Monday, March 31, 2008

Dinner, Lisa, and my first YouTube upload

I finally went to see my good friend Lisa Mann perform. I have her first CD, which she said at this little show is now a collector's item. It is, too...good songs on there. Go and buy one before they're all gone. You can sample her songs at her MySpace page.

She was playing alone at this little place called The East Burn. Or is it The EastBurn? They have yummy food...I had potato pancakes that seemed to have a little influence from the Japanese version. I also had the ravioli special made with sunchokes and artichokes. My sweetie met me there. He's been working a lot again. He's not so into this kind of music, and his ears bother him, so it was especially sweet that he joined me. He got their fries, which were a mix of potatoes, sweet potatoes, and leeks. Oh, I would go back even if just for those. The leeks were sliced into slivers, so were these crispy green things that had a taste reminiscent of fried onions, only more refined, as leeks are. I'm not a big fan of sweet potato fries, but the leeks made these quite delicious.

Actually, when I arrived there was a guy drumming along with Lisa, but he left after a couple of songs. He was drumming with his hands on a box contraption. That just goes to show you how much I know about music these days.

The first thing I was inspired to do was pull out the crayons from the double shot glass and start drawing on the butcher paper that served as a tablecloth. I draw like a kid. When Lisa saw it she loved it. I'd already decided if she liked it, it was hers. When I told her so after the show, she jumped up and down in a little happy dance. Of course I had to hang on to the image just a little by taking a photo.

Lisa Mann by Enji

Her final song was a cover of a Tom Waits song. Of course I thought immediately of my blogging friend in Nashville, so I thought this was as good a time as any to see how good a video my little camera could produce for YouTube. And I have to say, not bad, not bad at all for a pocket-sized camera.

While I wait for that video to upload, here's my sweetie's drawing that he started after I was all done.

The Printz Award Challenge

Some of those memes that make the circuit of the blogging world are reading challenges. People commit to reading a certain number of books from a certain list in a certain amount of time. In fact, one of the challenge bloggers I'm joining is "absolutely obsessed with reading challenges." I've decided to participate in the Printz Award Challenge. I can handle reading 6 young adult books that I just might read anyway. I have until the end of the year. Indeed I've previously read 3 of them: Skellig by David Almond; Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, by Louise Rennison; and A Step from Heaven by An Na.

The Michael J Printz Award is given by YALSA, which is part of the American Library Association. The list of winners and honors books can be found here.

My list to read before 2009:

  • The Book Thief (audio) by Markus Zusak [2007 Honor book]
  • The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation; v. 1: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson [2007 Honor book]
  • how i live now by Meg Rosoff [2005 Winner]
  • The First Part Last by Angela Johnson [2004 Winner]
  • Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going [2004 Honor book]
  • Monster by Walter Dean Myers [2000 Winner]

I may just add American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang as a bonus. It is a graphic novel, not something I'm usually interested in reading, but it is the winner for 2007.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Town Hall Invitation

Because of my blogging on health and community involvement, I've been invited to a town hall on the possibility of a federally funded "biobank."

My first thought was wow, who me? Then, why of course me. Then, what the hell do I know about the implications of a genetic biobank? Well, I guess a way to find out would be to go. I'd have to ask to leave work early that day.

The Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University is holding these meetings in just 5 cities.

The local coordinator who sent me the email pointed me to two articles about the Kansas town hall, here and here.

What do you all think?

As I attend the series Unnatural Causes, I'm learning so many ways in which environment plays a key role in health regardless of genetics. Yet, if predispositions can be determined, some pre-emptive medicine might cost a lot less in the long run, thus the usefulness of a genetic biobank for research. That's not even to be begin to look at how such a database could go Horribly Wrong for those who haven't any power.

We can't get single payer national health care. I'd like to see that first. Who will this biobank end up benefiting? With politics as it is now, I can only think it will benefit those with power and money.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Unnatural Causes: Becoming American

I was so happy about this: there were 30 people there for this showing. I was able to share that people could still see the first episode at some location in North Portland, and there were still some more showings of the second episode, and that they could go to the library website and find it under "News". Bruce, from the Health Dept. said I get an A plus plus for coming to all these.

While the first episode was an hour long, all the rest of them are a half hour long, so we have lots more time for the focus group conversation. I learned later that several of the attendees were immigrants, which was exciting considering the topic. I wondered if they came in particular because the topic drew them over the other episodes, or if they'd been especially marketed to through some group or agency. Regardless, it was great to hear their points of view.

This was a surprise to me: recent immigrants have better health than the wealthiest in the U.S. It's a myth that they bring infectious diseases...I would say a racist myth. They're healthier than the rest of us; within a generation, they lose that advantage, and are affected by the same unnatural causes.

The role of the strong family ties "forms a shield around them, protects them from the deleterious effects of American culture." We work more than ever. We are more socially isolated. That's a big thing. Social isolation can kill, it is linked to a greater risk for almost every cause of death. But, family isn't enough, that shield weakens.

It helps when communities are organized to keep that protective shield working. Kennett Square, a strong Quaker town, was featured as an example. One from there said, "Everyone benefits if no one is left behind." A worker at a large mushroom farm was featured.

