Friday, October 30, 2009

Huffington Post Column 4 - What of What You Are Is No Longer You?

On his website at, HP blogger Dr. Pavel Somov says:

Mind is its own hostage. Each belief, each schema, each defense is both an adaptation and a handicap. The very anchors that have helped you feel grounded may now hold you down with all the weight of their historical usefulness… Yes, mind is its own hostage... But mind is also its own search-and-rescue.  Take a look at what of what you are is no longer you…

It may be that this hit me at a particularly opportune time, or maybe I'm so much of a Zen geek that it struck me, but I find myself haunted by this concept.

He prefaces the statement with a quote from a song by Russian musician, Boris Grebenschikov, who is described in Wikipedia as one of the founders of Russian rock music:

"There's only one way out of prison, which is to set your jailer free."

(The Time, Radio Silence, 1989 CBS Records)

which only complicates the matter further. If I'm my hostage to "each belief, each schema, each defense," then how do I "set my jailer free?"

For example, if I have an old, long-established behavior pattern, the more of less standard way to approach that is "well, that's just Ed," and most people in my life kind of accept it with a shrug and a tolerant smile. Yet in another area of my life, where different things are expected of me, the response when that pattern arises is "Ed's not himself today" from people who know me well and "Ed's behaving in an unacceptable way" from those who don't. So which "Ed" is me? In Somov's terms, which is the what I am that is no longer me? I guess it's for me to say.

But hold on, it's not that simple, because this "adaptation and handicap," this "anchor that helped me feel grounded" is what I've historically considered not just "useful," but "me!" It's one thing to declare that that's no longer me, and another to experience it as suddenly alien when it comes up.

The point is that, while I think Somov is right, and have even coached people along just those lines, when I am in the grip of an old pattern I don't experience it as alien to me but rather as exactly how I need to be at that moment. So how do I "set my jailer free" if I don't experience being in jail?

I'm betting that the answer is outside of me. As a coach, I must surrender to being coached; I must find someone I trust completely and bet that when I forget who I am committed to being and think that I'm who I have always been, he or she will know and remind me and return me to how I want to be. In other words the way to set your jailer free is to find someone to aid and abet in the jailbreak.

In my seventh decade of life, I've been actively engaged in my own personal and spiritual development for at least half my life, and I know it's never done, so I'm under no delusion that this will be the end of the story. If (and it really is "if" for me) I beat this particular demon, there will be another, but at least it'll be different.

I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bonanza Column 156 – Nevada Needs Harry Reid

The GOP, both nationally and in Nevada, has Harry Reid in its crosshairs. While I can understand that – they are desperate to break the Democrats' supposed filibuster-proof majority in the Senate – Nevada Republicans' opposition to Reid is not in the best interests of Nevada.

Before we get to the latter, let's look at the "filibuster-proof majority" fantasy. Granted, given Republicans' propensity to vote along party/ideological lines regardless of the merits of the issue, if the GOP had 60 seats, they would have a filibuster-proof majority. Getting the Democrats aligned around any issue is like the proverbial herding of cats – even with 60 seats, Reid is having trouble and will probably fail at putting together 60 votes for a robust public option in the health care reform debate.

But the Republicans aren't going to have 60 seats after the 2010 election, and probably won't even break the Democrats' 60, so that's a moot point.

What is significant is that, regardless of party considerations, Nevada has one senator now. John Ensign is so tainted by his hypocritical actions (see last week's column) that, even if he doesn't resign as he should, he has no voice in the Senate. If Nevada voters are misguided enough to defeat Reid, then in 2010 we will have an impotent senior senator and a junior senator who is, by virtue of his newness, at the bottom of the Senate food chain. Given that, it won't matter which party he comes from, he will have as little influence as the pathetic Ensign.

Whatever you think of Reid's politics on national issues, it's hard to argue that he has not represented Nevada well. He's been a wall on Yucca Mountain, had major accomplishments in energy legislation, sponsored and supported significant health care bills, without even talking about health care reform, extended the Federal deduction for state and local sales taxes, and the list goes on. Space doesn't permit a full list here, but his accomplishments for Nevada are a matter of record.

