January 22nd, 2006

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Good Morning!!

The sun is shining, and it is quite the lovely day. Last night, I was experiencing deep, painful spasms up and down my spine, and I went to bed early and slept for eleven hours, and woke up relatively pain-free. My lower back is tender, but not bad. Yay!!

Mandu rested happily on my chest, until Steve and I decided to walk down down to the Shoreline Cafe for breakfast. I am slower than I used to be, but the beauty of the morning, and the beginnings of spring were with us. Walking back along Northern, a lovely little country street, we met a man putting new tires on his car by the side of the road. He was working quickly, before the traffic increased. He said a child was recently killed along that road, and two people were, also, recently killed walking along Shoreline by the 7-11. He said people speed at 50 mph along this barely two-lane road of Northern. Yesterday, when I struggled around our block, I was splashed by cars rushing past. We are neighbors. This area is called Little City Farms, and people can't slow down, on their way to what? The gym? Starbucks? Peets? I do not understand. It was a Saturday at 2:00.

When people around here were saying they couldn't let their children walk or ride their bikes to school because of how people drive, I wrote a letter to our local newspaper pointing out many of these "bad" drivers are the parents themselves. When Chris was young, a mother hit Chris on his bicycle when he was riding home from school. She literally plowed right into him, and then, left him in the cold while she sat locked in her Mercedes. The only reason it wasn't hit and run, was that the long-time owner of the gas station saw what happened and ran out, and, told her to wait there until the police came. She was offended at having to stop. She was late for a meeting. I could not imagine that a mother would not have reached to cradle Chris's head until we got there. She was cold as ice when she spoke to us. There was no warmth, compassion, or even regret for turning right into a bike path and hitting a child who was in the right as to where he was supposed to be.

Steve says that yesterday he saw a woman driving a huge SUV on E. Blithedale in Mill Valley while she applied make-up from her compact. This is not new. Many years ago, the child of a friend of ours was killed on East Blithedale. The child was standing at the stop light in front Park School. A woman, who was drunk at 8:00 in the morning, piled her car upon the curb and killed one child and injured others.

Why does all this come back so strongly this morning? Awareness. What do we have without awareness? Awareness that we are driving a vehicle that weighs tons, and can be a lethal weapon. People, who might be against guns, then, hurl a giant vehicle around without any awareness as to the damage it might do. They are safe, enclosed, or so, it seems.

I would like to be more aware. This "illness" has shown me that I would like to have more capacity when I drive. I am more aware now of checking how I feel before I get behind the wheel of the car. Driving a car is a privilege, not a right.

I walk and see the parade of vehicles streaming by. I try and imagine what a difference it might make if each person eliminated just one car trip a week and walked. Maybe next time they wouldn't splash the walkers they pass with mud, and maybe they would love walking so much, that they would walk more and more, happy to meet their neighbors, and be free of the steel, smugness, and isolation of cars.

Take a walk today, wherever you are. Smiles form in the steps, leaving ponds that puddle, rather than streaks that scar.
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Essay -

I am reading a wonderful essay today by Laurence Gonzales, called "On Being Cool."  It is in New American Essays, a book edition of New Letters magazine, a publication by the University of Missouri-Kansas City that I highly recommend.

Laurence is writing about his father, who was a pilot in WWII, who chose like my father, not to go back and re-visit what happened there.  He was "cool."  Laurence has a dream to fly upside down.  This essay discusses his experiences with flying.  I would like to quote the whole essay, but offer a few tid-bits that are with me now, today.

    "Randy demonstrated how, by putting the airplane between the sun and the cloud and by tilting it just so, he could make a perfectly circular rainbow, refracted by the thin oboe reed of our wings, and projected down onto our shadow, right on the frothy surface of the clouds below.  We flew along, dancing with our rainbow, and he said, "Isn't that neat?  When the top of the cloud is flat, you can make a big rainbow and then spin down through the center of it."
    "I came for what I thought was a technical flight training, and here I had found a peculiar little wizard who wanted to teach me to spin down through the center of my own rainbow.  What imagination could have guessed at this lesson.  Was it genius?  Wisdom?  Lunacy?"
    "It was the temptation of the Buddha: The trick is to overcome fear, to let go and see the beauty and transcend the instinct to hold on tight.  Joseph Campbell in describing the three temptations  of the Buddha, said, "Then the Lord of Lust turned himself into the Lord of Death and flung at the Buddha all the weapons of an army of monsters.  But the Buddha has found in himself that still point within, which is of eternity, untouched by time.  So again, he was not moved, and the weapons flung at him turned to flowers of worship."  So Randy had shown me how to turn my fear into rainbows.  We were learning the first lesson of the fighter pilot, the stunt pilot, the aerobaticist: The lesson in coolness.  It's not a lesson in acting cool.  It's a lesson in being cool. It's a lesson in turning a twisting anxiety into a calm awareness."

    The essay continues with how to pull an airplane out of a spin.  It took years to figure out.  Why?  Because you have to let go of the stick.  You have to give up control.  The lesson:  "To regain control, you  have to let go."   He continues.