  • Among immigrants, as teens acquire American culture, they lose that hopefulness that their parents came here with.
  • The American Dream is a myth: most people do not move up the social ladder.
  • When immigrant parents work a lot, kids lose that valuable contact with the positive aspects of their culture.
  • This country increases your risk of psychiatric illness
  • Workers don't like to take time off work for health care, so illnesses are pretty far along when they do go (the big employer established a health clinic on site for the many immigrant workers)
  • Acculturation--the process of selecting and choosing pieces of the culture to take on
  • It would be good if we can take what we see in protected/shielded communities and incorporate that into health-protective benefits

The discussion

At first talk bounced around among people, but then with 45 minutes left, our facilitator, Dr. Anna, did a round robin to hear from all the people there.

Some excerpts:

  • struck by irony: the people who bring us our food have less health care
  • kids run the house, they're the language and cultural interpreters
  • we've discouraged shared housing from the 50s on: how to encourage multi-generational families
  • elder generation subject to social isolation
  • car culture: socially isolated in cars (that was me)
  • there was a sentence, "American culture makes you sick" we need to ask what is it about this culture that makes us sick? is it that individuality?
  • immigrants are pressured to acculturate. this comes from everywhere: school, work. (from an immigrant)
  • people in this country don't recognize themselves in other people (from an immigrant)
  • (from an immigrant) they teach our children to be independent. our children come home, we teach them to think of the community. we watch them become someone else. focus on cultures, how to work with the family: give us more control to be able to resolve problems within our community

The round robin question: How can you make anything within your community better? Help keep people from getting sick?

  • work within communities; don't come from without and impose structure
  • need to celebrate various cultures
  • used to get lots of fruits and vegetables in Guatemala; here in high schools they serve pizza
  • create moments of community building; traditional dishes, potlucks
  • activity centers for kids, community centers
  • encourage health clinics in the workplace, as in the documentary (that was me)
  • we need more compassion
  • valuing caregivers
  • a website listing ethnic grocery stores, farmer's markets [I so wish I had the health equity coordinator's email...wait, maybe I do. A wiki would be great for a listing of ethnic grocery stores. There is a website here. Farmer's markets...that guide exists right here.]

Unnatural Causes: Place Matters

Unnatural Causes is now showing on PBS! Thursday evenings, starting tonight. TV is learning from the web: people want interactive information, people want to have a say, and PBS is providing it. Besides these events like I'm attending that are happening around the country, PBS is asking for your stories related to these ideas in the series. Share your stories here.

Oh, good thing I looked. Here in Oregon on OPB, it's showing on Sunday at 11 am. Here are the tv listings for everybody, may not be accurate. Here are OPB's listings. If you have HDTV, (like anybody who reads me you?) it's showing several more times.

The showings by Multnomah County aren't in the same order as they will be on the web. I saw episode 5, Place Matters, a week and a half ago. (I'm so behind with the blogging thing.) Again, this will contain spoilers, if you care about that before you watch a documentary.

Where you live has an effect on your health. Some of this was review, similar information as found in In Sickness and in Wealth. Obviously, place determines what you're exposed to. Who doesn't know about industries polluting the poor neighborhoods? Chemical agents, pollutants, violence, lack of access to fresh food, abundance of fast food joints...all of these contribute to poor health in poor neighborhoods.

In this episode, Richmond, California was featured. Like Louisville in the first episode, they showed that diseases cluster in certain parts of the city. Some differences were highlighted. Did you know it costs an average $500 more for a car in a poor neighborhood? I knew groceries cost more and are less abundant. Well-off communities have advantages and environmental support. Banks and other businesses move out of poor neighborhoods.

Cortisol from stress is covered again in this episode. Someone in a poor neighborhood has an "accumulation of multiple negative stress sources." A man named Gwai was featured. He'd had a recent heart attack. His daughter had been recently murdered by a SE Asian drug gang, mistaken identity or something. His son was involved with the wrong crowd.

Adult problems can be traced to childhood environment. Many kids in Richmond don't think they'll live to the age of 20. One program on hope tries to teach them how their actions can change their environment.

Asthma is certainly affected by place. Leaking windows encourage mold, moisture encourages dust mites and roaches.

High Point neighborhood in Seattle was also featured. It got a makeover, all new housing, with original tenants meant to move back. Community gardens were designed to be places that promote social gathering. Breathe-easy houses (wouldn't I love to have that) cost $6000 extra, or about 2 years of medical care. Would that all houses in the Pacific Northwest could have these breathe-easy features. Great idea, but the monetary support that created High Point was phased out. Some of the residents couldn't come back.

Sadly, not as many people came to this showing. Most of the people there were staff presenting it. Still, we had a good dialog. They liked my thought that Multnomah County can work under the radar. Average voters think of the mayor as the face of government, and think of the city when they don't like how things are run, but the county, with just as big responsibilities, usually seems to escape notice. (Our last County chair didn't get this: she ran things like a politician and got more noticed than she probably wanted.) The County thrived under Bev Stein before her, who ran things like a manager. Our current chair also seems to run things like a manager, and I think that bodes well.

When we do get noticed, it's for things people like, like the library. The health department wishes it got noticed more, I think. Several of the presenters are doctors in free clinics.

