Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Blog Post That Wasn't Posted.

Oops, you can't read it because it's not here.  Well, there are reasons for that.  If you didn't already get an emailed copy, comment with your email address and I'll send it to you.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

I Got Nothin'.

Oh, of course I got somethin'.  I always churn out a blog post while I'm sitting here at Afrah, munching on pita bread and drinking lemonade while I type--usually very fast--on my laptop or my Nook. (Tonight: Laptop. And the fingers were happy.)  I just sometimes don't know what I'm going to come up with until I'm already here.  I went looking for an update on the Alicia Beltran case, but I couldn't find anything.  Not sure there's even a hearing set.  Now that the government's reopened, there's no point in airing my plan for all the furloughed employees to march into Washington armed with, I dunno, brooms and mops and stuff and shutter every single restaurant and pizza-delivery location within 10 miles of the Capitol Building.  (That'd be interesting, watching John Boehner chow down on a PBJ he'd made in his kitchen that morning.  Or that his houseboy made for him, more like.)  And I guess I could brag that @rubenagency favorited my tweets about how much it must suck to be a literary agent and have to actually READ all those hundreds of earnest letters that arrive from aspiring authors every day, but since I kind of had him in particular in mind, it's not that far of a stretch.  

Then, on the way here, the DJ on 98.7 gives me an idea: Misquoting Shakespeare.

People, you can take the English major out of Arizona State before she Makes the Big Mistake and goes to grad school, but you can't get the Bard out of her head.  No way.  Nohow.  Never.  It's too late by then.  And the next time I hear somebody say "First thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" or "Money is the root of all evil," I'll probably blow a blood vessel.  I mean, I get it, okay?  When you make that statement about killing all the lawyers, it sounds really cool, and hip, and, I dunno, reactionary, somehow.  But when you throw in the context and realize that the guy who said it, Dick the Butcher, was saying it to impress the rebel Jack Cade, and that Jack wanted to break down law and order and create chaos where there was once a civilized society so he could crown himself King, well--not as hip, is it?  In fact, killing all the lawyers starts to sound like a bad thing.

And "Money is the root of all evil"--puh-lease.  Numero uno, the quote is "The love of money is the root of all evil,"  which makes a lot more sense in the context of the story that follows.  Numero two-o, that's not even Shakespeare.  It's Chaucer, you illiterate moron.  Chaucer died about 160 years before Shakespeare was even born, and left us with the Canterbury Tales and a lot of other weird stuff that's written in Old English and is harder than hell to understand.  Fun when translated, though.  Also, Chaucer was to literature what Michelangelo was to painting and sculpture.  Chaucer's original plan for the Canterbury Tales assumed he'd live at least ten thousand years and be writing right up through the last day of the last one.  Unfortunately, he died at the age of 46, like a lot of people did in his time.  

Speaking of the love of money, I would love some money.  In fact, if somebody wanted to give me an Ativan, a cup of very strong hot chocolate and, oh, money, that would be awesome.  (I'd settle for the hot chocolate.)  Last year, we were clobbered with a new roof (our share: $3,500.00), new pipes under the house ($3,700.00), a new transmission thingy (I never know the names of these thingies; just how much they cost.  This one was $2,500.00), a washing machine, a stove/range, and I forget what all else but none of it was cheap.  And yeah, we had a savings account, but had. Past tense.  Is gone.  And unfortunately, it's not like life's little disasters stop pouncing on you just because you are broke.  

Take the pipes under the house.  Please.  Seriously; we had a leak in our new pipes, and when the guy came to fix it, he told us that we had a Serious Problem with our sewer line that went out to the city system.  As in, dig it up, yank it out and put in a new one.  Cost:  Around $7k, not counting however much it costs to stay at a hotel for a few days because we don't have water.  Well, that was a fascinating conversation.  Then a few weeks ago we had another leak, another guy came out, and told us we had an equally Serious Problem with the water pipes that came in from the city system.  They, too, need to be dug up and replaced, and the price just went up to $12k (maybe only 11 if we have both that and the sewer line done at the same time).  Apparently the new pipes under the house are having trouble holding on to the old pipes that come and go.  The fault lies in the old pipes, which, let's face it, are pushing 60.  