    "One day my seven year old daughter, Amelia, came to me after watching a Coyote and Road Runner cartoon and asked me why, when Coyote ran off the cliff, he didn't fall until he looked down.  Moreover (she wanted to know) why didn't he just refuse to look down, and then he could go, "wherever he wanted to go?"  By asking why the fact of being afraid made Coyote fall, Amelia had hit upon a universal principle.  To show fear, even if we show it only to ourselves, is to fall from grace, to fall physically, to fall spiritually, to die."

    I love the idea of spinning down through my own rainbow.  I also feel there is a place to feel our fear, and I understand what he is saying.  There is also a place to let go of the stick, of the fear, and, simply,  trust.  May this trust, this still point within,  be with me today, and perhaps, also, if you are so struck, with you.   

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perspective -

My brother puts my supposed, perceiving of discomfort in perspective with his email of today.   Enjoy, and be glad you are not currently hosting a slumber party for eight lovely ten and eleven year old girls.  I laugh each time I read this.  I am relieved, and at peace.  : )


Under the category of Misery loves company...I thought that sharing the effects of this morning's hangover would ease your pain a bit.  No, not an alcohol hangover but, an eight girl sleep-over party hangover.  The WORST kind of hangover!  :(

Remember Katy's "Chocolate Party" that she had last year, a theme she picked up from her American Girl magazine?  Well, this year's theme was "Monkey Business" and Katy and Jan were well prepared.  But even the magazine suggested that six girls was a good number and Jan and I felt that that was surely the limit.  But once word leaked out to a few others, Katy didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings and it quickly turned in to eight.

Do you by any chance recall from your youth the sound of eight girls talking at the top of their lungs, all at the same time?  At times you really want to stop and say to them, "Do you realize that you are all talking at the same time about completely different subjects and that not a single one of you is listening to any others of you?"  But they seem so delighted with the whole process, you quickly realize that any such ridiculous question will only result in having eight ten year old girls staring at you with a look of deep concern that possibly you are completely insane or, at a minimum, completely out of it.

So you try to adjust and go with the flow and you become ever so grateful you decided to purchase those wireless headphones for the TV.

But fate was yet to intervene and take it all to a completely different level.  When dropping the kids off, one of the mothers, after looking deeply into our eyes, obviously wondering too if we were completely insane for partaking in such a venture, mentioned that with all the wind we'd had recently, they'd lost power for three days.  To which I quickly blurted out that, "We hadn't lost power in over two years."  No sooner had the words left my mouth that I knew I'd thrown an irresistible challenge to the Gods of fate.  After the mothers had left and things were temporarily quiet, Jan said, "Can you imagine if we actually did lose power at this time?!"  I didn't mention that the thought had already crossed my mind and I didn't respond but instead tried to focus on breathing deeply and also on the temporary and wonderful quiet.  Obviously, the quiet before the storm.

About 7:30PM they came down for their monkey shakes, monkey cupcakes and countless other monkey hors d'oeuvres.  And, once again, eight girls talking at the top of their lungs at, exactly the same time.  Have you ever seen dogs being subjected to intolerable noise.  It's really quite pathetic.

So I was getting the fire going and, as it turned out, the timing could not have been better for that.  Just then, with no warning whatsoever, the power went off and it was, with the exception of the small fire, pitch black.

At times like that the human psyche actually is able to determine fractions of a second.  In fact, seconds become hours and it could not have been 1/100th of a second before the loudest, highest pitch, most shrill and intense eight chorus little girl scream that I'd ever heard began.  It was so intense as to defy description but I remained calm and desperately began searching for the cupboard with the flashlights so we could get the candles and stop the screaming.  But, again, seconds had become hours and with each endless second, the volume and pitch of the joint scream became higher and more intense and continued to do so at such a regular pace, you had to wonder how they were even actually breathing.  They never broke pace but only increased in intensity for the entire period. 

As Jan and I were both desperately grabbing for cabinets that had flashlights I realized something had to be done about the screaming.  So I said, loudly, "Girls",  to no affect whatsoever.  So, again and a bit louder (in fact, much louder), "Girrlllss!!!"  Again, nothing.  I realized suddenly that, not only could they not hear me but that I couldn't even here myself screaming.  I was yelling at the top of my lungs, three feet away from them and they never even heard me.

Then, suddenly the Gods took pity on us and the lights came back on as quickly as they'd gone off.  I don't even remember the last time I was that grateful about anything.  So we kind of tried to regroup and take stock and I immediately realized that the dogs were nowhere to be found.  So I went to look in the laundry room and didn't see them until I caught out of the corner of my eye, all three of them piled on top of each other, half way under the bunny cage.  And I don't think Tanner was actually shaking but the other two were shaking so badly that his body was vibrating with theirs.

So, Jan and I looked at each other, thankful to be alive and the girls....well, right back to normal, all eight talking rapidly and loudly about what an incredible experience they'd just been through.

