Twentieth Anniversary–9/11/2001 Remembered

It’s been twenty years since the worst terrorist attacks on the US in its history. The World Trade Center twin towers fell. The Pentagon suffered deadly harm. A similar attack on the Capitol failed only through the heroism of passengers that rushed the cabin of the plane flown by minions of Osama Bin Laden.

In the immediate aftermath of the these horrible events, political division was put on pause for eighteen months. Since then, the antipathy between Democrats and Republicans has grown. Given my own personal determinations to work on ending the cultural and political divide, I will make no further mention of it on this day.

Instead, I salute those first responders who did what they could to save lives. Many of whom, themselves, fell ill or died as a result of exposure to ash, fumes and toxic chemicals. Second and third responders, if you will, worked to rehabilitate injured survivors. Others supported the remembrance of the dead through memorials.

There are countless observances of this anniversary in person or on various media today. For myself and my family, there is only one that I can contribute. You who have been to this blog before, may have seen comments in 2008, 2011, 2014 and 2018.  All have mentioned the good fortune that protected my beloved wife from getting a well-deserved job at the Pentagon–in a section at or near the impact of the plane.

Not luck or coincidence, but her Buddhist practice, and mine, saved her life.  She really should have got the promotion. Coworkers were certain of that. It was several years later that the plane struck. The person who got the job died in the attack–as did the man who hired her. Others died as well. One, who went out on a smoke break outside the building, didn’t. Such is karma.

I watched all of the news coverage from a TV in my agency director’s office with others. He was away. Everyone at my wife’s office, a few miles away, were allowed to leave within a short time after the Pentagon event. I, 25 miles away elsewhere in Northern Virginia, could also have gone home. Most people did. After talking with her, I stayed and worked on a budget due in a couple weeks, knowing that she would be home for our teenage children let out from school.

It seems unlikely, improbable–difficult to conceive of restoring a faith in American democracy in this decade. Yet it is essential if the nation is to survive not another attack from without but one from within. On this day, I will rededicate my Buddhist practice to that end.

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Eric Clapton–Whinger at Large

So, he had bad reactions to the Astra Zeneca vaccine. Oh, boo hoo. Eric Clapton didn’t get COVID, did he? If he did, in his mid-seventies, the virus might well have been fatal. At the least, he could have suffered far worse effects than he got from the vaccine—permanent ones perhaps.

Around the world, millions have died or are suffering from long-COVID. For his brief episode of reaction to a life-saving drug he now offers anti-vaxxer song lyrics and refuses to perform in any venue that requires proof of vaccination. A sad end to a glorious career. Maybe the Queen should take back his CBE.

Meanwhile, in America, at least three right-wing radio show hosts have died of COVID-19. Yes, they were anti-mask and anti-vaccine. There are others; that’s just recent reports. Karma can be a deadly thing.

But that’s not the point, is it? The point is saving lives at a relatively small inconvenience—vaccination or mask wearing.  In America today,  there are children in pediatric wards on ventilators, some dying and others facing lasting effects. Meanwhile some American governors are banning the mandate of masks in schools.

Irate parents agree with the governors–and threaten school officials with harm if they impose such requirements. Notably, none of the vaccines available in the US are yet to be authorized for children under 12. Masks are their only protection.  Recently, one teacher in an elementary school removed her mask  during reading time in the classroom. Half the kids were infected with COVID as a result!

One is not free to drive while drunk. Nor is one free to have bonfires in the backyard during dry windy weather in the Southwest. One does not have the choice to endanger the lives of others in pursuit of fallacious freedom to go maskless indoors.

Without the mandate to be vaccinated against Smallpox, polio and countless other diseases humans would still be suffering and dying from them. COVID-19 is NOT the flu. Contrary to the prevailing political winds, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell recently released a 30-second PSA urging everyone to get a vaccine. McConnell is about as Republican as can be. Yet, even he sees the light.

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Extortion Scams and Review Bombing on Goodreads

One-star reviews–an annoying and frustrating reality for authors.  Sometimes, but rarely, deserved in the minds of most writers. The advice from seasoned fellow writers is to never engage with the reviewer. Now, there’s a new wrinkle from this article in Time.

Extortion scams! These malefactors threaten to flood Goodreads with one-star reviews of an author’s books unless they pay up

Money may not be the only issue. The article also says this about the attackers:

[T]hey are frequently targeting authors from marginalized communities who have spoken out on topics ranging from controversies within the industry to larger social issues on social media.