For the record, we only paid $94k for the whole house.

So I guess I'm, I dunno, getting a Saturday job or something.  Maybe I'll turn tricks on Harry Hines Boulevard.  Maybe I'll use my exacting knowledge of chemistry to make the best crystal meth in the DFW metro area, and it'll quickly become popular and sell well and--

Hey.  That'd make a good TV show.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Buddhist Quotes The Bible

"And [Jesus] said: 'Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'"

--Matthew 18:3

Some of you guys may not know this, but I used to run with a Lutheran street gang. Went to Sunday school for ten frick'n years, thankewverymuch, and two years' worth of Confirmation classes before the Big Day.  Comes in handy when I want to argue with Fundamentalists, which I don't do much of these days, and for cultural subreferencing, there's really no substitute (except maybe Greek mythology; Kellum and I can debate that sometime and y'all can vote.)  

But I will admit to a completely ridiculous fondness for the book of Matthew.  This is Jesus at his most awesome and quotable (outside the gospel of Thomas, which, oops, you haven't read because it's not in there. Gosh.) This is the story, as well-told as you're going to get outside of the Nag Hammadi Library. This here's he temple of the money changers, the triumphant ride into Jerusalem, the dark days before the Crucifixion and all the wild stuff that happened after. I mean, it'd make a good movie (oh, wait, it did).  And it's full of quotable Jesusness that, when pondered, often lead to entirely different meanings than the ones they taught you in Sunday school. (Twelve years.  Twelve years. And it didn't take.  Truly, I'm ill.)

Let's take St. Paul, for example.  No, he's not my favorite example, just the first one I thought of.  In one of the letters to Thessalonia he says something like, "Suffer a woman not to teach, but to remain silent in the church."  For centuries this line has been used to shut women up when they had problems with how a church was run, and was probably the justification to shut women out  of the priesthood. But if you read the context, and consider who the guy was talking to, it sounds a lot more like he's saying, "Men (he's talking to men), don't expect your women to lead in the temple; what with raising your kids and keeping you dressed and fed, they have plenty to do already.  Time to man up and be the leaders you're supposed to be."  Yeah, not exactly a popular sentiment there.  But that's what I get out of it.  It doesn't make St. Paul any less of an ass, though. 

Back to our friend Jesus.  I have no problem with Jesus. Guy was cool. Long haired radical, wanted his followers to do what was right instead of what was popular, scared hell out of the ruling class and coined the phrase, "Get thee behind me, S*t*n." Jesus is still all right with me. (Oh yeah.)  I just happen to be a Buddhist, is all.  

So I saw this sculpture today of Jesus and the little children and it suddenly hit me, like it sometimes does totally out of context and with no warning, that our collective understanding of Matthew 18:3 is totally wrong.  We assume Jesus meant that in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven when we die, we have to have faith like little children believe in Santa Claus, I guess.  Be totally convinced with no evidence whatever that God loves us and will see us on the other side.  But I thought, Hey. What if Jesus isn't talking about after we die? What if he's talking about the way we live?

Bear with me here because I'm gonna get all Buddhist-y on ya.  There are Buddhists, and I are one, who would tell you that heaven and hell are right here.  We create them every day, and every day we decide which one we are going to live in.  (And, to some extent, which one we're going to create for other people.) In the simplest terms possible, heaven is the present moment.  Heaven is when we are so focused on what's going on right now, right here in front of us, that we forget about the mortgage payment and the dress for Dinah's wedding and those 15 pounds we need to lose.  When all we experience is the cute baby who's making faces at us or the pretty lady in the copper-colored skirt or the taste of hot Starbucks coffee on a rainy day.  You know. Totally absorbed.  Like little children.

