The black curtain

July 25, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Soon it comes to every person, see it happen in one black curtain – Paul Pissarro, 7

Death is ever-present and life is ever-shrinking. For some, death is an obsession, for others, barely an afterthought. To most who contemplate it, the concept of eternal non-existence, of life book-ended by oblivion, is unfathomable and horrifying. We are programmed to “rage against the dying of the light.”

Death is life’s greatest motivator, for good and evil, fueling our futile quest to ‘matter’ – futile, because the people we seek to matter to are themselves reaching out to us to give them meaning. Picture two jumpers hurtling to earth, each reaching for the other, but neither with a foothold and both doomed to the same end. Some try to matter by helping others, some by hurting others, all with the desire to be remembered, to bridge an unbridgeable gap, to leave some kind of a mark, to prove that they existed.

Humans are impossibly lonely creatures, staring forlornly into time and space, without an anchor or a reference point, probing the depths of physics, philosophy, psychology, poetry, but forever bumping up against the unknowable.

My father, who I lost over a decade ago, adored Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat — this quatrain in particular:

And that inverted Bowl we call The Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop’t we live and die,
Lift not thy hands to It for help–for it
Rolls impotently on as Thou or I.

Searching for the light behind the black curtain, we turn to religion, to faith, to drugs, to music, to love. We get a glimmer of hope with near-death and other paranormal experiences. We meditate and pray. We look to nature and art and beauty. We dream.

And sometimes we do get glimpses of the light behind the curtain. In the twilight before sleep (hypnagogic states); in moments of transcendence when our thinking brain is suspended; in vague remembrances of a home, a place of origin whose location is timeless and dimensionless; in the sudden opening — and closing — of a portal during moments of intense fear and love and pain and pleasure; in the stillness of night and nature; in strange confluences and coincidences; in the inexplicable faith that somehow, somewhere, there is an answer.

It’s amusing that science, in its quest to deconstruct and debunk, has reaffirmed the ephemerality of the physical world, painting a wonderful and mysterious picture of a universe that is merely thought and potential. Just imagine that when you look out across the horizon, everything in your sight is energy, nothing solid, and that it’s all a thought in your mind. And that you are a thought in someone else’s mind.

We see the black curtain looming and it gives us pause, as it should. Still, we have reason to believe that behind the curtain is something even more real, more awe-inspiring, more beautiful than the world we know.

Everything You Need to Know About Benghazi: A “Political Slugfest on the Backs of Dead Americans”

June 1, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Hillary Clinton on Benghazi When the Republican attack machine kicks into gear, the tactics are predictable: muddy the waters on an already complicated situation; spread simplistic and deceptive soundbites; create the impression of a scandal where none exists; rinse and repeat. Benghazi is a perfect example. No matter how relentlessly Congressional Republicans investigate it, Benghazi is a tragedy, not a scandal. But that won’t stop some people from cynically and sanctimoniously using the death of four Americans to try to tarnish Hillary Clinton’s image. It is an unseemly ploy that will backfire.

In light of all the misinformation and hype, here’s everything you need to know about Benghazi, in Hillary Clinton’s words:

HILLARY CLINTON ON BENGHAZI

Congressional Republicans are engaging in a “political slugfest on the backs of dead Americans. It’s just plain wrong, and it’s unworthy of our great country.”
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“Many of these same people are a broken record about unanswered questions. But there is a difference between unanswered questions and unlistened to answers.”
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There’s a “regrettable amount of misinformation, speculation, and flat-out deceit by some in politics and the media.”
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Our military does everything humanly possible to save American lives — and would do more if they could. That anyone has ever suggested otherwise is something I will never understand.”
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“Every step of the way, whenever something new was learned, it was quickly shared with Congress and the American people.”
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There is a difference between getting something wrong, and committing wrong. A big difference that some have blurred to the point of casting those who made a mistake as intentionally deceitful.”
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The Accountability Review Board “had unfettered access to anyone and anything they thought relevant to their investigation, including me if they had chosen to do so.”
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There will never be perfect clarity on everything that happened. … But that should not be confused with a lack of effort to discover the truth or to share it with the American people.”
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Those who exploit this tragedy over and over as a political tool minimize the sacrifice of those who served our country.

Tobacco Kills: Grim Stats on Smoking

May 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

 UPDATE: “Hazardous Child Labor in US Tobacco Farming

“If current trends continue, tobacco will cause up to one billion deaths in the 21st century.” – CNN

Tobacco companies sell deadly, addictive poison to the public. Consider these grim stats:

Smoking remains America’s leading cause of disease and preventable death, resulting in more than 443,000 fatalities annually. More than 8 million Americans live with a smoking-related illness or conditions.