So, does that raise a flag to keep your blog posts “safe” or nonpolitical? I suppose, if had a huge following or high SEO, I might be concerned. As it is, that’s not currently a worry for me. How about you?

All in all, the piece from Time is worth checking out.

American Democracy Remains at Risk as the Insurrection Continues

My 2021 goal: creating value–bridging America’s political and cultural divide.  Easier said than done. 

In the SGI-USA, the Buddhist organization I’ve been a member of for 40+ years, this is the Year of Hope and Victory. I’m in with that.

Joe Biden has lots of hope. He accomplished in four months more than Donald Trump did in four years (in my view). But he’s having a hard time fostering bipartisanship in Congress. That’s politics; not the practice of Buddhism–or any other faith.

In 2017, I published a tenth anniversary edition of a memoir Waiting for Westmoreland, the path from Vietnam to enlightenment. The back cover blurb says this:

The book is the true story of a 20th century Candide—an innocent growing up in America in the fifties. As a boy, the author suffers the death of loved ones. Spending a year in Vietnam, with its readily available sex and drugs, thoroughly corrupts his youth. Then the political realities of the war and Watergate shatter his idealistic illusions about America. So, to reclaim his virtue and ideals, he thinks he must reform the people or institutions that failed him.

His quest for the tools of change becomes a frustrating pursuit. Finally, he encounters a person who has the knowledge he needs. She introduces him to the life philosophy of Buddhism, which reveals that the credit or blame for all of life’s events lies within—not from others. Looking for happiness outside oneself is fruitless. Only by taking personal responsibility for one’s own life can one be truly happy. Reforming oneself, not trying to change others, is the means for making the world a better place.

Q: So, why all the politics here on Views from Eagle Peak  the last few years?

A: In 13th Century Japan, Nichiren, the founder of the Buddhism I practice said this, “There are not two lands pure and impure in themselves. The difference lies solely in the good or evil of our minds.”

Our tagline for Views is Seeing things as they really are, without the illusions or delusions. 

The thing is, there are millions of delusional people out there–members of one of the two major political parties in America. Guess which one. 

Are parties analogous to lands? Is delusion evil? Well, not necessarily. But there is one party that exhibits racist behavior–the one once called the Party of Lincoln. The roles of emancipator vs oppressor of minorities have reversed again. 

Words do matter. Especially when they’re false—AKA lies. 

In recent polls, 70% of Republicans STILL believe Joe Biden didn’t fairly win the 2020 US Presidential Election. Why?

There are two reasons for the belief in the BIG LIE (that the election was stolen from Trump):

  • Because Trump said so–and they believe HIM.
  • The echo chambers of consumer choice–right-wing cable, network, web, social media, talk shows, etc. that confirm the false narrative of fraudulent ballots or counting irregularities.

Over the last few decades, the availability of news that reflects the perspectives and biases of the listener/reader/viewer has increased substantially. Why look for objective news that doesn’t match one’s beliefs in reality when one can enter the echo chamber and have opinions or conspiracy theories validated as fact?

When checking the weather, people really want to know what’s expected for that commute, game, trip, etc. It’s annoying, frustrating even, finding that the politician or party one favors is corrupt or not serving one’s interests.  BUT it’s as important–if not more so, than knowing whether an ice storm or tornado is coming, that the President is a liar, a cheat, a con man or worse. 

Joe Biden won–fair and square. That’s a fact.

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said (as did others, in subtle variations in wording), “You are entitled to your own opinion; you are not entitled to your own facts.”

ALL Presidential election results in the 2020 race were certified in each state and territory. Many of those states were controlled by Republican secretaries of state. There were audits and recounts in many states, with no change in the results.

As many as 60 legal challenges were filed by lawyers associated with Trump. Many of the judges were appointed by Trump himself or former Republican presidents. All but one case was summarily dismissed–the other on a technicality prior to considering the merits.

William Barr and the Trump Department of Justice found no significant fraud in the election either. 

The insurrection continues? Yes, it does–just in a new form. The new attack on democracy is on the popular vote itself–not on the results.

The insurrection began with the January 6, 2021, latter day of infamy. The violent attack on America’s Capitol by a mob instigated by Trump himself.  White supremacists, conspiracy theorists and a variety of other right-wing groups–Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Boogaloo Boys and more.