Now, you'd think that Jan and I might have learned something from the whole experience but we were basically just in shock and happy to be returned somewhat to normal.  We were kind of in a counting fingers and toes kind of mode rather than stopping to consider that whatever had just caused the brief power outage could easily return and, as such, had not started lighting candles and placing flashlights where they could easily be reached. 

And, as such, the Gods watched down upon this spectacle and commented, "Wow!  these two idiots didn't learn a thing from that experience!  They clearly need another reminder of our power."  And so, Round Two began, exactly the same as the first round had gone.  Although this time, following another several torturous hours of the screaming, I found the strength to actually make myself heard and yelled, "GIRLS!!!!!!  STOPPPPP SCREAMING!!!!!!!!  I couldn't actually see the look on their faces at that point but had no doubt of the nature of the look.  Surely it was one of disgust with such a total party pooper.  But, I'll get over that.

In any case, the Gods saw that they'd made their point and, again, a reprieve was granted.  And this time, we bowed to the Gods and acknowledged that undoubtedly, they were in control, not us, and we began to set up more candles and flashlights than could have possibly been necessary.  But many were just tributes to the Gods and the Gods appreciated it and granted us power for the rest of the night.

So, clearly I know that everything in life is relative and that you are in great discomfort continually.  But, if I could have bottled the experience, even just a few moments of it to share with you, you might feel happy to be where you are, if just for a moment.

We love you!


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The true cost of the war in Iraq -

This article was published in the Chronicle today by Linda Bilmes and Joseph E. Stiglitz. There is nothing new in it really, and yet, it is a good composite of what we need to remember each day until we are out of Iraq.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

At the annual meeting of the American Economic Association earlier this month, we presented a new estimate for the likely cost of the war in Iraq.

We suggested that the final bill will be much higher than previously reckoned -- between $1 trillion and $2 trillion, depending primarily on how much longer our troops stay. Putting that into perspective, the highest-grossing movie of all time, "Titanic," earned $1.8 billion worldwide -- about half the cost the United States incurs in Iraq every week.

Like the iceberg that hit the Titanic, the full costs of the war remain largely hidden below the surface. Our calculations include not just the money for combat operations but also the costs the government will have to pay for years to come.

These include lifetime health care and disability benefits for returning veterans and special round-the-clock medical attention for many of the 16,300 Americans who have been seriously wounded.

We also count the increased cost of replacing military hardware because the war is using equipment at three to five times the peacetime rate.

In addition, the military must pay large re-enlistment bonuses and offer higher benefits to re-enlist reluctant soldiers. On top of this, because we finance the war by borrowing more money (mostly from abroad), there is a rising interest cost on the extra debt.

Our study also goes beyond the budget of the federal government to estimate the war's cost to the economy and our society.

It includes, for instance, the true economic costs of injury and death. For example, if an individual is killed in an auto or work-related accident, his family will typically receive compensation for lost earnings.

Standard government estimates of the lifetime economic cost of a death are about $6 million. But the military pays out far less -- about $500,000.

Another cost to the economy comes from the fact that 40 percent of our troops are taken from the National Guard and Reserve units. These troops often earn lower wages than in their civilian jobs. Finally, there are macroeconomic costs, such as the effect of higher oil prices -- partly a result of the instability in Iraq.

We conclude that the economy would have been much stronger if we had invested the money in the United States instead of in Iraq.

Spending as much as $2 trillion should make us ask some questions.

First, these figures are far higher than what the administration predicted before the war. At that time, White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey was effectively fired for suggesting that the war might cost as much as $200 billion, rather than the $60 billion claimed by the president's budget office.

Why were the costs so vastly underestimated? Elsewhere in the government, it is standard practice to engage in an elaborate cost-benefit analysis for major projects.

The war in Iraq was a war of choice, an immense "project," and yet it now appears that there was virtually no analysis of the likely costs of a prolonged occupation.

Could we have fought the war in ways that would have protected our troops better and cost the country less?

A Pentagon study apparently concludes that better body armor would have prevented many deaths and injuries. Penny-pinching in such matters during the rush to war has led to steep long-run costs for the nation and, tragically, for the individuals involved.

Even more fundamentally, there is the question of whether we needed to spend the money at all. Thinking back to the months before the war, there were few reasons to invade quickly, and many to go slow.

The Bush policy of threatened force had pressured Iraq into allowing the U.N. inspectors back into the country. The inspectors said they required a few months to complete their work. Several of our closest allies, including France and Germany, were urging the United States to await the outcome of the inspections. There were, as we now know, conflicting intelligence reports.

Had we waited, the value of the information we would have learned from the inspectors would arguably have saved the nation at least $1 trillion -- enough money to fix Social Security for the next 75 years twice over.

Linda Bilmes, a former assistant secretary of Commerce, teaches public finance at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Joseph E. Stiglitz, a professor at Columbia University, won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2001. He served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors in the Clinton administration. This piece first appeared in the Los Angeles Times.