Holiday Wishes


With historic changes afoot in the coming year, we have much to look forward to. Let’s pray, my friends, that goodness is around the corner for all of us — including folks we might not know. Life may not be consistently beautiful and sublime, but it is always a blessing, and we are fortunate to be here for the journey.

May your Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and any other celebration you observe be filled with the joy of love and fellowship.

Poem: Six Fortune Cookies for the Zeitgeist


Have some more. Gluttony will make you too big to fail.

Do not despise the two-faced charlatan. Business is business.

He who has a wife is rich. He who has many wives is very rich.

It is easier to take offense than to listen carefully. It is more difficult to forgive than to be wounded.

Be wary of easy victories, for they sometimes cost more than defeats.

Size matters.

Too Big to Fail


While we’re genuinely sympathetic to the enormous hardship that accompanies the loss of a job, the spectacle of Detroit automakers pleading for alms from us, the citizenry, from whom they have earned unfathomable wealth over the decades, is one of those macabre spectacles that normally appear in only the most imaginative science fiction. Our compassion for the suffering of working folks notwithstanding, it’s time to allow the lumbering manufacturing giants to go the way of the Edsel and Pinto.

The “too big to fail” argument wrongly supposes that there is some long-term national benefit to keeping millions employed at horribly mismanaged companies that, analyzed soberly, do more harm to our country than good. Unlike the two mortgage Freddies, whose reckless stupidity is partly responsible for the worldwide credit imbroglio, the Big Three automakers are not essential mechanisms for guaranteeing global liquidity and the free flow . . . → Read More: Too Big to Fail

Labis: “Too Much”


If there were an easy answer to endemic poverty, the kindest among us would surely have already implented it. There’s no simple solution. But one thing is obvious — at least to an outsider: desperately poor people must stop having desperately poor children, most of whom cannot be fed, educated, and cared for properly.

The Filipinos have a word, “labis.” It means, more or less, “too much.” In the Philippines and countless other “developing countries,” the population is “labis,” and something must be done. The problem is the dominant religion is Catholicism, which views every sex act that results in procreation as a blessing, not an economic curse. Plus, the culture encourages respect and reverence for elders, and many poor folks have multiple children as a long-term investment, believing that their offspring will one day provide for them — and everyone else in the constantly . . . → Read More: Labis: “Too Much”

Getting it Wrong on Prop 8


This weekend, a number of dear friends, some straight, some gay, will be picketing in front of Los Angeles City Hall, venting their anger at an empty building. The protesters are furious about the passage of Proposition 8, which amends the California Constitution to permit holy matrimony solely between a man and a woman. Prop 8 is a baleful, mean-spirited blow to egalitarianism, and I voted against it, since I believe that homosexuals ought to have the opportunity to be as miserable as most heterosexuals.

California is allegedly the most progressive, reliably liberal state in the country. That voters here have approved government-sanctioned discrimination is both disheartening and puzzling — at least until one investigates the fiduciary forces supporting Prop 8, which attracted $74 million in political contributions. One of the main backers of the measure was the Church of Latter Day Saints, otherwise known as . . . → Read More: Getting it Wrong on Prop 8

President Obama: Reasons to Celebrate


For those who came of age in segregationist America, while Jim Crow laws still littered the South and neighborhoods in the North observed pernicious unwritten boundaries, Barack Obama’s victory feels like a hot shower after an interminable day spent toiling in a filthy, disease-ridden swamp. Even for people of my generation, who grew up post-Martin Luther King, post-Vietnam, the prospect of a person of color leading the United States has only recently become imaginable, let alone feasible. But, thanks to our “better angels,” we did it.

Racists may take some consolation that Obama is only half black. They can imagine that the good half will govern the populace and suppress the bad half from doing awful stuff, like changing our beloved national anthem — the one about the rockets and perilous fights — to something by Public Enemy.

The rest of us can celebrate. Because . . . → Read More: President Obama: Reasons to Celebrate

Endorsement: Barack Obama for President

A cursory search of the archives here will provide numerous examples of my distaste for the sickening charade that passes as American democracy in action. Aside from emotionally charged issues such as abortion, gun rights, and school prayer, the differences between the two major parties are negligible, especially in their comical willingness to subsume ôprinciplesö when engaged in the mad pursuit of money and power. The Democrats and Republicans answer to different masters, but serve at the pleasure of the same omniscient monarch: corporate America.

In ordinary times, a vote for a third-party candidate — Libertarian, Green, Independent — would feel good, even if the result is equivalent to whistling in the wind. But these aren’t ordinary times. With the blessings of an incomprehensible number of people, many of them connected to the Christian Right and the Grand Old Party, the administration of George W. Bush has bankrupted our treasury, . . . → Read More: Endorsement: Barack Obama for President

Jazz Competitions, In and Out of the Marketplace


One of the 20th Century’s greatest artists, a cat named Thelonious Monk, the pianist and composer of countless jazz standards, including “Round Midnight” and “Well, You Needn’t,” left behind, among other things, a brilliant son (the drummer, T.S. Monk), a lucrative publishing catalogue, and a legacy of musical encouragement. The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz is one of America’s most powerful forces in propagating and teaching an art form that keeps reaching for the stars, even as the culture at large does everything it can to marginalize jazz music and repeatedly declare it deceased.

The Monk Institute conducts an annual competition, a talent search, dedicated each year to a different musical discipline. (This year it’s the saxophone.) The winners get big scholarships and recording contracts, and perhaps even more important, an effective marketing campaign that instantly brands them as musicians worth listening to. It’s the “American . . . → Read More: Jazz Competitions, In and Out of the Marketplace

The Healing Power of an Apology

Pentagon Holds Departure Ceremony For Rumsfeld

All of us have felt the cleansing and restorative power of a simple apology. Whether offered or received, the words “I’m sorry” tend to make everyone involved feel better, dampening the flame of indignation and encouraging assuagement instead of outrage. When things go badly, someone — or many someones — is usually responsible, and acknowledging culpability (and perhaps explaining how mistakes were made) is often the first step in healing and growing and moving onward toward a better future.

Powerful people seldom apologize. When they do, it’s news. The school teacher who abuses his students; the police captain who orders his officers to fire tear gas at a peaceful congregation; the scientist who suppresses unpleasant data — we despise their missteps, but we are more likely to forgive them and attribute them to human weakness when the miscreants acknowledge their . . . → Read More: The Healing Power of an Apology

Brooding on Death


The remains of my dear friend Ella the dog arrived from the crematorium in a nice fabric-covered box. The ashes themselves were in a plastic freezer bag, which was probably a good thing, since in addition to a fine grey powder there were many pinky-nail-size bone fragments and flakes from the few teeth Ella retained at age 109. (I hypothesized that her acute arthritis might have had something to do with the surfeit of calcite clusters.) How strange and puzzling to be confronted with a couple of double-handfuls of carbon dust and realize it is a version of your great pal, reduced to her essentials. Or inessentials.

We spread Ella’s ashes in Runyon Canyon, the nature preserve and dog park where I found Ella as a 3-month old, and where she spent many happy hours bounding and hiking and sniffing interesting aromas. I don’t know if . . . → Read More: Brooding on Death

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