I'm not saying you should ignore those things he's done or he believes that you disagree with, but I think that, on balance, an objective look at the data will show that, even considering those, on balance he's done a lot of good for Nevada, and a lot of his ability to do that good has been a function of his senior position in the Senate. It would be a mistake to trade this seniority and influence for the sake of adding one faceless name to the GOP numbers.

Nevada Republicans should take the lead among their political brethren in putting the interests of constituents – local, state, and national – above the interests of their party. Only by doing that will they take the GOP back from the domination of mindless, knee-jerk rightists like Limbaugh, Beck, and Palin.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Huffington Post Column 3 – The “Generosity” of Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI has opened the door of the Roman Catholic Church to those in the Anglican Communion (which includes the Episcopal Church in the US, the Church of England, and others) who are disaffected over issues of ordaining gays and women, same-sex marriage, etc. He has even said that these disaffected Anglicans, including married priests, can form their own congregations under the aegis of the Catholic Church and go on as if nothing had happened. Oh – married clergy can't become Catholic Bishops, but that's probably unlikely even for unmarried clergy. (Presumably, given the issues involved, they won't have to deal with what to do with female Anglican Priests, but it would be fun if they did.)

On the face of it, this sounds good – the Pope is willing to have the Catholic Church be a "big tent" to take in those who feel disenfranchised by the progressive views of, particularly, the Episcopal Church in the US. But this is the same Pope who, thus far in his short reign, has on numerous occasions emphasized that while the RC Church is willing to co-exist with other Christian denominations, his commitment that the Catholic way is the only right way is unwavering. So why would he not only reach out to disaffected Anglicans, but even tacitly endorse one of the practices that most distinguishes the two churches, that of allowing clergy to marry?

OK – time out for a credentials check. I'm a Jew who is married to an Episcopalian and who teaches and writes with my close friend Jim Beebe, an Episcopal Priest. I've made an avocational study of how the first century Jewish group called "followers of the way" came to be a new religion called Christianity and how that new religion and its mother religion came to be persecutor and victim, respectively. We are currently working on a book on this subject. None of that makes me an expert on Catholicism, Anglicanism, or much of anything, but I've probably studied more about the two (plus Judaism) than many, so you can take my views for what you think they're worth.

So to the question I raised at the end of the second paragraph. I think the answer is simple – the Pope's move seems to me transparently calculated to sow dissension in the Anglican Communion and to further polarize it. The leaders in the Anglican debate are the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who has taken on the role of trying to resolve it for the benefit of the worldwide Communion, the Presiding Bishop of the United States, Katherine Jefferts Schori, and a number of Anglican Bishops in the US and particularly in Africa. Beginning in the 2008 Lambeth Conference (an every 10 years conference of bishops convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury – 2008 had 800 bishops in attendance and was boycotted by a number of the aforementioned conservative bishops), Williams began to take steps toward finding a solution.

I don't know if a solution can be found. Even if we take the case that the two sides of the Anglican debate are both people of good faith, the polarization is so great that it seems unlikely. Add to that that, in my opinion, the conservative position smells suspiciously of homophobia and sexism cloaked in dubious scripture, and it makes it even less likely. But one of the principles of negotiation is that the more difficult and polarized the parties are, the more you need to cut off alternatives to a solution. If Williams can appeal to both sides as Anglicans and to their commitment to the integrity of the Anglican Communion, he at least has a chance of starting with something both sides can agree on. If the Conservatives in the debate have a place to go and leave the Communion, the chances diminish.

But back to the Pope – why would he do this? Well, maybe, just maybe, he gets two benefits from it – he undermines the integrity of the Anglican Communion and possibly he has a place to move from to bring these disaffected Anglicans gradually into the arms of the RC Church.

In our book, Jim Beebe and I take the view that the institutionalization of Jesus' teachings in dogma and church politics has distorted those teachings beyond recognition. I can't help but find the Pope's "generous" gesture suspect in its piety and more likely to be cynically political.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Tahoe Ticker Column 14: If I ruled the World

Sometimes, usually when I'm driving in the evening after the NPR stations have gone to music, I listen to one or another right-wing talk show. I don't particularly enjoy it, but I feel as a blogger and writer from the left, I need to at least pay attention to what is being said on the right.