The new attack on democracy is directed at future elections. Hundreds of bills passed in Republican led legislatures across America. Bills reducing polling place hours, days to vote, mail-in voting, and much more. All making voting more difficult–for minorities and those more likely to vote for Democrats. The goal:  Republican candidates win despite fewer registered voters. AND if the results aren’t to their liking–the legislature can overturn them. That’s called autocracy, not democracy.

At the January 6th insurrection, the Trump mob killed or injured nearly 150 police officers. Millions of people watched on live TV–across mainstream media channels, PBS, cable and more as they stormed the Capitol, breaking windows and defacing historic architecture and artifacts.

Why? To overturn the results of the 2020 Presidential election. They set up a noose and chanted to hang Vice-President Mike Pence. Others hoped to kill Nancy Pelosi and kidnap others.

Yet, even as their lives had been at risk, a substantial majority of Republican House members voted to object to certification of Electoral College results–accepting the BIG LIE. Eight Senators acceded to the same falsehood.

We could go on and on about truth versus lies (AKA “alternative facts). Like with the reality of the pandemic versus it being no big thing. The deaths of over 600,000 people seems real. To some, that’s not even a fact.

Back to Buddhism–changing oneself to change the world. Hating those who don’t believe what you believe doesn’t help. They still have a latent state of Buddhahood buried within. Changing political leaders will NOT necessarily make the country safer, healthier, happier or more financially successful–for all. BUT–praying, speaking and acting on the belief of the humanity of the other side is the path to positive results. That, instead of simply condemning or ranting about the racist and autocratic actions of folks on the other.

But make no mistake, American democracy IS at risk. If the laws already passed and the others in process take effect, it will be possible that the results of elections in 2022 and 2024 could be overturned.  Legal and political efforts ARE essential.

As a Buddhist, I may pray for good health. But if I have a severe infection or a broken limb, medical intervention is required–not just faith in my religious practice. 

Great things have already happened with Biden as President. More improvements are on the way. I have hope that America is turning the page to a brighter and more successful future. But it won’t be without continuing controversy and division. That’s the nature of the times America is in. We must bridge the divide. It WILL take time. We must be patient and determined

Unlike the last five years, this will be only the second post on politics—the GOP and Trump. Don’t expect another post like this one before the fall–unless political lightning strikes. 

 

 

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A Consciousness Streams

In the popular parlance, streaming is now how many people view media content. Not us; not yet anyway. Consciousness streams here in this post

Two months since the last post on Views. An epoch in the blogosphere.

Stuff happens. Like:

  • Confirmation of occasional AFib after the third incident in two and a half years; Eliquis time–stop taking formerly favorite pills
  • Rotator cuff surgery for her; shopping, cooking, laundry, etc. for me–and personal assistance to her
  • Physical therapy for my knee–hey, a future fitness program at the local gym

Yes, growing old is not for sissies. Then there’s the other things like scheduled–and unscheduled home maintenance projects. Puts a kink in the writing schedule. Blogging AND getting out that delayed blog-to-book project.

Oh well, as a self-published writer I have no editor, agent or publisher to deal with.

Meanwhile:

  • Joe Biden has accomplished much in just a few months
  • The Party of NO (AKA, Republicans) oppose or delay in Congress
  • The insurrection continues in slow motion as Red states throughout America pass legislation to suppress votes and enable themselves to overturn the results of coming elections if not to their liking [more later on that–here or in the Eagle Peak Annual coming later this year]

We ARE determined to help get past the cultural and divides in America. It begins with what Nichiren Buddhists refer to as human revolution. Change from within manifests without.

Don’t blame the politicians for the weather (but get them working on the climate crisis) nor expect them to ensure your happiness and success. Don’t blame THEM (those of other races, religions, ethnicity or sexual orientation) either.

The pandemic is nearly over, but all the unavoidable, unexpected and frustrating obstacles still make planning getaways more than just challenging.

Nature just carries on, despite unfavorable weather–some of the time, in some places. Little or no rain fell in southwestern New Mexico in 2020. Didn’t faze the cacti and the agave. We had at least 50–maybe 60 of the latter bloom this year; the most ever.

Three white flowers atop one potted cactus
Three brilliant blooms at the patio of our house

 

a group of blooming agave below our New Mexico home
A bunch of agave just below the front of our house

 

a prickly pear cactus with yellow flowers
This prickly pear cactus has been living here much longer than we have

The many cholla (another cactus relative) have flowers too. There all volunteers, except for the potted cacti. Coming soon, more reasons to visit Silver City–and maybe some updates on deferred writing project.