One of the things that gets my attention is how difficult it will be to sell this. The answers to "Unnatural Causes" are complicated. I said, "Politicians take this interconnected multi-layered thing and make it one thing, and talk that one thing to death. ...until's dead." Of course it would go a long way to help the health of all if we had a single-payer health care system, but these shows reveal there are causes that go way beyond that. We could never have a dialog like this on the national level...not the way political conversation happens now. But this is wild, this is amazing, on the county level.

We had a neat conversation about how we could get more fresh food and consciousness of fresh food in the kind of neighborhoods that are swamped with the fast food joints. We already have community gardens, but individuals sign up for plots in those, and waiting lists are long. Also, I'm not sure that there are as many community gardens in the poorer sections of the city. I thought it would be nice to have some community gardens that are actually communal, encouraging the social gathering place as mentioned of High Point. They could be places of education as well as sustenance.

Oh, hey! I discovered I'm getting paid to go to these. So ixnay on the oliticspay alktay. Not here, there. I'm not getting paid to write this.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

No Time to Lose: The Way of the Bodhisattva

Last week I began another book to be read over a period of time. In this case it is for a class series at my temple. The first class was last Wednesday. One of the teachers told us that years ago she was looking for information on the bodhisattva path, and she found Shantideva. By reading No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva, we get the full text of Shantideva, as well as the contemporary voice of Pema Chodron.

Like the Buddha, Shantideva was a prince in India, and was destined either to be a ruler or a renunciate. One legend has it that Manjusri appeared to him in a dream, another legend says his mother intentionally burned him, and said the pain would be nothing compared to the pain he would suffer as king. Shantideva left. He went to Nalanda University, this was in the 8th century. To put this in context, our teacher G (formerly a professor) told us that Nalanda began as a monastery in the 2nd century. The earliest university in the West was founded in the 12th century in Paris.

Pema Chodron tells us Shantideva wasn't well liked at the University. Sounds like others thought he was a slacker. He didn't come to class, or he showed up late, didn't seem to do the work, to do the practices that the rest were so diligently practicing. They invited him to give a talk, probably hoping his slackerdom would be painfully obvious. This was his talk, fully aware and utilizing the traditions they thought he didn't know, as well as his own unique dharma.

G told us that shortly after The Way of the Bodhisattva was written in Sanskrit, it was translated into Tibetan, so this work is as pivotal a work for the branch of Tibetan Buddhism as the Lotus Sutra is for Zen Buddhism.

This is a manual of sorts on how to be a bodhisattva. G admires this work because Shantideva comes across as a real person. She said, "The text is built on the sutras, but also shows his struggle." A bodhisattva necessarily experiences and cultivates bodhichitta, one of those Sanskrit terms that defies translation. Often translated as "awakened heart," G said it is a "mind-state that has a kind of warmth to it."

I have been aware of this term for a long time, and personally I feel it has a strong quality of unconditional love to it, but to attach a quality to it is to dissect it, and I'm not sure it is dissectable. H.H. the Dalai Lama said, "The wish for perfect enlightenment for others is bodhichitta." I think in real-life, everyday you-and-me-are-bodhisattvas terms, it means we wish others could awaken to the suffering they create for themselves and just let it go, let it dissolve. The same goes for our own selves.

If one must translate it, I kind of prefer the "awakened heart" translation. It is an open, spacious, uncramped heart awareness that comes before thought, in spite of thought, in between the thought that clouds up the mind. It is a clarity that can grok the effects of karma, in one's self or others, and in the same instant know the boundlessness that can change that karma.

I do not use grok lightly, but at the same time this is not uninformed by experience over time. Pema Chodron quotes Nagarjuna (another pivotal Tibetan dharma ancestor)

May bodhichitta, precious and sublime,
Arise where it has not yet come to be;
And where it has arisen may it not decline,
But grow and flourish ever more and more.
The Excellence of Bodhichitta
(the link is to a different translation of Shantideva that is available online.)

This talk is dedicated to the Buddhas, but that includes us, with buddha nature...that potential in all of us to be buddhas. Chodron says, "We, too, can free ourselves from the hopes and fears of self-centeredness." Self-centeredness is the hardened karma that makes up me me me, kind of like the crust on creme brulee, hard and brittle and so self-enclosed.

The humility of the second verse is traditional. Chodron:

Humility, however, should not be confused with low self-esteem. When Shantideva says he is 'destitute of learning and of skill with words,' he is not expressing self-contempt. The low self-esteem so common in the West rests on a fixed idea of personal inadequacy. Shantideva is committed to not getting trapped in such limiting identities.
In Zen we say, "Do not waste time!" Shantideva says, "If now I fail to turn it to my profit, How could such a chance be mine again?" Chodron says, "This life is, however, a brief and fading window of opportunity. None of us knows what will happen next."

As when a flash of lightning rends the night,
And in its glare shows all the dark black clouds had hid,
Likewise rarely, through the buddha's power,
Virtuous thoughts arise, brief and transient, in the world (Shantideva 1.5)
flash of lightning = bodhichitta
dark black clouds = karma, karmic conditioning
buddha's power = buddha nature, awakened mind, bodhichitta

When we're thinking of others, it is freeing, this lack of self-absorption. Chodron said, "We share the same reactivity, the same grasping and resisting. By aspiring for all beings to be free of their suffering, we free ourselves from our own cocoons and life becomes bigger than "me."

