was seen as too small to play defensive end and too slow to play outside linebacker. However, many uttered the NFL pseudonym ‘Not For Long,’ when Sam publicly acknowledged being gay. Doing so placed an enormous microscopic view of physical God-given talent versus simply being gay. Every mistake, every error, forever amplified. Sam was in league where shower (ESPN) habits was considered ‘journalism.’ It’s an enormous amount of pressure to which he unduly suffered.

In June 2012 I came out as having Multiple Sclerosis (MS). With the exception of five people, no one, including my employer, knows I have MS. And very few know my heart slowly expires.

So while not being gay, I do understand Michael Sam’s dilemma. Do I say staying in the closet is wise? Yes and no. Sometimes the need for a job outweighs such deeply personal convictions. Then again, if you want a career rather than a job, you should try to communicate accordingly. However, one certainly doesn’t have to make such proclamations before securing the job.

Being able to open up about personal sensitivities takes courage. Telling the world of a very personal issue prior to draft day takes significant courage. Certainly Sam will argue that not coming out resulted in him not being able to give his employer the full benefit of his insights and perspectives. That may be true. In hindsight though, Sam remains a talented football player, a wonderful man … and unemployed.

There are two lessons. First, it’s hard to work for extremely weak-minded men; and secondly, don’t offer an opinion the organization doesn’t want. Hell, the NFL didn’t give a shit about domestic abuse until Janay Rice was dragged out of an elevator and Josina Anderson still reports for ESPN.

Looking back, University of Missouri Tigers head coach Gary Pinkel said Michael Sam’s decision to come out as gay will not damage his chances of playing in the NFL.

All evidence to the contrary.

ShitIn 2003, SARS swept across China and streets were deserted. The World Health Organization recommended officials warn people having fevers to stay off international flights. Hong Kong used infrared scanners and thermometers to take the temperature of more than thirty-six million passengers. Approximately nineteen hundred were found to have a fever. None developed SARS.

In time for the 2004 July Fourth barbeque season, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) jumped the gun and announced two cases of “inconclusive” Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), better known as mad cow disease. Only after making the ominous announcement did the agency later announce, “Oops, never mind.”

As an international traveler during the 2003 – 2004 era, most medical establishments succumbed to the fear so broadly that one had to verify their whereabouts for the past five years (or lie) just to donate blood. The process became so convoluted I vowed never to donate again – and haven’t.

And that’s my point. All it takes to drive people nuts are a few irrational statements. Regardless of the fact there’s been only three (3) U.S. diagnosed Ebola cases, politicians have turned the African Ebola epidemic into U.S. campaign fodder by demanding a halt to immigration, with many lawmakers suggesting the U.S. close borders for those traveling from West Africa. Even the White House created an Ebola czar for a crisis that, for all practical purposes, doesn’t exist.

Turning the tables, in June 2014 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed four (4) people died from Mad Cow Disease. All deaths were linked to an infection acquired outside the U.S., with two coming from the United Kingdom and one from Saudi Arabia. Yet no politician has espoused a similar panic and demanded U.S. close its boarders to neither United Kingdom nor Saudi Arabia travelers. Why not?

Overall, our response to pandemics, whether SARS, avian influenza, MERS, or Ebola, is predictable. First, we have a ‘cow’ (panic). Then we forget.

We forget malaria, tuberculosis, and H.I.V. have killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide this year. We disremember Alzheimer’s kill some 500,000 yearly while cancer takes 20,000 daily. Then there’s the flu. We fail to recall more than 200,000 people are hospitalized annually for flu-related complications, with an estimate of 49,000 having perished since 1976. The list goes on and on.

In recent times, none of the diseases mentioned have rivaled the attention of Ebola. None has a national plan, political champion or czar. If there’s an Ebola czar, why not an Alzheimer czar? How about a heart disease czar? Or maybe a gun czar? Should there be a Ferguson, MO police brutality czar? Seems right since statistically speaking, there’s been over 5,000 civilian deaths by law enforcement officers since 2001.

Propagating fear goes without saying. In an extreme case of the irrational, the New York Times reported paranoia spread in Payson, Arizona after a missionary returned from Liberia. While completing a self-imposed quarantine, rumors circulated throughout Payson the missionary tested positive and would be evacuated. One radio caller suggested torching the home.

From a Buddhist and medical perspective, Ebola is an unfounded fear, rooted in anticipation. We are told by some ill-informed dimwit to anticipate future pain or discomfort. In reality, our fears remain unfounded and produce only hysteria. I suggest we refocus and live in the moment. Continue to set our course for daily life but burn the map of fear. In other words, make plans, have dreams and goals – but don’t become over-attached to the current ‘crisis of the moment.’

