Monday, September 27, 2010


On my other blog today, I put some powerful quotes I think can be life-changing.
I mentioned that I kept a composition book filled with quotes from among the 1000 books I read during my nearly 12 years in prison. This, along with the dozen or so legal pads I used as journals, will provide source material for several books in the future, as will a number of the 110 posts I've so far written for this blog, and the several dozen for my other, newer blogsite.

In looking over some of these quotes, I found the following five that I really like and which I found inspiriting, one of my favorite words. It is defined as "to fill with spirit," and, "to cheerfully encourage."

1. "You must understand the whole of life, not just one little part of it. That is why you must read, that is why you must look at the skies, that is why you must sing and dance, and write poems, and suffer; and understand, for all that is life."

2. "Wisdom lies in engaging the life you have been given as fully and courageously as possible and not letting go until you find the unknown blessing that is in everything."
Rachel Naomi Remen

3. "Most of us come from the past, and we re-create the present. Those who excel come from the future, their vision, their mission, and it pulls them forward."
J.F. Freedman

4. "We wouldn't care so much what people thought of us if we knew how seldom they did."
John Lanchester

5. "We don't forget. Our heads may be small, but they are as full of memories as the sky may sometimes be full of swarming bees. Thousands and thousands of memories, of smells, of places, of little things that happened to us and which come back, unexpectedly, to remind us who we are."
Alexander McCall Smith

And a bonus quote that, like the preceding five, can stir our thoughts and give us new fuel for considering what constitutes a life well lived and results worth celebrating.

"I am very impressed with the mind's ability to make a complete shift,
to keep a corner free."
Madeleine L'Engle

Are you keeping a corner of your mind free--for new ideas, new adventures in consciousness, even a new you?

Sunday, September 19, 2010


I suppose you could say of me, "once a newsman, always a newsman." Which is why I often, in the past twenty years, have found myself gritting my teeth at blatant distortions and underreporting, and journalistic malfeasance. And I'm not talking about Fox News, which deserves its own place in the Journalism Hall of Shame. No, I'm talking about the other major network newscasts, where reports often totally ignore historical perspective and fact checking.

When I started my broadcasting career in the 1960s, journalists were expected to do their homework before going on the air. One of the few who sticks to that code of honor is NBC's Andrea Mitchell, who was a friend and colleague at KYW Newsradio in Philadelphia. Perhaps it's the circumstances of the 24 hour news cycle that dictates little or no preparation before something is reported and labeled as a "fact" with little evidence that this is really so. But the pressures of getting stuff on the air and filling all that space is no excuse for the total lapse in journalistic integrity visible throughout the media.

Maybe it even goes back to the major deficiencies in today's education standards, with less an emphasis on American History, World History, Geography, Social Studies. These are not considered the "money courses" designed to help students eventually earn a living--unless, of course, they want to become news people.

And with general standards of quality so shoddy, it is no wonder that mere negligence has evolved into propagandizing and misrepresentation. Take Charles Krauthammer of Fox News, The Washington Post, and various other media outlets. I find him interesting and entertaining, I'll admit. He's actually a psychiatrist, and the fact he is confined to a wheelchair, which is rarely apparent ala FDR, is a testament to his courage, which I do admire him for. He is one of the more influential voices of the right, though I much prefer the non-shoot-from-the-hip style of David Brooks. He is also a solipsist, which has become one of my favorite words since I first discovered it in prison in 1997. It's the attitude that you are the only person in the world, at least the only person you can be sure exists. It is a quality often found in habitual criminals and famous pundits.

An example: On August 13th, in The Washington Post, Krauthammer wrote a column titled, "Sacrilege At Ground Zero," in which he stated:
"When recently asked whether Hamas is a terrorist organization, Imam Rauf replied, 'I'm not a politician...the issue of terrorism is a very complex question.'" Talking about leaving important stuff out. But this is part of the narrative right wing opponents of the New York Muslim Center known as Cordoba want us to believe, that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is favorably inclined towards and refuses to condemn Hamas. But I just watched the video of Iman Rauf's interview with Chistiane Amanpour on ABC's This Week, in which the Iman clearly states, "Whoever commits terrorist acts, I condemn--and Hamas has committed terrorist acts."

And you never hear the right wing commentators (and to be fair, it's also underplayed in mainstream media) refer to the Imam's Sufism. He is a Sufi, the mystical form of Islam, and a hated enemy of radical Muslims. In fact, just about a month before the Krauthammer article equating Iman Rauf with the radical extremists, a group of them blew up the Data Darbar Sufi mosque in Pakistan, 42 people were killed, and there have been many such attacks.