"At some point, we realize that what we do for ourselves benefits others, and what we do for others benefits us. This is what Shantideva means when he says that those who wish to win great happiness should never turn their back on bodhichitta."

Yet we do. We do we do. The black clouds of karma can make it easy to ignore that quick little flash of illumination. If we don't cultivate the eye that sees it, it's as good as not there.

The difference between helping someone, and helping someone with bodhichitta, is like the difference between giving someone fish, and teaching someone to fish. We can keep helping over and over and over, or we can try to show the clarity among the dark clouds so they can help themselves.

A great and unremitting stream,
A strength of wholesome merit,
Even during sleep and inattention,
Rises equal to the vastness of the sky (Sh. 1.19)

Once this bodhichitta thing is turned on, it's not going away. Turned on isn't right. There's always the possibility of illumination, but once illumination occurs, and is turned towards over and over, it becomes too strong to shut down. This is why I find it hard to say no. Chodron:

This is the happiness of egolessness. It's the joy of realizing there is no prison; there are only very strong habits, and no sane reason for strengthening them further. In essence these habits are insubstantial. Moreover, there is no solid self-identity or separateness. We've invented it all. It is this realization that we want for the endless multitude of beings.

I consider myself lucky that I stumbled upon meditation at the age of 19. We speak of habit energy, and dissolving that, or channeling it in a different way, becoming aware of those deep grooves that play over and over. It is all something we created, and it is all something that we can let go of. I often would say I trust in the practice. As long as the intent is there, the practice will take care of it in good time. This is that unstoppable flow. Huh, have I just stumbled upon an equation? Zazen is the practice. The practice is bodhichitta. Zazen is bodhichitta. I guess that makes a zen kind of sense. It all collapses and turns in and around on itself into emptiness anyway. It is the emptiness that informs all.

We can't look at how to be a bodhisattva without investigating the paramitas, and Shantideva shows us how the paramitas fulfill bodhichitta. This first thing, the intent to help others, this is generosity. There are three kinds of generosity in this tradition. The first is giving of material things. The second is giving fearlessness. We talked about that in class. G sees it "as the courage to stay with this practice." I felt my teachers gave me the gift of fearlessness by so completely accepting me. They taught me that there was nothing to be afraid of. The third is the gift of the dharma. It is helping to point out that lightning flash, and those clouds.

And those who harbor evil in their minds
Against such lords of generosity, the Buddha's heirs,
Will stay in hell, the Mighty One has said,
For ages equal to the moments of their malice. (Sh. 1.34)

Remember, this is all our own creation, this hardening of karma into a self-absorbed being. As long as we keep recreating those moments, we will keep experiencing those moments as a hell realm. What do we wish to cultivate, negative blaming, or positive giving? I wonder sometimes at the hells people create over often unimportant things. I have some thoughts on 25 cent karma, coming soon.

G, and her co-teacher of this class, K, work with prisoners, some whom have done horrific deeds. They truly see the potential for enlightenment, buddha nature, in everybody. She said there is one young man who committed murder who talks about what he's done. There is no blame of others, he's working with what he's done. "We see their beauty. That's why we do this. We need beautiful people there." This young man so carefully, earnestly, gracefully, offers the incense. They see his beauty. G said, "Some of the greatest masters started out as criminals. We do still have to deal with the karma. We all have negative things we need to look at."

I thought, who better can see the effect of suffering and karma? Who better, when they learn to look with unflinching clarity at themselves, can look with unflinching clarity at all suffering? It is indeed a beautiful person who can offer that help.

In short, it is easier to wrap ourselves around a hard cramped identity, even if painful, than it is to stick with the practice of cultivating bodhichitta. It's something to hang on to. Yet if we can do the brave thing, keep the intent and action alive to fuel bodhichitta, that is where true joy can be found.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Big Read II: I, Claudius Ch. 30-34 The End

Chapter 30: In Caligula's Wake
~Antonia protests the murder of her grandson Gemellus, not that it would matter to Caligula, and she knows that. She kills herself. She wants Claudius to take care of things.

~Caligula gives Macro the governorship of Egypt....psych! He does the same as Tiberius with Sejanus, lulls him with a promise and arrests him.
~Caligula has turned into a serial rapist murderer. Well, murderer if they don't commit suicide first.
~Calpurnia, that smart cookie, advises Claudius to make sure he stays the favorite butt of jokes. She says, "I mean that people don't kill their butts. They are cruel to them, they frighten them, they rob them, but they don't kill them."

~Mnester, favored actor, serves as 'translator' for a speech by Claudius to keep an audience from becoming a mob. A few jokes, and the Games resume. I am reminded that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Claudius muses, "The simpler and sillier the joke, the better a big crowd likes it. ...Whereas really witty jokes of mine have been quite lost on them." In a past life, I hung out with comedians. This was ever the bane of comedy for them. Actually, the truly brilliant comics can make a joke both simple and witty. So Claudius may have been a decent enough comedian, but he would have been no Jerry Seinfeld.