And hell?  Well, hell is--all those other moments.

Take right this second, for example.  There's a pretty lady next to me in a  copper-colored skirt - well, copper and black, actually.  She's Indian and the skirt looks fantastic on her.  It's light cotton but there's a lot of it and when she moves it seems to fly along around her.  I'm not wishing I had a skirt like it or despairing of ever being as pretty as her or thinking that I need to go clothes shopping.  I am admiring the skirt.  And I am (gasp!) happy.

Yeah, it only lasts a second.  But so what.  There"ll be another one.  Yep, here it comes; fat giggly baby, chewing on her fist and making faces and waving.  And then I'm back into this blog post, which it feels like I've been working on for days now.

If you're a Buddhist, this is what you're shooting for.  Not isolated moments of being mindfully absorbed in whatever you're doing, but being mindfully absorbed in whatever you're doing all the time. I don't know anyone who's been there, though I hear Thich Nhat Hanh has done it.  And once, at work, I had a moment where everything suddenly sharpened in color and the living beings all kind of glowed a little and I started laughing because the whole world had always been that way and I just hadn't ever noticed it before. And I kind of thought, "Oh, is that all?" and then it stopped happening and I am not describing this very well, but anyway, it was nifty.

I bet Jesus felt that way almost all the time.  I think if he were still around, he would look at us like we were crazy and say, "Guys, the miracle isn't me.  The miracle is that all of you can do it, too." 

Which is why you meditate, people.  And if you don't, you can always start.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Somebody Find Toto

Well, ya cain't say I didn't warn ya.  It was on this spot right here, only a few short months ago, that I told you what would be happening after pregnant women were banned from all the big cities.  Being caught in a metropolis with a bun in the oven will lead to an immediate charge of felonious breathing, as I think Margaret Atwood would call it.  Or reckless endangerment through inhalation of toxic gases.  Imagine, having the nerve, the unremitting gall to walk through New York or Boston or San Francisco, while pregnant, and knowingly inhale air known to be toxic to fetuses.  No different than Utah's skiing-while-pregnant ban or Florida's preborn human sun exposure law.  Nope.  We're having no more of these scandals.  I'm sorry, but that's it.  We're just gonna send them all to Kansas.

Why?  Because pregnant women are irresponsible and only take their own selfish feelings and demands for liberty into consideration.  Because in spite of all the scientific evidence that says women only exist as containers for preborn babies, there's always one or two that have to hop up and down and squawk about their "personhood" and their "rights."  Because Kansas is the only place that's safe.  Sorry, everybody in Wichita and Topeka and Olathe, but you're going to have company.  A lot of it.  For the  next nine months.

Think of it.  Millions of women packed onto Greyhound buses without a nay-say or maybe as soon as that little stick turns blue.  Shipped from around the country to the safest state in the Union (unless there's a tornado).  No skiing, no surfing, no sunbathing, no sex or drugs or alcohol.  (Well, there is that little crystal meth problem, but we'll get rid of that; we'll just jack up the sentences for possession and manufacturing and everybody'll be scared and, you know, just stop making and selling the stuff.) Nine months of perfect safety for the fetuses and their containers and then all the babies will be born healthy!  And that's what we want, isn't it?

Ah, perhaps you think I exaggerate. Or perhaps you think I'm off my proverbial rocker.  Well, you could be right about that second thing, but I'm afraid I am not exaggerating.  Take a look at this lawsuit, recently filed in Federal Court by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (and ponder, for a moment, why we even need such an advocacy.  Get back to me on that, will you?) Go down to the first orange link on the page.  Then read that sucker.  Yes, I know it's fifty-odd pages long. Read it anyway.  If you're anything like me, you won't be able to put it down.