I want to live in the world that right-wing radio talkers live in.

That world is run by the left. The left control the media (except for Fox News), professional sports, Academia, and of course the White House. America is run by a president who is all-powerful and runs everything from the government to the press (except for Fox News) and the NFL.

Not only that, but the lefties who are running and ruining the world are really dumb. In point of fact everyone except the talk show host and Rush Limbaugh is dumb to the extent that they don't agree point for point with the speaker, conservative Republicans are dumb because they're actually trying to accomplish something by working with Democrats in Congress, but the dumbest of all are liberal government officials, writers, talk show hosts, etc. Michael Moore is the dumbest of the dumb, along with MSNBC and the Comedy Channel.

But the best part is that the world of these righties is run by Jews and African-Americans, in an unholy alliance with gay men, lesbian women, communists, socialists, nazis, and Muslims. In this world, bankers, insurance executives, and CEOs in general deserve to be richly rewarded as is only their due, and anyone who can't afford insurance, a home, or enough to eat or who is out of a job probably doesn't deserve to live anyhow.

The good part is that as a Jew with lots of African-American, Gay, and Muslim friends and family members (some of whose communist and socialist leanings are very possible), that puts me in charge. So here's the deal – universal health care, amnesty for undocumented aliens, a cap on executive pay, and government food banks for those who can't afford to feed their families.

I have spoken. So let it be written, so let it be done.

Bonanza Column 155 – John Ensign Should Resign, but He Probably Won’t

The "religious right" is neither. Rather, we have seen case after case of people who publicly espouse strict religious/moral/family values while privately doing whatever they want to. This crosses party lines – John Edwards is as egregious an example as Mark Sanford – and it crosses gender preference boundaries – from Mark Foley and Larry Craig to John Ensign.

If you look into this, though, something far more sinister may be afoot. I'm no fan of conspiracy theories, and generally I think they hold as much water as alien abductions and bigfoot sightings. But I recently read a book called "The Family" by Jeff Sharlet that chilled me to the core.

Sharlet is a writer for Vanity Fair and set out to investigate the pervasiveness of the so-called religious right in American politics. He joined a group called "the Family" that has almost a 100-year history in the US, and is in a line of heritage that goes back almost to the revolution. This particular iteration was founded by a Norwegian immigrant pastor who had an epiphany – he decided that mainstream Christianity had it backwards – Jesus' message was not to take care of the downtrodden, but the "uptrodden." Those at the top were put in command by God and we should listen and obey them. (This has not translated into any great outpouring of support for Obama however – apparently God makes mistakes).

The family owns "the house on C Street," where a group of US Senators and Congressmen live together, professing deep Christian faith and morality, and at the same time either engaging in their own and covering up others' extramarital affairs. The former group included our own John Ensign and the now-laughingstock Mark Sanford of South Carolina. To compound the hypocrisy, both have repeatedly refused to resign, even though both called on President Clinton to resign when he got caught in his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Ensign, to the time of this writing, continues to take refuge in legalism, saying "I have done nothing legally wrong." OK, how about ethically? How do you square having an affair with a staffer, using political influence to try to get her cuckolded husband a lobbying job (though legally he can't take such a job until he is off the government payroll for a year), having Ma and Pa Ensign pay almost $100,000 to the couple, presumably to keep them quiet, and the list goes on.

Well, the Family knows how to square it. Men in power are answerable to no one. They were put there by God, and have no accountability except to themselves. Not even to each other. After he was confronted by some of his C Street comrades, Ensign wrote a letter to the woman cutting off the affair and was marched down to Fedex to send it. The next day he called her and told her to ignore the letter, so apparently it's OK to lie to your Family brothers as well as to the rest of us.

When are we as a nation and as voters going to get it? Holier-than-thou types have a very high probability of being hypocrites. I'm not saying all religious people are phonies – far from it – but public officials who loudly and self-righteously proclaim their "faith" seem to keep coming up lousy. There is a reason that the founders went to great lengths to separate church and state, and this is a prime example of it. I'm not condemning them for having "strayed" – the best of us have fallen prey to that – it's being so very sanctimonious about others when they stray and acting as though you have no accountability to anyone. Wasn't it He whom they claim to worship who said "why do you take note of the grain of dust in your brother's eye, but take no note of the bit of wood which is in your eye?"