~Caligula creates a road of ships, a quite involved, pretty amazingly decadent waste of riches. "He was merely about to justify Thrasyllus's statement that he could no more become Emperor than ride a horse across the Bay of Baiae."
~"The effect of drink on Caligula was always to make him a little mischievous." Of course, with Caligula, that meant becoming even more whimsically a mass murderer. I'd heard Caligula was nasty, but I really had no idea.

Chapter 31: How to deflect the whimsical aggression of Little Boot
~After the bridge of ships, there's no money left. Caligula must now get even more creative than Tiberius in the raising of money. People learned to buy high in auctions, and bet on the losing side. "Caligula always played with weighted dice." Treason is reinstated as a crime, and the wealthiest are suddenly traitors.

~Vitellius, when governor of Syria, prevented an invasion by the King of Parthia. Caligulia was jealous. Claudius sends Vitellius a warning. "A letter from me was waiting for him at Brindisi when he arrived, and as soon as he reached Rome and was admitted to Caligula's presence he fell prostrate and worshipped him as a God."

~How to Raise a Serial Killer, as observed of Caligula with his baby girl:

He took delight in teaching her his own "immovable rigour", beginning the lessons when she was only just able to walk and talk. He encouraged her to torture kittens and puppies and to fly with her sharp nails at the eyes of her little playmates. "There can be no reasonable doubt as to your paternity, my pretty one," he used to chuckle when she showed particular promise. And once in my presence he bent down and said slyly to her: "And the first full-sized murder you commit, Precious, if it's only your poor old grand-uncle Claudius, I'll make a Goddess of you."
"Will you make me a Goddess if I kill Mamma?" the little fiend lisped. "I hate Mamma."

~Caligula makes the palace a high-priced brothel, pimping out his sisters. Caligula pushes Claudius in the water, as so many have been murdered, but Claudius survives and returns to deflect the aggression as he so skillfully does. He is saved by verses of Homer. But that puts Caligula in a snit, and he tries to kill Homer by having his poems burned, along with Virgil and Livy.

Chapter 32: Little Boot's World as Stage
~Fake auctions, fake victories, fake triumphs. Caligula seems to delight in the power of creating these obviously fake demonstrations of power. He's also a coward when it comes to the real thing. He learned everything at the age of three when the soldiers hoisted him up in his Little Boots and Armor, and never grew up beyond that. And he's truly crazy.

~Caligula is at war with Neptune, who destroyed his ship road. He has the soldiers battle the sea by fighting the waves, and gathering seashells as bounty. "The troops thought it great fun, and when he rewarded them with four gold pieces a man cheered him tremendously."

Caligula was now publicly Jove. He was not only Latin Jove but Olympian Jove, and not only that but all the other Gods and Goddesses, too, whom he had decapitated and beheaded. [He put his own bust on all the statues.] Sometimes he was Apollo and sometimes Mercury and sometimes Pluto, in each case wearing the appropriate dress and demanding the appropriate sacrifices. I have seen him go about as Venus in a long gauzy silk robe with face painted, a red wig, padded bosom and high-heeled slippers. He was present as the Good Goddess at her December festival, that was a scandal.
~Claudius and two others are summoned. They are sure they are dead. Instead they get a rosy-dawn pageant, and marriage for Claudius. Calpurnia comprehends: "I was in love with her already, Calpurnia said. I felt uncomfortable. Calpurnia had been my only true friend in all those four years of misery. What had she not done for me? And yet she was right: I was in love with Messalina, and Messalina was to be my wife now." Calpurnia leaves for the country.

Chapter 33: Caligula's curtain closes for good
~Oh boy, watch out Claudius. Don't be a December-May fool. Messalina works it.
~Cassius is a soldier of the old school. Caligula has gone too far, and Cassius plots to assassinate him and restore the Republic. Everybody but Caligula, his German guard, and Claudius knows. They plan to kill Claudius too.
~Clever daring Claudius avoids his own whimsical murder yet again:
Caligula says, "How dare you go about with a great ugly bush of hair in my presence? It's blasphemy." He turned to his German guard, "Cut his head off!" Claudius says, "What are you doing, idiot? The God didn't say 'head', he said 'hair'! Run off and fetch the shears at once!" Caligula was taken aback and perhaps really thought that he had said "hair". He allowed the German to fetch the shears.
~I find myself wondering, trying to remember, is this the first assassination in the book that is done with a soldier's weapon, with swords? I also wonder, why are the Germans so devoted to Caligula? He reminds him of their own bloodthirsty gods?

~By sheer luck, Claudius stumbles out of the way of the way of the assassins and survives. He takes refuge in his own reading room.

The pillared portrait-busts of Herodotus, Polybius, Thucydides, and Asinius Pollio stood facing me. Their impassive features seemed to say: "A true historian will always rise superior to the political disturbances of his day." I determined to comport myself as a true historian.

Chapter 34: A Decent Old Stick
~The assassination takes place in the theater. The clever actor Mnester (I keep thinking empty nester) prevents a vengeful massacre by the German guard by pretending Caligula survived and made his way outside. The people are able to disburse before they come back. While soldiers raid the palace of golden doorknobs under the pretense of looking for the assassins, Claudius stumbles out. Gratus recognizes him. "He's Germanicus's invalid brother. A decent old stick." I like that, "A decent old stick." I think we'll see more of Mnester and Gratus in the next book.

