Saturday, June 16, 2018

Keeping an Untroubled Spirit


The single sentence I have found most useful in life is from Marcus Aurelius: “The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”
But my favorite quotation contains an inherent contradiction. If you cast a cold eye on things and see them for what they are, how on earth are you supposed to maintain an untroubled spirit?
It’s tricky balancing act, and you have to be careful you don’t tip off into worrisome musing on one side or seemingly sociopathic indifference on the other.
Just prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, in a television interview, former first lady Barbara Bush noted that she was untroubled by it all.
“But why should we hear about body bags, and deaths, and how many, what day it’s going to happen, and how many this and what do you suppose?” she told Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America. “Or, I mean, it’s, it’s not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?”
In one way, Barbara Bush was absolutely right — we must not permit negative thoughts to overwhelm us, particularly if they are about events largely out of our control. But the person who was determined to invade and occupy Iraq — justified, as we now know, entirely by lies — was her own son, and Barbara Bush’s ability to shrug off her own responsibility for the subsequent horror of that war is breathtaking in its amorality.
So how to remain untroubled by suffering, without being indifferent to it?
“One way is to recognize that we do have a choice in where we focus our attention,” wrote psychologist Jessica Grogan. “While it may be incredibly difficult to shift away from the negative, it may be less difficult to consciously choose to emphasize the positive.
“An adjunct to this attention shift is the technique, applied most notably by Hans Vaihinger and Alfred Adler, of ‘acting as if.’ This means, essentially, ‘acting as if’ the good things were bigger deals and the bad things were smaller deals.”
But while shifting focus to maintain calm, how to do we keep unpleasant realities in our awareness? Perhaps by consciously practicing empathy.
“Through empathy, you will see how our egos help to keep us separated as individuals instead of a collective consciousness,” wrote Gregg Prescott. “For example, many people are too detached from worldwide atrocities, such as famine and starvation in third world countries.  They may think to themselves, ‘If it doesn’t affect me, then it doesn’t exist.’ What if it was YOU who was starving?  Would you want others to know or care or would you prefer to have people say to themselves, ‘If it doesn’t affect me, then it doesn’t exist.’  The truth is that we are all in this together and if one person is suffering, then we all suffer.”
The image I kept coming back to is the surgeon, whose mission it is to relieve suffering and save lives. But to do that job effectively, he must be dispassionate, calm and controlled.
Untroubled by trouble, in other words.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Let Us Consider the Corporate Con


“Middle class Americans, like myself and my fellow seekers, have been raised with the old-time Protestant expectation that hard work will be rewarded with material comfort and security,” wrote Barbara Ehrenreich. “This has never been true of the working class, much of which toils away at wages incommensurate with the effort required. And now, the sociologists agree, it is increasingly untrue of the educated middle class that stocks our corporate bureaucracies. As sociologist Robert Jackall concluded, ‘Success and failure seem to have little to do with one’s accomplishments.’”
Donald Trump — a liar, a cheat and a serial bankrupt — is the ultimate example of failing your way to the top of a thoroughly corrupt system.
If a society is judged by its fruits, America’s at the potato famine stage.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

How Ike Relaxed

Supreme Allied Commander and President Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower often worked long hours on stressful military assignments that took their toll. He’d suffer from back pain, stomach ailments, headaches and diarrhea.
“There was the Ike who showed up smiling for work each morning and his twilight twin, the Ike who went home looking drawn each evening, complaining to Mamie that he felt unwell,” wrote his biographer Geoffrey Perret.
He found ways to cope. One was by learning to fly a plane, flight being a perfect psychological metaphor for rising above responsibilities. Other escapes included golf, bridge, poker, painting, keeping a diary and grilling steaks.
Eisenhower read serious books like Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer and relaxed each evening by reading a western for a half hour before going to sleep.
Later in life, he would watch two or three films a week in the basement movie theatre of the White House.
“His favorite films, like MacArthur’s, were always westerns,” Perret noted. “He famously got so involved during a screening of High Noon that when the bad guys thought they had trapped Gary Cooper in a burning building, Eisenhower shouted, ‘Run! Run!’ Once Cooper had made good his escape, Ike turned to Mamie, exhilarated but relieved. ‘I never thought he’d make it!’”
Eisenhower told students: “Unless each day can be looked back upon as one in which you have had some fun, some joy, some satisfaction, that day is a loss.” And to permit such a thing is wicked, he said firmly.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Girl Who Sued the Hornet's Nest