Brief recap of the facts:  Alicia Beltran, a woman and, by definition, a human being, sought prenatal care at a local clinic in Milwaukee.  She confidentially told the doctor that she had been treated for prescription drug abuse and had been taking Suboxone, a pain medication.  She'd stopped taking it because she found out she was pregnant.  A few days later, five policemen came to her house and arrested her.  She was handcuffed, shackled and taken to a court hearing that she knew nothing about. An attorney had been appointed to represent the interests of her 14-week-old fetus.  (I am not making this up.  It's all in the lawsuit.  Go back and read it again.)  There was, however, no attorney appointed to represent Alicia Beltran, the living, breathing, already born woman.  With no testimony from any medical experts whatsoever and with Ms. Beltran not allowed to speak, the judge ordered her involuntarily committed to an inpatient drug treatment program two hours away from her family.  She has been a prisoner there since July 13, 2013.

Now, let's consider this for a second.

It is not illegal to take a prescription drug.

It is not illegal to refuse medical treatment.

It is not illegal to seek another medical opinion.

It is illegal for a doctor to release information about a patient without that patient's consent to a third party.  The law that governs that kind of conduct is called HIPPA.  It is also highly unethical for a doctor to release information given to him or her under the doctor-patient privilege, which is what happened here.

It is illegal to use intimidation or threats under color of authority, such as sending a social worker to someone's house and threatening that someone with losing custody of her children, to get that person to do something that you want. It was illegal for the doctor to send the social worker out there and it was illegal of the social worker to go.

It is very very illegal to kidnap a woman from her house, haul her away in chains, and lock her up someplace.  Yet somehow, Alicia Beltran needs a Federal lawsuit to get her out of a situation that never should have happened in the first place.

I can hear some of you thinking.  (Psychic powers.  I has 'em.)  And what I can hear some of you thinking is along the lines of "But what if she relapses and goes back on the drugs?  That would be bad for her baby, so it's better if she stays locked up until she gives birth."



Okay. Let's try this.  Somebody grabs you off the street, shackles you, throws you into a car, drives you to what's obviously a prison and surrounds you with police officers.  After several hours you finally get into what looks like a courtroom and there's a judge and you think, "Oh thank God, now we can clear up this mix-up," because obviously there's been one, right?  And then the judge winks at the guys who kidnapped you and says, "It's okay, boys.  She's pregnant."

Guess what.  Illegal behavior is illegal behavior whether the victim is pregnant or not.  Kidnapping is illegal,  Being addicted to a substance is not illegal.  Trying to quit the addictive substance on your own, without some nice rehab counselor holding your hand every step of the way, is not illegal.

No one ever offered any evidence that Alicia Beltran was using drugs.  No one tested her for drug use.  No one, as far as I can tell, even bothered to ask her, "Hey.  Pop any Suboxone today?"  Even if they had, though, that wouldn't justify anything that happened.  Again, being a drug addict is not illegal.

In fact, the law treats pregnant people and nonpregnant people almost exactly the same way.  There are a few exceptions for pregnant people who are under 18, but not many.  It is legal for a pregnant woman to drink.  It is legal for a pregnant woman to go skiing.  It is legal for a pregnant woman to go skydiving, go Rocky Mountain climbing, go 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu.  And it is illegal for a pregnant woman to do drugs, only insofar as it's illegal for anyone else to use drugs.

Believe me, if we could outlaw stupid behavior, we'd need enough prisons to fill the entire state of Texas.

It burns me up that more news agencies aren't following this story.  Why CNN and NBC aren't pounding on the doors of Casa Clare, demanding to speak to Alicia Beltran.  Why isn'lt Amnesty International protesting outside on the sidewalk? Where's the ACLU, when you really need them? Why aren't sixteen helicopters circling that rehab facility 24/7, demanding to know what the hell is going on? Because the last time I Googled it - 30 seconds ago - I found one story on Reuters and it was under a headline about Democrats and the shutdown.