Ebola is a serious disease and deserves serious, thoughtful solutions—not fear and ignorance.

Thank the Lord … Really?

image.adapt.567.high.1413636656485Last week, a passenger on the cruise ship Carnival Magic who tested an Ebola patient’s blood sample in a Dallas, Texas hospital was placed in isolation. As rumors swirled, Belize refused to allow Carnival’s guest to be flown home through its international airport and Mexico declined the ship’s passengers access for excursions in Cozumel. On Sunday morning, the cruise ship returned to port with health officials confirming the worker  tested negative for Ebola.

Christina Castile cheered, “We made it! Thank the Lord.

Really? Thank the Lord? For what? There’s nothing to thank God for. God did nothing; He didn’t have too. As I said to a friend a week ago, “You have a better chance of getting hit by an errant ICBM missile in the forehead while walking on Friday the 13th between 1:00 and 1:02 PM than getting Ebola.”

Mel Robbins, a CNN commentator and legal analyst, gave this series of events a name: Fear-bola.

Fear-bola attacks the part of the brain responsible for rational thinking. It starts with a low-grade concern about the two health care workers diagnosed with Ebola in Dallas and slowly builds into fear of a widespread epidemic in the United States.

Is fear really widespread? You decide:

  • Navarro College sent rejection letters to some Nigerian applicants because the country had a few Ebola cases.
  • A woman boarded a shuttle bus in a Pentagon parking lot, got off and vomited. A HAZMAT team responded and the woman was placed in isolation.
  • An elementary school teacher was placed on 21 days’ leave after attending and education conference in Dallas, in-spite of the fact she stayed at a hotel 10 miles from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, where an Ebola patient died.
  • A TSA agent at Cleveland’s International Airport remains on paid administrative leave because the agent performed a pat down on Amber Vinson.
  • Missouri and Louisiana have sought to bar Ebola-contaminated debris.

Whether politician or neighbor, what’s infecting us right now is mass hysteria. Thus, we smother everything with hand sanitizers and refuse contact with anyone living in Africa, Oklahoma, Atlanta or Texas.

Long before becoming Buddhist, I was taught the essential cause of fear and anxiety is our ignorance. We’re constantly crave and cling to the illusory. And the gasoline in our vehicle is ‘fear.’ So unless we figure out how to handle fear, we will never understand or embody any sense of egolessness or selflessness.

All of us must refrain from tossing lighted matches into dry forests. By understanding, examining, knowing, slowing down, we take the first steps in working with fear. It begins the path to fearlessness. We must have the courage to say, “I don’t need to go there. I see what’s coming.” By doing so, we catch hysteria.

Still, I was going to vacation in Yosemite National Park. I can’t. Someone from Dallas, Texas visited the park. Now Yosemite, its animals and Old Faithful are quarantined for 21 days.

Good Intentions

i3a6nEVYS7ejNdZuWBRx2wEarlier this weekend, I read an older editorial cartoon from Farid Ben Morsli, titled ‘Good Intentions,’ quoting, “The American might consider their presence beneficial, but reality paints a sad and bloody picture.” There’s an old saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but that’s not really the case. The road to hell is paved with intentions that are careless, lustful, or mean.

A much wiser man, I can honestly state that not all my good intentions were especially skillful. Though well meaning, they were misguided and inappropriate for the occasion. Thus the resulting scenario ended in pain and regret. I also realize, one tends to misunderstand the quality of our own intentions. We believe our intentions are better than the other guy, mistaking mixed motives for good motives.

After a while, we believe our excuses and fail to admit our own less than noble intentions. Thus, we don’t completely vet our intentions when faced with a choice; we refuse to consider consequences, and in many cases, deny the choices readily available. Laced in bad thought, good intentions result in dire consequences. We make bad decisions, as they’re easy, convenient, and familiar.

in the end, you can’t make something right by doing something wrong.

As in life and in the afterlife, the decisions we make will be difficult to escape, as it permeates a person’s being and soul. Bad decisions prey on the vulnerable, they’re ruthlessness and uncaring. Empowered by numbness, we begin our lives’ as idealistic determined children, yet ending as slaves to the world and coveting nihilistic leaders we hate.

On a weekly basis, lay people the world over place the fruits of their intentions upon God’s alter. Hoping for encouragement, many receive little, if anything. Herein I openly acknowledge my cynicism. I believe we come before God with our confessions, not because God is acknowledged as all forgiving, but we rather we want understanding and forgiveness from someone we respect. Still, I doubt many really respect God at all, for we wouldn’t do what we’ve done.