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Huffington Post Column 1: Standing up to the Lies

David Letterman slept with one or more women who worked for him on his show. Threatened with extortion, he went on his show, told the audience what happened with directness, candor, and as much dignity as one can muster when (literally) caught with one's pants down.

David Letterman is an entertainer, a comedian. He's not accountable to the public for anything other than making us laugh. He could have survived this in any number of ways (see Polanski, Roman), he could have let it blow over, he could have blustered and denied, he could have paid the guy off. He didn't do any of these things – he just took responsibility and didn't justify a thing.

John Ensign (R-NV) had an affair with a staffer while employing her husband. He tried to use political influence to find a job for the husband while the affair was going on, he had his parents pay almost $100,000 to his paramour and her husband, and to this day insists on splitting legal hairs ("I did nothing that was legally wrong") in an attempt to evade responsibility for his actions.

John Ensign is a United States Senator. He is supposed to be in Washington to serve his constituents (of which I am one) and to participate in governing the country at the highest level of the Legislative Branch. He is also part of a clique of Senators and Representatives who belong to "The Family," a clandestine group that believes that their take on Christianity puts them above the Constitution and above accountability to anyone but each other, and a leading "family values" Conservative.

When did entertainers become more responsible and accountable than elected representatives?

Apparently some of our elected representatives have decided that their job is to advance their and their friends' views of what should be done rather than to represent their constituents' views. John Boehner (R-OH) says that no one has told him they want a public option in health care reform, and from that he concludes that "[the public option] is about as popular as a garlic milkshake." Even if we accept that that statement is true – no one has said those words to Rep. Boehner – poll after poll has shown that 70 to 80% of Americans support some form of public option, so Mr. Boehner's statement is disingenuous at best.

President Obama travelled to Copenhagen to carry the bid by Chicago and the United States for the 2016 Olympic Games. The IOC voted to send the games to Rio. Within minutes Rush Limbaugh, Michael Steele, and others triumphantly declare this a defeat for the President. Limbaugh makes the egregiously false statement that the President has spent eight months traveling all over the world telling people how terrible America is, so "why would they want to send the games to someplace that sucks so bad?" In point of fact, President Obama has spent eight months trying to restore the reputation of America after it was all but destroyed by eight years of George Bush.

I guess not all entertainers are responsible and accountable.

I could go on with example after example of irresponsibility, lack of accountability, and mendacity on the part of our public officials and others such as Limbaugh, Beck, and Steele who have appointed themselves public voices, but you've heard it all. My question is when did we, as a nation, become numbed to this?

Where is the Joseph Welch who will stand up and say "Have you no shame, sir? Have you no decency?" Surely Tail-gunner Joe McCarthy was scarier than Ensign, Limbaugh, et al., so why has no one stood up to them?

Or let's make it more local – when that person down the street or down the hall gives you the benefit of their sincere view that Obama was born in Kenya or that health care reform will mean killing grandma, why do we not call them out for the idiot that they are?

Have we come to the point where we just accept this, or is it just that we are so committed to not making waves that we won't confront blatant lying and hypocrisy? In either case we are in grave danger. Remember the classic statement by Martin Niemoller, a Lutheran Pastor who who was arrested by the Gestapo in 1938 and interned in Dachau until 1945:

In Germany, the Nazis first came for the communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak for me.

This is a no-kidding crucial situation. Unless someone will stand up and (metaphorically) shout "you lie!" to those who are lying, we may find one day that there is no one left to speak for us.

Huffington Post Column 2: The MBTI of the USA

If you've been around the business world you are familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) - by means of a relatively short set of questions it comes up with a "type" based on four bipolar dimensions:

  • Extraversion - Intraversion - basically how you renew your energy - from outside (other people) or by going inside.
  • Sensing - Intuition - how you process information
  • Thinking - Feeling - the basis on which you make decisions
  • Judging - Perceiving - how you make sense of the world

From these eight poles you get a four letter profile - E - I, S - N (the I was taken), T - F, and J - P. I, for example am ENTJ and from that, someone who is versed in the MBTI can draw a host of inferences about me.