Well, I intend to make some noise.  Do what I can to get some attention.  Send this blog post to people I know who will give a damn and might even write about it.  I may be a Buddhist with a Nook at a table at Afrah, but by God, you don't want to piss me off. I type mean when I'm mad.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Fair's Fair

So it's October in Texas.  The brief pause between the blast furnace and the deep freeze, that rare time when windows can be opened, screen doors actually have a function and nobody has to dress in layers to go to work.  (Except Joan. Sorry about  that, Joan.)  Spooky decorations start to show up in windows -- you know, Santa Clauses, reindeer, credit card offers.  And out there in Fair Park, that shining Art Deco jewel of weird 1920s buildings and half-naked silver sculptures, it's time once again for the Texas State Fair.

What can I say about a place where you can get fleeced seventeen different ways in two hours for the low, low admission fee of $17?  Where you can stuff yourself with things like deep fried Oreos and Cuban sandwich rolls and then yark it all up on a roller coaster or a pirate ship or maybe a Tilt-A-Whirl? Where you can go to a football game (It's Texas, people. Football is the state religion.) see a band, marvel at arts and crafts, and check out everything new in the raising of steers and chickens?  I mean, you gotta go.  If you live within 200 miles of Dallas, you need to get out here and take a look at--well, everything, basically.

I go, and while I can't always say I enjoy myself, I certainly have a time.  This time around, I was accosted by a guy who was hawking some kind of emollient wrinkle cream.  I mean he literally grabbed me by the arm and started slathering this gunk on me, talking a mile a minute about what I used to hide my laugh lines (whatever those are).  I was able to extricate my arm by telling him I'm allergic to just about every cosmetic ever made, and that if I started breaking out in hives  from his skin cream I'd have to sue him, everybody who looked like him, his firstborns down to the seventh generation and the ugly woman standing there in the booth, whoever she was.  Oh, and I didn't buy any of the skin cream, either.

We were out of the exhibit hall and headed toward even more trouble before I realized something rather remarkable had just happened there. We got into a confrontation, we extricated ourselves from said conversation, and while a few harsh words were exchanged, nobody got hurt.  There was once a time, and it was not that long ago, when my first instinct would have been to deck the guy. And I'm thinking, since he assaulted me first, that I might have even gotten away with it.  But who wants to spend their time at the Fair explaining Texas's self defense laws to generally clueless security guards and sheriff's deputies?  If they wanted to be lawyers they woulda gone to law school.  Anyway, I'm clearly a menace.  Arrest 'em all and let Judge Judy sort 'em out.

Which brings us to the only subject allowed in America at this time:  The Government Shutdown.  Sorry, we don't care about aliens landing in Mexico or cold fusion discovered in the Nevada desert.  Even the fossils in Africa that conclusively prove we are genetic remnants of Bigfoot are gonna get two inches under "Dear Abby."  It's all about the shutdown.  The government has malfunctioned and we can't find Control Alt Delete.

When you think about it, this is about as silly as it gets. One side is still legislating a bill that was passed three years ago, went to the Supreme Court, passed, and is mostly in effect. The other side is intransigent, but then I think it's earned the right to be.  Because what it's standing for, basically, is the lives of millions of people.  Lives that  might be cut short, or will certainly suffer in quality, if they can't access quality medical care.

That's what this is about.  Let's just let that sink in for a second.  One side wants to get  people access to quality health care, and that outrageous notion has shut down the entire government.

Look, I don't care who you did or didn't vote for.  Take a look at this situation and tell me how I should see it any other way.  One side wants to block poor people from getting health care.  Oh, sure, they can go to the ER, but that's no substitute for quality medical care from a physician who knows your history.  Oh, and the ER is incredibly expensive.  Who's going to pay for it? Us.  We can't afford Obamacare? Okay, how do we afford the billions of dollars in unpaid hospital bills every year? Seriously, explain it to me.  I'll listen.  If you sound like you know what you're talking about, I'll even run you as a guest post.

But good luck with that.  Because even the Republicans I know are embarrassed by what's going on at Capitol Hill.  It's about poor people getting quality health care.  And the people opposed to that, I guess, just would rather the poor would, I dunno, up and die already.