Buddha revealed how intentions are the main factors that shape our lives. However, should one subject these thoughts to the qualities of mindfulness, persistence, and discernment, we can perfect them to the point where they will lead to no regrets or damaging results. Ultimately, they can lead us to the truest possible happiness.

We must present intentions into a mirror and reflect only the quality expected. Before acting, we are called to reflect on the results expected and ask ourselves: “Is this going to lead to harm for myself and others, or not?” Focus on our intentions so we can see how they shape our life and master the processes of cause and effect. Doing so provides an opening to the dimension of unlimited freedom that lies beyond.

Do Lives Matter

10092014_Shaw-thumb-295xauto-11734On Saturday, a few thousand protesters participated in a “Justice for All” march in St. Louis, one of the largest and most diverse gatherings since the shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown. Unions, religious groups and student organizations gathered behind banners as flags and posters bobbed down the street while drums thundered above a loud din of chants of “Black lives matter! Black lives matter!

More than 1,000 peaceful protesters shut down an intersection by playing jump rope and silently marched through Saint Louis before staging a sit-in at Saint Louis University early Monday morning. Why Saint Louis University was chosen is beyond me. However, protest leaders addressing the crowd said their demonstration was about ending white supremacy and addressing systemic problems people face regardless of race.

Watching scenes protrayed in social media and news outlets, I ask with all honesty, do black lives matter? Do any of our lives really matter? Placing thoughts into perspective, I repeat part of a previous post:

27-year-old Quinnell Stanciel, was pronounced dead at the scene while the second victim was rushed to an area hospital with a gunshot wound to the arm. Also, a week ago today, Jonathan Saddler, 24, and James Lane, 22, were killed in a shoot out in downtown St. Louis. Police said that shooting was drug-related, and officers recovered suspected marijuana and heroin at the shooting scene. Surviving victims were not cooperating with the investigation.

Researching news wires, readers learned James Lane was the uncle of Latasha Williams, a 14 year-old shot in the left eye September 12th. Latasha was buying snacks at a corner store when bullets were sprayed from a passing vehicle into the store. Latasha’s father, Marvin Williams, also died violently. Willliams was fatally shot on March 21, 2005 at the age of 21. Police said then they believed the shooting was gang-related.

Neither Quinnell Stanciel, Jonathan Saddler, James Lane, Latasha Williams nor Marvin Williams had signs erected on their behalf. And why not? Do any of their lives really count? Or does the community at large largely ignore their lives, while focusing upon only a select few?

From a Buddhist perspective, I ponder whether protests work. In June 1963, a Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Duc sat down in a busy intersection of Saigon set himself on fire. However, the monk’s friends ensured foreign reporters were on the scene; thus ensuring photos would quickly spread around the world.

In spite of significant media reporting, Ferguson protesters appear to have a message looking for a cause, as statistics clearly support, that in total, police shootings of unarmed men are rare. If black lives matter, then all black lives have to matter, not just those cherry-picked for this version of ‘activism weekly.’ This doesn’t mean Michael Brown and Vonderrit Myers don’t matter. But while protesting provides a profound “moral shock,” almost all causes fade in waning years. Look no further than Trayvon Martin, where nationwide protests remain unanswered years later.

As a Buddhist, if we’re going to achieve transformation, we must focus upon the lives of all people, not just black people. I do believe our lives can speak to the future, if all of us become involved to provide solutions. But warning signs are ominous. The interfaith service meant to bring the St. Louis community together exposed fissures between protest leaders and the youth. Still, if the lives of Michael Brown and Vonderrit Myers matter; Quinnell Stanciel, Jonathan Saddler, James Lane, Latasha Williams and Marvin Williams must equally matter as well. Yet few, if any, speak for them.

Everyone has to matter.

If every single life doesn’t matter, the protest won’t last.

Quotation-Augusten-Burroughs-yourself-trying-killing-Meetville-Quotes-231260Thousands of protesters condemning police violence marched through St. Louis on Saturday, during a weekend of demonstrations organized after the fatal shooting in August of an unarmed black teenager by a white officer in a suburb. One protester clutched a sign, ‘Stop Killing Our Children.’

Protester Ellen Davidson of New York City, a community college administrator making her second trip to the St. Louis said, “It’s important for this country to stand with this communityThis community is under siege. … The eyes of the world are watching.