 

 

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The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing and the Future of the Human Race

A so, so difficult book to wade through. For you, it might be easy and enjoyable. Still, I had to read it. The times demand it.

The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human RaceThe Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race by Walter Isaacson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I offered only an OK rating of two stars. That’s not to say that this isn’t a well-written book, for the right audience. Walter Isaacson had to have spent an incredible amount of time researching and compiling all the information within it. All those five star ratings and stellar reviews must have come from the right readers who found it great.

This is a science book. Very dense and heavy science. Misled by the many interviews on Walter Isaacson’s book tour, I didn’t realize that I was not among the members of the right audience. I thought this book would spend considerable time (it spent some, just not nearly the amount I expected) on the topics below:

The how and why mRNA and CRISPR were used to create both Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines–and, most importantly, why reluctant people had nothing to fear from them. [I came away unable to find the words with which I could readily allay those fears of others. I had already happily got my shots, taking on faith the review and approval process–not to mention the lack of reports of any serious ill effects of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.]

The ethical quandaries gene editing pose AND the benefits of them for curing diseases. [Yes, looking forward to disease cures but not to enhancements the wealthy will seek for their children].

What then did the book cover?

In excruciating detail, a chronicle of every meeting, conversation, conference and lab experiment, paper submitted/published, patent applied for by hundreds of graduate students, post-docs and more among the biochemists, x-ray crystallographers, structural biologists, engineers, etc., who worked for or under, in competition or collaboration with or supervised Jennifer Doudna enroute to her well deserved Nobel prize that she shared with Emmanuelle Charpentier.

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G. Gordon Liddy of Watergate Infamy Has Passed On

It’s been nearly a week now since the leader of Richard Nixon’s White House Plumbers unit passed away. Many, if not most of you, have heard neither of him nor these plumbers. They had nothing to do with pipes in the White House. They were charged with doing what they could–legal or otherwise, to get Nixon reelected in 1972. As it turned out, he really didn’t need the help; he won by a landslide.

On the other hand, his second term ended early because of their criminal activity–and that of countless top White House staff or cabinet members in trying to cover up their misdeeds. Many of the perps went to jail, including Liddy. Oh, and then there was the tape of conversations between Nixon and those conspirators–that he had installed in the Oval Office–that was the “smoking gun” that the Supreme Court said must be released.

Quite a difference between them and former 45th President Trump.  Not nearly as many went to jail–though more still may do so. Nixon pardoned NONE of his criminal conspirators. Trump pardoned most of his. Unfortunately for those who stuck it out to the bitter end of Trump’s unsuccessful effort to reverse the 2020 election results, they didn’t get pardoned and now never will.

But let’s get back to Liddy, who served 4 1/2 years in prison back in the 1970s. Nixon resigned the White House in 1973, when it all came out. He would have been convicted in a Senate trial of impeachment–but it never came to that. The GOP has changed greatly over those decades–giving Trump a free pass, TWICE.

Notably, none of the media I read or watch had any word of Liddy coming to Trump’s aid on January 6th or any time over the four preceding years. One might be excused for thinking he might have followed in Roger Stone’s footsteps (or tattoo of Nixon on his back) working for Trump.

In 2015, we had dueling book reviews here on Views. One of Viktor Frankl’s best selling Man’s Search for Meaning. and one of Liddy’s memoir, Will. I won’t rehash that post; you can read it here.

But, I will repost my review of Liddy’s book, in somewhat sardonic honor of his recent death at age 90.

Will: The Autobiography of G. Gordon LiddyWill: The Autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy by G. Gordon Liddy
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This has to be one of the most hilarious, surprising and ultimately tragic books I have ever read. Far into the book I remained convinced that Liddy must have been writing a self-deprecating satire of his life just to spite all the liberals, Nixon-haters and antiwar protestors of the Watergate era.

Who would brag about tying himself to a tree in a lightning storm to overcome his fears? Who would describe choosing his spouse in major part for her strong Teutonic stock? Who would extoll many aspects of the Third Reich?

But no, I eventually concluded, he was serious. He really did do all the nutty stuff he described. He really believed all the nonsensical things he professed. He really did all the criminal acts he was charged with and did so proudly–thinking that his self-perceived set of American values superseded the Constitution and the applicable laws. It explains a lot about his behavior during Watergate. That he not only was but still is so deluded is the tragedy. You should read the book, but check it out of the library–don’t buy it.