All carefully detailed fact, it reads a little like Homeric fiction — a young woman’s odyssey from her Himalayan home where the villagers eat only what they can grow or raise to the darkly polished corridors of power in Washington, D.C., and Houston.
Author and reporter Cam Simpson
There, she must confront contemporary corporate power as formidable as any Cyclops. It’s the predatory Goliath KBR Halliburton, Vice President Dick Cheney’s no-bid, no-accountability corporate pet.
In The Girl from Kathmandu, investigative reporter Cam Simpson reports how he solved the mystery of why and how a dozen innocent young men from one of the remotest parts of the world finished up kidnapped and murdered in Iraq, in a war they’d barely heard of.
In the process, Simpson’s writing draws us into Nepal’s village life, hard and precarious and primitive but honest — particularly in contrast to the corporate machinations that would con and kill Kamala Magar’s husband, Jeet.
As difficult as village life can be, Kamala would learn that it’s nowhere near as cruel as the forces of globalization powered by implacable corporate greed.
Like the other hopeful, defrauded families from Nepal, Kamala’s had borrowed heavily to “buy” a fictional job for her husband. What they didn’t know until too late was that A) workers were often paid less than they were promised, B) kept under house arrest with their passports seized and C) subjected to a bait-and-switch on the destination where they would put in their 12-hour workdays.
In other words, they paid through the nose to become indentured servants.
“Not only were the jobs in Jordan, but the sons and husbands of the families I met were sent across another international border and into a third country, a nation that was host to the world’s deadliest war zone,” Simpson wrote.
“Bundled into an unprotected convoy, without any security precautions, they were driven into Iraq against all public warnings issued by the U.S. government and against all common sense — even though they were apparently headed there to serve the U.S. government. It is difficult to imagine a greater disregard for their lives.”
Jeet was among a dozen Nepali men between the ages of 18 and 27 who were recruited and held against their will in this human trafficking scheme. Baited by high-end jobs in a Jordanian hotel, they were in fact sent to Iraq, where they were promptly murdered by insurgents — viciously and on video.
Simpson’s writing flows clearly and smoothly, like the water from the taps of a mountainside village well. He’s telling three tales that converge, weaving them like Kamala at work at her loom in a widows’ ashram.
Simpson recounts his own detective work in piercing the corporate smoke screen that hides human trafficking. He reports Kamala’s experience as a shunned and alienated teenage widow with a small daughter, helped by no one, seemingly with no place left in the world. And he profiles Matthew Handley and Agnieszka Fryszman, two workaholic human rights lawyers.
In this dark tale, light is provided by the admirable professionalism and moral character of some of those involved — by Kamala’s own tremulous courage, and by the determination with which Simpson and the plaintiff’s lawyers pursue the factual truth about and justice for people from the other side of the planet, the exploited and impoverished human beings that U.S. corporations and contractors shipped and discarded like so much cheap, damaged goods.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Fox Is Fiction, Not Fact

Most people aren’t aware that the Fox News studios use no electricity. Fox’s whole operation depends entirely on gaslighting.

The mission of Fox News is to poison the American news media by lying about facts. For example, which political party a politician belongs to isn't a matter of opinion. It's a fact Fox News lies about.
Fox News suddenly identified disgraced Republican Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina as a Democrat on the very day he admitted his philandering.
A coincidence? But Fox News also suddenly changed Congressman Mark Foley's party affiliation from Republican to Democratic the very moment it was inescapably confirmed that Foley was sexually soliciting teenage male congressional pages.
All just “mistakes,” don’t you imagine? But isn’t it funny how every factual “mistake” Fox News makes manages to falsely malign Democrats and/or shield guilty Republicans?