Seriously, I wish New Yorkers would come to St. Louis and help build a couple of homes on the North side. Yet, they’re willing to march. Still unless one considers our own inhumanity as weapons, neither St. Louis City nor Ferguson are under siege. Consider for a moment, some thoughts from Ferguson Police Officer Sgt. Harry Dilworth:

Sgt. Dilworth had been at Fort Leonard Wood fulfilling his duties as an Army reservist when Michael Brown died. During the  ensuing months, Dilworth’s wife wished he were back in Iraq or Afghanistan.

She thinks I would be safer there,” he said.

His teeth clenched as he drove past a protester holding a sign that read “Stop Killing Us.

We are not killing you, you are killing yourselves,” he said, his voice rising inside his police SUV. “This is a systematic problem that’s been going on for years. I want to tell them to wake up! And look at exactly what the problem really is! Look at the statistics. The number of officer-involved shootings is relatively low. I stand a better chance of being killed by you.”

Lost in all the ‘protest mentality‘ media and protest leaders have shoveled down our throats, is that St. Louis Police are investigating a double shooting in downtown St. Louis Friday that left one person dead and another wounded. Police say, 27-year-old Quinnell Stanciel, was pronounced dead at the scene while the second victim was rushed to an area hospital with a gunshot wound to the arm.

And this past Monday, Jonathan Saddler, 24, and James Lane, 22, were killed in a shoot out in downtown St. Louis. Police said the shooting was drug-related, and officers recovered suspected marijuana and heroin at the shooting scene. Police said the surviving victims were not cooperating with the investigation.

Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve yet to see any St. Louis-Ferguson protester hold a sign for Saddler, Lane or Stanciel. Maybe their lives didn’t matter? Or is it only Brown’s life that mattered?

Why don’t protesters don’t hold such signs at the scenes of murders, such as the recent killings just noted? The real crime, as Officer Dilworth noted is, “We are not killing you, you are killing yourselves.”  We’re killing ourselves … and we’re doing squat … except yelling. If the eyes of the world are watching, all they see is riots and looting.

Paraphrasing from The American President, to the Protesters the Unknown Buddhist says:

We’ve got serious problems, and we need serious people, and if you want to talk about change you’d better come with more than a burning flag, quotes on a placard and shouting ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.’ If you want to talk about character and America, peace and change, fine. If you want to have real dialogue, fine. Tell us where and when, and even I’ll show up. This is a time for serious people and your fifteen minutes are up.

saint-louis-flag-burning-2Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani school pupil, education activist, and 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner. She hails from the town of Mingora in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Ms. Yousafzai is known for her human rights advocacy for education and for women in her native Swat Valley, where the local Taliban had at times banned girls from attending school; this has since grown into an international movement.

Compare Yousafzai’s activism against the Ferguson, Missouri protesters. According to news outlets, Mr. Vonderitt Myers Jr. was shot and killed by an off-duty St. Louis police officer Wednesday night. As such, Meyer’s death triggered another round of violent protests who blocked traffic, broke windows of at least one home and a business during another night of unrest.

Later, protesters gathered in a circle and burned two American flags. “It’s not our flag,” said Elizabeth Vega, an artist who said she had been protesting since Michael Brown’s death. “Our children are being killed in the street. This flag doesn’t cover black or brown people.

With all due respect to Michael Brown, Vega has a repugnant point of view. Yousafzai’s activism is filled with hope. Vega’s activism is filled with hate.

Those of us who live in America must discuss how to become part of a generation that contributes to breaking down barriers. Issues to start focusing upon include quality education, good paying employment, human trafficking, and quality healthcare.

Ms. Yousafzai quoted:

“I speak not for myself but for those without voice … those who have fought for their rights … their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated.

If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.”

Ferguson protesters are no longer a force for good. Borrowing from George Bernard Shaw, Ferguson protesters have managed to become only a ‘feverish, selfish little clod of ailments constantly complaining that the world will not devote it self to making them happy.’ Sooner or later, you’re mentality has to become something more than a mere lynch mob.

We must rise above religious and cultural barriers and empower ourselves through education. Only then do we become a weapon, a true force of nature.

I Believe

imageA very pro-woman’s rights friend uttered something utterly shocking, “Unborn children are people. The killing of unborn children is tantamount to murder.

For a woman who stood at the forefront of women’s rights, I was stunned. I’ve listened to this woman for years, fighting for equal pay, equal healthcare, equal benefits and opposing the sometimes strict conservative values proposed by some candidates. She even fought for a woman’s right to choose and rallied against the closing of Planned Parenthood facilities.

Still, to hear the words, “… killing of unborn children is tantamount to murder” from was a complete surprise.

She briefly commented her university approved study of women who’ve had abortions sometimes commented, ‘I hope God will forgive me.’ When asked what those same said participants feared most that drew them to the abortion clinic for assistance, she could not answer.