The remarkable thing about the MBTI is how uncannily accurate and consistent it is. I recently took an abbreviated version on Facebook - just about eight questions - and it came up ENTJ just like the full version. Most people find it at least about 80% accurate, usually better.

So what about us as a nation? As I thought about it, I decided that the USA is ENFJ

  • Extraverted - we draw our energy as a people from outside; isolationism has never really gained a foothold here.
  • Intution - we trust interrelationships, theories, and future possibilities more than we do facts, details, and present realities.
  • Feeling - we like our decisions to create harmony even if they're not logical and objective - more McCoy than Spock.
  • Judging - we orient to the world by making decisions quickly and sticking to them.

One standard work on the MBTI (Working Together by Isachsen and Behrens) calls ENFJ "the Mentor." They describe the Mentor as responsive and responsible, popular and sociable, charismatic, communicative, and warmly enthusiastic.

The weakness of ENFJ is in taking care of oneself and in taking care of details. ENFJ's don't value objectivity overmuch and aren't good at setting priorities and sticking to them. We are frustrated, as a people, by cold, impersonal logic, by being excluded, and by criticism and lack of appreciation. We value cooperation, harmony, and self-determination, and we irritate others by being overly emotional, moralistic, and wanting to be seen as knowing everything.

Viewed in this way, the unhappiness of most Americans with the Bush years makes sense - how Bush/Cheney wanted us to be goes against our national character - isolationist, ignoring reality (why else would we have gone to war in Iraq when the enemy was funded by Bush's friends the Saudis?), making decisions that turned the world against us and sticking to unpopular or illogical choices (climate change, health care, torture, Guantanamo).

Conversely, when you look from here Obama's Nobel Prize makes sense. After eight year of irritating the rest of the world, we now have a President who is an expression of our national character - open, optimistic, communicative, warm, charismatic. We are once again in relationship with others and with ourselves, and oriented toward collaboration and harmony.

As Polonius said, "to thine own self be true, and it follows as the night the day thou canst be false to no man." Maybe he had something there

Friday, October 09, 2009

Tahoe Ticker Column 13: The People of Health Insurance

As I write this I've just finished a 3-day workshop with 40 mid- to upper-level managers of one of the biggest health insurance companies in the US. Since April I've done 4 of these as well as other work here, and have met a lot of these people, and that has affected my view of issues of health care reform greatly.

Don't get me wrong – I'm still solidly for universal health care and, at the very least, the public option. What's changed, though, is that, having worked intensively with these people I really can't abide the demonization of the insurance industry that I hear from others who share my views.

I guess it's possible that there are greedy, rapacious executives who are out to screw the public in the name of outrageous profits, but I haven't met them. I've watched the CEO of this company – a guy who is often quoted in the debate and who is well known in the industry and in Washington – talk with the managers I work with and take their questions, and I believe he's for real when he says he is out to (a) provide the best service to their customers (b)provide that at an affordable price and (c)find a national solution that works for everyone and provides health care for all.

At the end of each 3-day program we ask the participants to write a "letter from the future" based on the idea that it's three years from now and they and the company have achieved success beyond their wildest dreams. None – that's not one – of the 150 people I've worked with so far has written about profits, market share, or denying claims. They write about health, conquering obesity and smoking, and wellness.

Please don't bother writing in to tell me I'm na├»ve or that I've been coopted unless you've spent as many days as I have interacting as intimately with these people as I do. I know everything that's wrong with business, the capitalist system in general and the health care industry in particular. So do they – when we ask them, before the program, to assess how the company is doing in terms of trust and working with their customers and health care providers, they invariably say "I'm doing well, my immediate work group is doing OK (though not as well as I am individually), and the company is doing terribly." They don't trust "the organization" any more than you or I do, but they are committed to fixing it and to creating a real partnership with customers and providers.

My point is there is no enemy in this fight except maybe those lawmakers and lobbyists who, for whatever reason, seem to think it's their job to take an extreme position and hold it. Nothing is gained by demonizing the people in the industry; like the Beatles' "Nowhere Man," they're a lot like you and me.