~Claudius seems surprised at himself, as his biggest thought is that he'll be able to make people read his books now.

I was thinking what opportunities I would have, as Emperor, for consulting the secret archives and finding out just what happened on this occasion or on that. How many twisted stories still remained to be straightened out! What a miraculous fate for a historian!

Last thoughts
I find myself wondering how this thing with Messalina will play out. Will she be Claudius's downfall, betray him as he is blinded by love? I just don't know enough about her yet to know if she is like Livia or like Antonia. How will Calpurnia continue to be his one true friend? Will Mnester continue to prove valuable? Right now, at the end of the book, Claudius only seems to think of the puttering dry mysteries of an historian's thoughts. Will he resurrect that clever use of history to know the present and the future, as he did when he helped Germanicus? Clearly I must read Claudius the God. Claudius has been very good at hiding behind his low status. Can he flip over successfully to competent leadership?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Big Read II: I, Claudius Ch. 27-29

Chapter 27: Sejanus falls, and followers culled

~Now that Livia's dead, Tiberius goes after Agrippina and her son Nero, the one good one. Now how did Agrippina and Germanicus manage to have such nasty kids when they were the good ones? Maybe because their kids were raised by war? His letter is presented to the Senate by Sejanus, and the Recorder, always one to go Tiberius's way, does not this time. After a blip of rebellion by the people, Tiberius sends the two to bleak islands, Agrippina to Julia's first island of banishment, Nero to another. Drusus is also framed, Sejanus enlisting the help of D's wife, S's lover.

~Gallus also of course. Tiberius arranges his arrest while he is entertaining Gallus. Tiberius feigns support.

Gallus felt bound to thank Tiberius for his magnanimity, but was sure that there was a catch somewhere, that Tiberius was paying back irony with irony; and he was right.

~Antonia is a conservative house manager, and so while saving paper she discovers Livilla's conspiracy with Sejanus to become rulers. She proves herself as clever at being nondescript as Claudius, and sends word to Tiberius through a book of Claudius's, presented as coming from Claudius. She sends Claudius's slave, Pallus, who shows his loyalty to Claudius by stopping by on his way to fulfill the errand. Claudius seals it as though he never saw.

Naturally I was in the deepest anxiety as to what would happen and felt very bitter against my mother for having put my life into such terrible danger by mixing me up in a quarrel between Tiberius and Sejanus.

~Tiberius sends Caligula to the Guards to find out who had the most influence besides Sejanus. Caligula does his investigation in drag. Oooohh Caligula, you didn't! You loved it, you know it.

~Meanwhile Tiberius sends letters making it seem as though he's becoming senile, and keeps his enemies complacent, off-guard. "On the day set by Tiberius for his arrival in Rome, Sejanus was waiting, at the head of a battalion of Guards..." The man Caligula found, Macro, sends Sejanus inside, and his Guards away, replacing them. The letter he is sent to read is different that Tiberius's usual MO. Instead of berating and then rewarding, it just goes deeper into reproach. Now why do I find myself rooting for Tiberius? He is evil. So is Sejanus. Do I feel like Tiberius has some more natural claim to rule and Sejanus is usurping his place?

~Because she had done so well, Tiberius told Antonia
that any reward within reason was hers for the asking. My mother said...the family name should not be disgraced: that her daughter should not be executed and their body thrown down the stairs. "How is she to be punished then?" Tiberius asked sharply. "Give her to me," said my mother. "I will punish her."
I bet Tiberius liked the lack of expense on his part. Antonia starved her to death. She kept her in hearing, "not from a delight in torture, for it was inexpressibly painful to her, but as a punishment to herself for having brought up so abominable a daughter." So where has this woman been hiding? I guess what goes remarked are evil deeds, not virtuous, conservative living.

~More executions follow. Tiberius feigns amnesty to root out more who liked Sejanus, and gets rid of them too. He is efficient and ruthless when it comes to purging a real conspiracy. Greedy too. He replaces the lost gentry by elevating freedmen to Knights.

Chapter 28: Tiberius dies
~Last 5 years of Tiberius: Nero slowly starved to death; Agrippina refused to eat; Gallus "died of consumption"; Drusus tortured to death, cursing til the last breath; Tiberius reports all Drusus's accusations
The senators'...oh, oh's and groans covered their amazement that Tiberius should voluntarily provide such a revelation of his own wickedness. Tiberius was very sorry for himself at the time..., tormented by insomnia and superstitious fear; and actually counted on the Senate's sympathy.
In Buddhism, a person ends up in the Hell Realm when he is so entrenched in aggression and hatred that he cannot see any way out of it, nor the suffering of others, nor how he has brought this on himself. It is the most me, me, me of the realms, even more than the fallen gods realm in which they feel entitled to the bounty of heaven that they can remember and see. It's no big surprise to me that Tiberius finds himself in a particularly twisted Hell of the mind.

~Tiberius makes Caligula his heir, but believes C will die beforehand. Macro, the son of a slave, is even more bloodthirsty than Sejanus. We keep getting this message perhaps, better the evil you know than the evil you don't know.
~"[Plancina] was accused once more of poisoning Germanicus; for she was quite wealthy. Tiberius had not allowed her to be prosecuted until Agrippina was dead, because if Agrippina had heard the news it would have pleased her greatly.
Oh good grief. He is evil.

