Tuesday, November 25, 2014

JUSTICE

It seems there are two mutually incompatible understandings of the word "justice" at odds in Ferguson, Missouri.  The first is based on the adjudication of facts and evidence, to arrive at proof of guilt or innocence.  This is the strictly rational, legal understanding of the word.

The second is larger, more encompassing--and more truthful.  It has to do with social justice, with the assertion of equal rights for all, the fairness of the law itself, and the way it is implemented by police and the judicial system.

My brain is with the former definition.  My heart is with the latter.

I am not surprised, nor can I in good conscience condemn those whose patience is at an end.  There is clear injustice at work when young Black men can be regularly shot and killed with impunity, not only by police but by armed bystanders; when unemployment rates for young Blacks are wildly disproportionate to those of their white peers; when they are routinely profiled, whether in traffic or in stores, as worthy of suspicion; when they are arrested and jailed more frequently, and with longer sentences, for crimes that are often trivial and victimless.

This is a reality in this country which few reasonable people would dispute.  No matter how legally rational and defensible, it is not justice but a mockery of justice.

We are now in the twenty-first century in America, and the historical stain of slavery continues to pervade our social structure.  Racial prejudice is rife, and generally unacknowledged.  We need look no further than the irrational hatred for our first Black president to see its toxicity at work.

I abhor violence.  I hear pleas for peace on all sides.  But when you have struggled peacefully for so long and have met with the same denial and the same resistance, when you have reached such a point of despair that you no longer believe in peaceful methods and no longer care, what alternative are you left with?

It's to be hoped that out of all this anger, all this violence, we will come at least to an acknowledgement that we have a problem that needs to be addressed; to honest public discussion of the issue; and to a new understanding of how "the law" must be applied if we are to have real justice, not just its outer husk.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A TRIBUTE

It may seem that I spend a lot of time, in these pages, talking about what Shakespeare evoked as "the evil that men do." I am, though, not one of those who lay the responsibility for all the world's ill at the feet of men. It is good to also celebrate their strength. Never underestimate the power of a man who has discovered his mission of service to do good and spread light in this world.

A case in point is our friend Roger, Dr. Roger V. Ohanesian, founder and chairman of the Armenian Eye Care Project. We were invited to attend a ceremony last night to honor his work in literally bringing light into the world of countless impoverished Armenians, healing damaged or aging eyes and restoring eyesight to thousands of children who would otherwise spend their lives in darkness.

Himself a distinguished leader in the field of eye surgery, Roger's passion has attracted dozens of fellow professionals to the cause. A short film that was shown last night documents the work of his organization in bringing eye care even to remote areas of Armenia, with well(and expensively!) equipped mobile clinics and in pioneering surgical procedures that become models for international practice. Twenty-first century communications allow him to bring the international community of eye doctors together in ways that benefit the entire profession.

A testament to Roger's passion was the huge crowd of supporters who gathered at a dinner to honor the philanthropist couple, Luther Khachigian and his late wife Glenda, and the work of The Center for the Prevention of Childhood Blindness.  Roger was introduced by former California Governor George Deukmajian, and his presentation made clear the scope of his ambitions for the project.

All in all, this was a lovely evening, and one that reminded us that good things happen in this world as a result of the dedicated work of men of service. Ellie and I felt honored to have been invited to join so many of the spirited and generously supportive Armenian community for this event. We even brought home a couple of bottles of wine on which we had made a bid in the silent auction!  Our sincere thanks to Roger and Eileen for including us!

I'M SURE DONATIONS ARE WELCOME!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

ROSEWATER: A Film Review

I'm sorry, Jon Stewart. I'm really sorry because I love your "Daily Show." I love that your satire holds the feet of politicians to the fire But your film... well, someone needs to say this: it's not what it's cracked up to be. I think that, because you're "Jon Stewart," those who write about film have not been honest about this movie. Perhaps, like me, they're simply enamored of the work for which you're justly famous and see the film in that light. Perhaps they honestly believe that it's terrific.