I get little indication that the people reporting on opposition to the center near Ground Zero even know what a Sufi is. I've long been an admirer of that tradition, going back to attending dance classes based on Sufism at the Unitarian Church in Miami in the 1970s. And I've often used Sufi stories and jokes, usually termed Sufi Tales, in my seminars. My longtime dear friend, Rupa Cousins, actually is a student of Sufism (while still considering herself a Jew and honoring that tradition). She is trained in one of that discipline's most notable cultural contributions, the dancing turn of the Mevlevi Sufi Tradition (Whirling Dervish) of Turkey, which traces back to the spiritual teachings of noted 13th century Persian poet and mystic, Rumi . Rupa also knows Imam Rauf and his reputation as a peacemaker over a number of years due to her own work as a peace activist and interfaith advocate.

The Imam is a major mover and shaker in interfaith activities between Muslims and people of other faiths. And he is a devout American, just returning from one of a number of diplomatic missions overseas sponsored by the U.S. State Department. One can have serious concerns about the symbolism of a Muslim Center two blocks from Ground Zero without demonizing the man or inciting violent reaction by lying about his spiritual discipline or politics.

Even the Iman says he wouldn't have gone ahead with the proposed location if he had known all the controversy it would stir up. He says he is a man of peace, not controversy. But any decision must be carefully thought out, as moving it could inflame irrational radical reaction around the world.

If this really is to be a center of interfaith cooperation, designed to show the Muslim world that Americans respect their religion and to show non-Muslim Americans that only a handful of the billion followers of Islam are violent nutjobs, then perhaps it belongs close to Ground Zero, and some have even suggested it should be moved closer, become a part of the rebuilt World Trade Center.

There is no excuse for ignorance in reporting, especially on sensitive and controversial issues. And I'll finish with a Sufi story collected by Iries Shah that Charles Krauthammer should read:
One guru tells another, "Always say things that cannot be checked." "Why?" asks the second guru. "Because," replies the first guru, "if you say 'Mars is peopled by millions of undiscernible beings, and I have met them,' people will not dispute it. But if you say, 'It is a nice day today,' some fool will always reply, 'But not as nice as it was yesterday'".

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Saturday, September 11, 2010


On another anniversary of 9/11, I am reminded of the Hebrew word L'Chaim, translated as "To Life!"

On that infamous day itself in 2001, I found out about 
the attacks as I was walking along a corridor in Building 3 of Folsom State Prison, on my way to my class at the vocational printing shop, where I was mostly trying to learn some computer skills. There was a shout from one of the cells, and a fellow inmate who also attended the class but had not had his cell opened for release yet, called me over as the small TV set in his cell had just shown the first plane flying into the World Trade Center. He was KW from Orange County and later would have an amazing story of miraculous escape to share. 

I continued on to the print shop and one of the computer experts had converted the antiquated large screen (we had no Internet access, of course) to a local TV channel and we watched in shock as the second plane crashed, and later as the buildings themselves came down. That period between the crashes and the unexpected collapse of the World Trade Center towers reminded me of the eye of a hurricane, with a terrible event, then reacting to it, then an even more terrible event transpired.

Of course, I was living in an isolated world back then, and the only real impact on my life was that my Jordanian friend, Abdullah, with whom I had enjoyed many heated debates over the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, disappeared from the print shop and Folsom itself. All the Arabs were taken away, I presume for their own protection. All prison inmates throughout California and probably the U.S., were put on a 24 hour lockdown that morning.

And then KW shared the story of his aunt. She was a highly regarded stockbroker for EF Hutton, working in upper floors of the World Trade Center. During visits to her daughter in Orange County, she faxed some work back to New York from a local office. The local branch offered her a job. It meant a pay cut, but her daughter was expecting her first grandchild, and she thought it would feel good to be nearby, so she accepted. 
That was just a few months before 9/11, and all her former co-workers died in the collapse of the towers.

And then, when I talked to a friend in New York, making sure she was okay, she had her own amazing tale of fortuitous escape. A friend of hers from California flew out on September 10th, on the red eye, for an important breakfast meeting at the World Trade Center. But because of jet lag, she overslept, not hearing her alarm go off. She was very upset about missing the appointment until she turned on the TV and saw how narrowly she had avoided a fiery death.

I'm sure there are lots more stories of such close calls, and in fact have thought it would make a great inspiring book.
It is unfortunate that we have to constantly be reminded how very blessed we all are to have survived the trials and tribulations and disasters all around us. Every minute of every day is deserving of our raising a glass and shouting L'Chaim!