~Nerva, the one good guy Tiberius has cultivated, sort of like a good luck charm, stops eating. I have noticed in my life that people with pathological tendencies seem to have a deep need to have a good person really like them. I have wondered if this says to them there must somehow be some good in them then. Tiberius tries making changes he hopes Nerva will approve of. Nerva says only that his stomach would reject food anyway, and dies after nine days.
Thrasyllus died. His death was announced by a lizard. ..."I
never told you a lie. You told me many. But beware when your lizard gives you a warning."
Tiberius figured Thrasyllus meant his 'Wingless Dragon.' I think I've seen photos of that, but I can't remember what it is called nowadays. The giant lizard dies, crawling with ants, and Tiberius tries to run from his fate, but he catches a chill. Even while dying, T has Macro bring charges against people.

~Caligula jumps the gun and announces Tiberius's death, but the old codger revives and a slave hears. Macro turns on the slave as lying or crazy, and he smothers Tiberius for Caligula. Does this happen on the Ides of March? It was the 16th that news came of Tiberius's death.
Tiberius had a villa at Atella and used to attend the festival nearly every year. He had converted the innocent rural bawdry of the masque into a sophisticated vileness.
Chapter 29: Caligula the god
~All Caligula had to do was coast. The people loved him because they thought he was his father's son. For the heck of it, Caligula honored bequests that Tiberius hadn't. He was throwing money around right and left. Claudius's smart new young prostitute, Calpurnia, does the math and warns Claudius that Caligula will soon be looking for money to steal just as Tiberius did. Claudius rewards her with 500 gold pieces.
~Claudius hints at incestuous husband and wife-swapping in Caligula's palace.
Drusilla was his favorite. Although she was well rid of her husband, she always seemed unhappy now, and the unhappier she grew the more solicitous were Caligula's attentions. ...[Her new husband] was known as Ganymede because of his effeminate appearance and his obsequiousness to Caligula.... Caligula treated him like a boy of thirteen, and he seemed to
like it.

~"Caligula fell ill and for a whole month his life was despaired of." Drusilla warns Claudius to humor Caligula. Caligula is now a god. Could this be advanced syphilis?
~I had the fleeting thought at the time of Germanicus's death, I wondered if it was Caligula, but I didn't say it and now I can't say "I knew it!" It occurred to me because well, this was Caligula, and the markings were low on the wall, and the dead animals a sure sign of a future sociopath. It threw me off though, that some markings were up high. Then, I wondered again as Livia revealed all, but she, the old liar, just had to keep one more lie. I would say she knew, because of the green jasper charm.

~Claudius begins planning a return to a Republic. "The Guards are the greatest obstacle. They know very well that they'd never get bounties of fifty and a hundred gold pieces a man voted them by a Republican Senate. Yes, it was Sejanus's idea of turning them into a sort of private army for my uncle Tiberius that gave monarchy its oriental absoluteness." Caligula was accepted as a god, though, so no restoration of the Republic.

~Interesting that Caligula turned the perfectly innocent seasickness of Gemellus, and the recurrent illness of his father-in-law, into proofs of treachery. Claudius would notice this. Is he wondering about his own physical ailments, and whether they'll be transformed into evil-doing against Caligula?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Big Read II: I, Claudius Ch. 23-26

Chapter 23: Urgulanilla's passions
~Sejanus still looking for an Imperial family connection. He gives Claudius a tip, to bet on Scarlet, not the unlucky color Leek Green. Tiberius keeps the winnings. Mobster.
~Antonia discovers Caligula and Drusilla doing naughty things. Claudius gets her to think of Agrippina before she goes to the Emperor with the charge.
~To avoid further clashes with his mother, Claudius goes to his brother-in-law's house, where he meets his wife unexpectedly. She scares him. She makes him stay, but won't go to sleep until he goes to sleep, and he won't go to sleep until she does, because he's afraid she'll kill him. He finally falls asleep, and wakes up in time to realize she's killing her brother's new wife. Claudius covers for them both, and Plautius is charged. Plautius has a doctor help him kill himself. Claudius tells us he would have come forward, really he would, but didn't know until it was too late.
~Sejanus arranges Claudius's divorce from Urgulanilla. He'd found a slave "who might have been Numantina's twin." Urgulanilla would have his child. Claudius could marry Sajanus's sister Aelia. S hints that he sent the letter that sparked Urgulalilla's revenge for Numantina. Claudius does as bid, and petitions Livia for divorce. Livia orders the child exposed. Claudius warns Urgulanilla to find a dead baby.

Chapter 24: Tiberius vs. Livia
~Tiberius and Livia are feuding. Livia reads old letters from Tiberius and Augustus, the most incriminating.
~Claudius makes clear to us, his readers, that Tiberius was in fact a good ruler. He managed the needs of the country well. "Of six million Roman citizens, a mere two or three hundred suffered for Tiberius's jealous fears."
~Agrippina appeals to Tiberius. It doesn't help. She falls ill. She tries again. She asks him to allow her to marry. Unfortunately she names Gallus, Tiberius's comic nemesis. Tiberius invites her to a banquet, his method of scaring those he mistrusted. Of all foods, Agrippina could not eat apples, and that is what Tiberius handed her. "Why did Tiberius not immediately try her on a treason-charge, as Sejanus urged? Because Agrippina was still under Livia's protection." Why, I wonder?