It's not. It's a well-intentioned effort to throw light on the plight of journalists everywhere whose brave work in "bearing witness" to the abuse of power is rewarded by imprisonment and torture. An important message. But the film's most fatal flaw is that it lacks the fundamental ingredient of any good film: drama.

Drama happens through building tension, but nothing builds here. The initial scenes are promising enough, as the protagonist, the journalist Maziar Bahari, falls into the hands of the Iranian political police. And the interrogations begin with an appropriate sense of threat. But from the moment of the first interrogation scene, there's no development, no action, just more words. You don't want the poor guy to suffer more, of course, but there's no delivery on the threat of worse to come. The scenes become repetitive, and predictable, and frankly boring. They go on far too long.

By the same token, simply numbering the days of solitary confinement--inhuman though this treatment is--does not make them more dramatic. Even the initially effective visual contrast between blinding white cells and black blindfolds remains somehow undeveloped.  The eye longs for more interest and variety.

Advance publicity for the movie suggested, slyly, an important link between the satirical Daily Show skit with Jason Jones posing as an American spy in interview with Bahari.  In fact, very little was made of this intriguing possibility, and the dark, absurdist humor I was somehow expecting was so low key, I might have missed it altogether if I hadn't heard about it in advance. All in all, at the end, Bahari's release came as something of an anticlimax. He did not, as the film's protagonist, seem to have undergone the change we would expect.  He has suffered, yes.  But what has he learned, other than that torture is evil and torturers humorless and inhuman?  How has he grown?

So we were left--I, as a viewer, was left--with little to have engaged me but the film's message: reporters should be free to bear honest witness to the truth of the abuse of power.  An important, even pressing one, but not enough to make a good movie.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

STRENGTH

Here's a passage from the new novel I've begun to work on (it's also posted on the new blog, over at The Pilgrim's Staff website
What men most fear in themselves and despise in others is anything they perceive as weakness.  We hide these feelings deep inside, or disguise them with truculence and bravado. This is unfortunate because the consequences are dire, whether personally damaging or, potentially, globally calamitous.  The truth is that all of us have our frailties.  Without them we would not be human.  True strength lies in the acknowledgment of our vulnerability, not in its rejection or concealment.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

UPDATE

It has been a while since I posted on The Buddha Diaries.  I have been much occupied elsewhere, principally with the promotion of the new novel and with the associated blog.  Still, though I have remained largely silent on the blog, I have been keeping up with my meditation practice.  If nothing else, it helps with the sanity.  Given the competition out there, with thousands of new books showing up on the Internet every week, I could easily go crazy if I get too attached to the book's "success."  And meditation helps let go of the attachment.  Eventually, of course, the book will sink or swim on its own merits.  If enough people read it, like it, and pass on the word, I'll get some readers.  If not, not.

As if the PR activity weren't enough, I'm already embarked on that I hope will be a sequel to The Pilgrim's Staff.  Tentatively, I'm thinking that it might be called "David: Self Portraits."  Plural, because I plan to explore some of the many selves of David, the artist/primary narrator of the earlier book.  If you haven't read it (yet!) he's a painter and a blogger.  His "Studio Notes" is a (fictional) blog in which he examines his life, his work, his relationships.  Now (fictionally) he has decided to do what he refuses to call an autobiography--too pompous! too literary!--and instead thinks of as a series of self-portraits, of the kind he has made numerous times on paper and on canvas.

Thus far, I'm having fun with it.  And am learning more about this guy with every page.  One of the dangers of The Pilgrim's Staff is that it reads like autobiography, and people who know me tend to read me into my "characters."  And it's true, both of these men have a great deal in common with myself, my own background, my own experiences.  And yet they're "not me."  This David, further examining himself, is in the same way "me" and "not me."

I come back to that mantra that I love so much: "This is not me, this is not mine, this is not who I am..."

With metta for all, PC