There is enough nicotine in four or five cigarettes to kill an average adult if ingested whole. Most smokers take in only one or two milligrams of nicotine per cigarette however, with the remainder being burned off.

The clay found in cat litter is used in cigarettes as filler. This allows tobacco companies to “weigh down” their cigarettes so that they will fall into the “large cigar” category-helping the companies avoid taxes.

Ambergris, otherwise known as whale vomit is one of the hundreds of possible additives used in manufactured cigarettes.

Benzene is a known cause of acute myeloid leukemia, and cigarette smoke is a major source of benzene exposure. Among U.S. smokers, 90 percent of benzene exposures come from cigarettes.

Radioactive lead and polonium are both present in low levels in cigarette smoke.

Hydrogen cyanide, one of the toxic byproducts present in cigarette smoke, was used as a genocidal chemical agent during World War II.

Secondhand smoke contains more than 50 cancer-causing chemical compounds, 11 of which are known to be Group 1 carcinogens.

The smoke from a smoldering cigarette often contains higher concentrations of the toxins found in cigarette smoke than exhaled smoke does.

It’s estimated that trillions of filters, filled with toxic chemicals from tobacco smoke, make their way into our environment as discarded waste yearly.

While they may look like white cotton, cigarette filters are made of very thin fibers of a plastic called cellulose acetate. A cigarette filter can take between 18 months and 10 years to decompose.

Worldwide, approximately 10 million cigarettes are purchased a minute, 15 billion are sold each day, and upwards of 5 trillion are produced and used on an annual basis.

Kids are still picking up smoking at the alarming rate of 3,000 a day in the U.S., and 80,000 to 100,000 a day worldwide.

Approximately one quarter of the youth alive in the Western Pacific Region (East Asia and the Pacific) today will die from tobacco use.

Half of all long-term smokers will die a tobacco-related death.

Every eight seconds, a human life is lost to tobacco use somewhere in the world.

Tobacco use is responsible for five million or 12% of all deaths of adults above the age of 30 each year.

Sources: 1, 2, 3

The Clinton Media Script: 12 False Anti-Hillary Themes the Media Love Most

January 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The chasm between the real Hillary Clinton and the unseemly caricature portrayed during two decades of personal attacks is all too familiar to those who know her. Distinct from legitimate policy criticisms, these attacks have served as lazy shortcuts for opponents, critics, pundits, political observers and media outlets to undermine one of the most accomplished women of our lifetime. With 2016 speculation at a fever pitch, the public commentary about Hillary Clinton is following predictable patterns. Several pervasive anti-Hillary themes have been dusted off for yet another political cycle; these are carefully-crafted and patently false scripts designed to dehumanize and demean her. Many of the themes are rooted in the sexism and misogyny that permeate our culture.

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The Pervasive Oppression of Women and Girls

September 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The greatest travesty of human life:

  • One out of every three women will be a victim of violence in her lifetime.
  • In some parts of the world a girl is more likely to be raped than to learn how to read.
  • Murder is a leading cause of death for pregnant women.
  • The children most at risk of attempted abduction by strangers are girls ages 10 to 14.
  • Every year, 60 million girls are sexually assaulted at or on their way to school.
  • Every 2 minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted.
  • 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.
  • Femicide is the leading cause of on-the-job death for women.
  • Only about one third of countries around the world have laws in place to combat violence against women, and in most of these countries those laws are not enforced.
  • Women and girls ages 15 to 44 are more likely to be maimed or killed by men than by malaria, cancer, war or traffic accidents combined.
  • In Asia and South Asia, in addition to sex-selective abortions, millions of girls and women are killed after birth through starvation and violence, forced abortions, ‘honor’ killings, dowry murders, and witch lynchings.

And the reward: Women work 67% of the world’s working hours, yet earn only 10% of the world’s income.

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Threats to Justice Everywhere

July 14, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. – Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter from Birmingham Jail” April 16, 1963

Those searing words are as apt today as they were a half century ago. We have not lived fully if we have not done our part to fight injustice.

Look around:

  • In some parts of the world a girl is more likely to be raped than to learn how to read.
  • Every year, 60 million girls are sexually assaulted at or on their way to school.
  • Worldwide, women and girls ages 15 to 44 are more likely to be maimed or killed by men than by malaria, cancer, war or traffic accidents combined.
  • Only about one third of countries around the world have laws in place to combat violence against women, and in most of these countries those laws are not enforced.
  • Every 2 minutes someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted, but 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.
  • Murder is a leading cause of death for pregnant women.
  • It costs just 25 cents a day to provide a child with the vitamins and nutrients to grow up healthy, but every hour 300 children die from malnutrition.
  • One in seven people on earth goes to bed hungry each night, while 1,426 billionaires have a net worth of $5.4 trillion, more than 100 times the amount necessary to eradicate global hunger.
  • 85 of the richest people on the planet are as wealthy as the poorest 3.5 billion.
  • Our government regularly uses unmanned drones to fire missiles at ill-defined targets, slaughtering babies in the process.
  • Our government detains people indefinitely with no charges and no recourse then jams feeding tubes down their throats when they protest.
  • Our government assassinates its own citizens with no trial.
  • Global military spending exceeds $1.7 trillion per year, 100 times more than annual cancer research spending.
  • 1.4 billion people in developing countries live on $1.25 a day or less, while the top 40 highest-earning hedge fund managers made a combined $13.2 billion in a single year.
  • Over a million people lose their lives to violence and millions more are injured and maimed every year.
  • One in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime.
  • African American women are  three times more likely than white women to be incarcerated.
  • Over 40% of Americans live in a household with a gun, more than the percentage of young adults enrolled in college.
  • The world’s nations pumped nearly 38.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air from the burning of fossil fuels last year, which amounts to 2.4 million pounds of carbon dioxide every second, poisoning our children and endangering life on our planet.
  • 1.6 billion people face economic water shortage, while 2 to 4 million gallons of water are used to frack a single well, contaminating aquifers with methane, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.

Humans cannot claim to be civilized when these travesties are allowed to continue. We truly share a “single garment of destiny” and if we accept one of the injustices above, we are enabling all of them.

The torture of disabled children in American schools

April 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

If this isn’t torture, I’m not sure what is:

Rose had speech and language delays. At school, her mother and I found Rose standing alone on the cement floor of a basement mop closet, illuminated by a single light bulb. There was nothing in the closet for a child — no chair, no books, no crayons, nothing but our daughter standing naked in a pool of urine, looking frightened as she tried to cover herself with her hands. On the floor lay her favorite purple-striped Hanna Andersson outfit and panties.

Rose got dressed and we removed her from the school. We later learned that Rose had been locked in the closet five times that morning. She said that during the last confinement, she needed to use the restroom but didn’t want to wet her outfit. So she disrobed. Rather than help her, the school called us and then covered the narrow door’s small window with a file folder, on which someone had written “Don’t touch!”

We were told that Rose had been in the closet almost daily for three months, for up to an hour at a time. At first, it was for behavior issues, but later for not following directions. Once in the closet, Rose would pound on the door, or scream for help, staff members said, and once her hand was slammed in the doorjamb while being locked inside.

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Patton Oswalt, I’m sorry you’re so wrong about Boston

April 16, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Patton Oswalt’s beautiful and heartfelt Facebook post understandably struck a chord with a nation stunned by the carnage in Boston:

This is a giant planet and we’re lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness. But the vast majority stands against that darkness … So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”

It is an admirable sentiment and very moving, but tragically wrong. Considering it was endorsed by hundreds of thousands of people, I wanted to offer a contrary perspective.

First, the “prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence” are not paid by the majority of us but by innocent people neglected by the rest of the world. While we go about our lives, fretting over our iPhones and apps, sports teams and celebrities, there’s Aisha and far too many like her:

13-year old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was stoned to death in Somalia by insurgents because she was raped. Reports indicate that was raped by three men while traveling by foot to visit her grandmother in conflict capital, Mogadishu. When she went to the authorities to report the crime, they accused her of adultery and sentenced her to death. Aisha was forced into a hole in a stadium of 1,000 onlookers as 50 men buried her up to the neck and cast stones at her until she died. LINK

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“No more hurting people”

April 15, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

“No more hurting people” – Martin Richard, 8, killed in Boston Marathon attack.

Violence: “The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.”

The World Health Organization’s World Report on Violence and Health estimates that over a million people lose their lives to violence and millions more are injured and maimed every year. The report states that violence is “among the leading causes of death among people aged 15-44 years worldwide, accounting for 14% of deaths among males and 7% of deaths among females.”

What is infinitely disturbing is the myriad forms this violence takes and how pervasive and borderless it is. Across the globe and across the centuries, humans have committed the most barbaric acts, limited only by their imaginations, and the march of civilization has done little to change the grim reality that on any given day, in every corner of our planet, gruesome and ungodly things are done to women, children and men.

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The top ten list you shouldn’t be reading

December 20, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

A new year’s list of travesties:

  1. It costs just 25 cents a day to provide a child with the vitamins and nutrients to grow up healthy, but every hour of every day, 300 children die from malnutrition.
  2. One in seven people on earth goes to bed hungry each night while the top 40 highest-earning hedge fund managers made a combined $13.2 billion in a single year.
  3. Global military spending exceeds $1.7 trillion per year, 100 times more than annual cancer research spending.
  4. 1.4 billion people in developing countries live on $1.25 a day or less, while the global video game market is nearly $50 billion. Read more

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