However, several weeks ago I was contacted by a charitable organization to repair parts of an outdated, rundown computer network. While working, I engaged a young woman in conversation who freely echoed thoughts she felt were common among women her age:

“Most of those adamantly against abortion freely spew their beliefs but rarely ask what my goals were. Personally, I didn’t see anything possible. No one asked what my fears for the future were. Yet, I have many: facing even further pain of loneliness, suffering the humiliation of losing more of her body and life; being unable to care for a child with special needs.

To whom would I call at night when my child refuses to sleep? How could I get out of poverty, when I’m in poverty? Who will watch my child while I go to college? How will pay for food, shelter and quality life for my child.

How come everyone will prejudge me, while the man who claimed he’d stay at my side left for parts unknown. How come he’s not punished, ridiculed, heckled and hated? Who will go for me to some rundown bar, find my ex and get the rent money from him?

It’s easy to say abortion is murder sitting behind the walls of a warm home. But I dare anyone to live my life for 30 days and see the hell I live.”

Some accuse the Unknown Buddhist of playing both sides, i.e., wanting to reduce the number of abortions while simultaneously upholding the rights of all women. If one so chooses to judge accordingly, guilty as charged.

As a man, the Unknown Buddhist is in no position to judge any woman, let alone decide for all women. Accordingly, I believe all women should access to all information and options available, in a timely fashion, so that they can determine their own best course. I believe being in favor of the right to a safe, legal abortion by a trained medical professional who adheres to board-approved standards and practices. I believe we must provide this option available to any woman, without judgment. I also believe being in favor of tax dollars allocated to healthcare provision for those on the lowest income scale, because being poor does not mean you should receive lesser care or have less access. And I also believe being pro-choice means being adamant that we are not going back to the back alleys.

Good Tired

imageOne of the most important questions all belief systems seek to address is: What is the purpose of life? Almost all religions propose a way of life leading to salvation, liberation, satisfaction, or happiness. Buddhism is no exception.

As I pose these thoughts, allow me a few words of background. Many are unaware my ex-wife shows signs of early dementia. Thus, during the course of this disease, we’ve had many conversations surrounding the meaning of life and doing what we are called. As we dialogue and pick apart one’s personal journey and meaning, I am reminded of Harry Chapin’s comments from his grandfather.

“My grandfather was a painter. He died at age eighty-eight, he illustrated Robert Frost’s first two books of poetry, and he was looking at me and he said,

‘Harry, there’s two kinds of tired. There’s good tired and there’s bad tired.

Ironically enough, bad tired can be a day that you won. But you won other people’s battles, you lived other people’s days, other people’s agendas, other people’s dreams. And when it’s all over, there was very little you in there. And when you hit the hay at night, somehow you toss and turn; you don’t settle easy.

Good tired, ironically enough, can be a day that you lost, but you don’t even have to tell yourself because you knew you fought your battles, you chased your dreams, you lived your days and when you hit the hay at night, you settle easy, you sleep the sleep of the just and you say ‘take me away.

Harry, all my life I wanted to be a painter and I painted; God, I would have loved to have been more successful, but I painted and I painted and I’m good tired and they can take me away.’

Now, there is a process, in your and my lives, in the insecurity that we have about a prior-life or an afterlife, God- I hope there is a God. If He is- If He does exist, He’s got a rather weird sense of humor however. But let’s just- But if there’s a process that will allow us to live our days, that will allow us that will allow us that degree of equanimity towards the end looking at the black, implacable wall of death, to allow us that degree of peace, that degree of non-fear, I want in.”

Most people dislike facing the facts of life and prefer the false sense of security by sweat equity, dreaming and imagining. Thus, we accept shadow for substance and fail to realize life’s uncertainty.

Being deeply religious, my ex-wife understands life by facing and understanding death as nothing more than a temporary end to a temporary existence. Still, many misconstrue life’s ultimate meaning: reaching upwards to a higher level of being. Whether rich or poor, live in India or the United States, are Catholic or Atheist, it’s the power to transform negativity into positive; turning the ignoble, noble; the selfish, unselfish; the proud, humble; the haughty, forbearing; the greedy, benevolent; the cruel, kind; the subjective, objective.

Although many forms of religion had come into being in the course of history, only to pass away and be forgotten, each one in its time had contributed something towards the sum of human progress. We are not to counter personal growth. As a Buddhist, I’m called to embrace and transcend, not to conquer for material end, but rather to strive to attain harmony with nature or spiritual satisfaction. That’s being good tired.

May we all become ‘good tired.’

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