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A Review of Pines (first in Wayward Pines trilogy)

Pines (Wayward Pines, #1)Pines by Blake Crouch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I watched the TV show and only now read the book. Some may like the TV show better. For me, the book is far better–with surprising literary qualities amidst the terror, the savagery and the mystery. Now I must wonder what happens in the next two books. It took the second season of the TV show (if my memory is correct) to reveal all (and probably things not in the trilogy). Here the big mystery is laid bare in book one, but not until the very end. Obviously the books and the show were very different. So, I must read the next two.

What literary qualities? OK, not so many, but here’s a couple samples:

“The sweet cold water. The bright sound of the river tumbling down through the canyon. The clatter of stones shifting under the current. The piercing blue of the sky. To be warm again lifted his spirits.”

and

“scooted forward until he perched on the edge of the alcove. The rain had stopped. The night sky hemorrhaging starlight. He’d never had the slightest interest in astronomy but he found himself searching for familiar constellations . . .”

You probably won’t read this book looking for literary motifs, but it’s interesting to me that a book like this has some.

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A Review of The Illustrated Hen

The Illustrated HenThe Illustrated Hen by Scott Charles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some have called it surreal. Others say absurd. It crosses genres. Read the description here on Goodreads for what’s up with the book. As a fellow writer, I look at it for technique even as I strive to be entertained. I did like it very much. Not everyone will. This is one of those books that will engender the “Huh?” response. As in, where is the author going with this. If you’re patient, you’ll find out. That requires your attention to be kept because you find it enjoyable. If not, you’ll just close the Kindle reader.

For me, it’s an excellent book with imagery that only occasionally borders on purple prose. The voice does vary, adding some confusion, which is resolved in time. That’s a pun, as you will learn sooner or later.
The book opens and closes with a frame—not so obvious in the prologue, yet that’s what is.

Without spoiling, here’s some foreshadowing from it:

“He paused briefly at the dates. The headstones shimmered a bit as he pulled his hand away.

She would be here soon.

He could see the energy rising up from the ground.

There was another Ray entering the tunnel. The possibilities were endless. Time was bending toward him but wouldn’t remain that way for long.

The headstones came back into focus, and she was standing there.

‘We’ve been waiting for you,’ she said.”

The opening chapter offers a PI character in negotiation with a shopkeeper. The narrative is vivid, putting the reader in front of the man. Again, in time, one will come to understand the point not of knowing the man but of getting why the description is supplied. The book is that well constructed.

“ ‘So what can I do for your, Burrberry comma Raymond,’ the man asked. He was a large, beefy fellow with a booming voice and thick framed glasses. He was holding up a business card and looking at it carefully. The man squinted through his glasses at the card, then Burrberry then back to the card.

The lenses were huge. The frames hung somewhat delicately on the bridge of his nose—a sculptured kind of nose, like you saw in those old Italian paintings.”

We could go on, but that risks telling too much. Here is the thing—it’s a story within a story. Rather, stories within a story. The writer’s voice varies because the stories do and it’s part of the evolution. Back and forth in time with characters and situations. It’s a rich book that I enjoyed. There are parts better than others. Parts that could have been better. But they can be overlooked as the sum of the parts makes for a wonderful whole.

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Review of Partners in Time

My first review of 2021–an intense love/hate suspense thriller with a ghost and an affluent couple nearly torn apart by an unlikely affair.

Partners in TimePartners in Time by Stevie Turner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A book I was reluctant to read, thinking it must be a romance like so many of the others with time-traveling lovers. Well, at least one of them moving through the years. Assured that it had a lot more than that-in fact, not so much romance but horror and suspense,  I downloaded the book.  I’m glad that I did.

It’s an odd triangle between a man and his wife who is not interested in having the children he wanted her to, and the ghost from a hundred years before who was more than willing to bear his children.

Doubt that I ever read a story like this one–with a ghost not just appearing all wispy and such, but enough in the flesh to have sex with a person. Jealousy, not surprisingly, ensues. Worse, once involved, the ghost gets involved with the screenwriting husband, she won’t let go. Much more and I risk writing spoilers. Suffice it to say that this book will drag you well into the story of how dangerous it is to get involved with a powerful spirit that can take over lives.

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