Chapter 25: Claudius in Livia's presence
~Claudius presents himself for Livia's birthday, as invited. Livia predicts Caligula will be the next Emperor. She has an agreement with him: she will not reveal his horrible nasty secret, and he will make her a goddess so she won't rot in hell. What? Livia is afraid? She says, "I have done many impious things--no great ruler can do otherwise. I have put the good of the Empire before all human considerations." She wants Claudius to make sure it happens. She wants him to swear.
~Claudius will on one condition. He's had a bit to drink, all cards are out on the table, perhaps the first time in Livia's life? "Yes, after the twentieth cup; and it's a simple condition. After thirty-six years of neglect and aversion you surely don't expect me to do anything for you without making conditions, do you?"
~He wants to know who killed the members of his family. He will not attempt to avenge their deaths. He says, "I believe that evil is its own punishment." He is an historian. He wants to know the truth. And she tells him. Wow.
~Yes: grandfather; Augustus; Agrippa; Lucius; Marcellus; Gaius; Drusillus. No: father (gangrene); Germanicus (Plancina on her own). But she would have done both because they "had decided to restore the Republic." Claudius was spared only because he might have revealed the whereabouts of Postumus. Urgualania used confessions to recruit assassins. The sinners gained absolution through doing Livia's dirty work.
~Finally, Livia hands him a book. "It was the collection of rejected Sibylline verses that I have written about in the first pages of this story, and when I came across the prophecy called "The Succession of Hairy Ones" I thought I knew why Livia had invited me to dinner and made me swear that oath. If I had sworn it. It all seemed like a drunken dream."

Chapter 26: The end of an era: Livia dies
~Tiberius leaves Rome, sets up an island Bacchanal paradise. He authorizes Sejanus to speak for him, and "to remove the leaders of Agrippina's party by whatever means seemed most convenient."
~Tiberius and Livia accidentally meet in Naples. Just to mess with him, Livia says, "be very careful of the barbel you eat on your island." Tiberius was fond of that fish. It got a poor fisherman killed when he tried to offer one.
~Claudius married Aelia. This meant he couldn't see Agrippina and her children anymore, as it was a given that she would tell her brother Sejanus anything and everything.
~Nero too trusting, confides in brother Drusus, who goes to Sejanus. Nero soon abandoned by most friends. Gallus remains, who now heckles Sejanus instead of Tiberius. He keeps proposing statues and other honors.

"Tiberius suddenly realized that while all the goings and comings at Capri were known to Sejanus and could to a great extent be controlled by him, he himself only knew as much as Sejanus cared to tell him about the comings and goings by Sejanus's front door."

~Caligula reneges on his agreement with Livia when she is dying. Of course he does. She should have known better. Funny how fear clouds the thinking. Claudius promises to follow through, and puts the special coin in her mouth. The Senate would have made her a demi-goddess, but Tiberius reverses all, and does not preside at her funeral. He also does not honor the bequests in her will that went to others, including Claudius. Mobster.

Don't forget to visit the Big Read originator: Bookshelves of Doom.

The Big Read II: I, Claudius Ch. 20-22

Chapter 20: Germanicus poisoned and haunted
~Claudius is a conscientious and methodical historian, it keeps him out of mischief
~Livia and Tiberius set up Piso as Governor, encouraging him to thwart Germanicus by whatever means; Piso acts more like a mobster, sets up graft payments, etc. He delights in his thwarting role toward Germanicus. Piso and his wife Plancina act out a parody of Germanicus and Agrippina.
~Tiberius puts a negative spin on all of Germanicus's actions. Germanicus takes ill, he fears poison, then he fears witchcraft is being used against him. He gets a red rash, blue nails...wonder what causes that. The number 25 is significant because he never got that Eagle back...he dies on the 25th day of his illness.

Chapter 21: Germanicus's murderess acquitted
~Livia and Tiberius pretend to grieve, but actually hide from the people who loved Germanicus; Livilla misses the funeral due to the birth of her twin boys, father Sejanus.
~Castor swears to Agrippina that justice will be done.
~Plancina kills her husband Piso and makes it look like suicide so she will be spared. She retrieves and returns an incriminating letter to Livia. Plancina is acquitted of Germanicus's death.
~It means a lot to Claudius when Agrippina said "she understood now what Germanicus had meant when he told her, just before his death, that the truest friend he had ever had was his poor brother Claudius."

Everyone was wanting to know what it meant when a grandmother [Livia] gave gracious interviews to the murderess [Plancina] of her grandson and rescued her from the vengeance of the Senate. The answer could only be that the grandmother had instigated the murder herself and was so utterly unashamed of herself that the wife and children of the victim would not survive him long.

Chapter 22: Sejanus feeds Tiberius's paranoia
~Tiberius still insecure. Used to say, "Let them fear me, so long as they obey me," he now told Sejanus, "Let them hate me, so long as they fear me."
~Agrippina seeks help: Claudius sends her to the two good people that Tiberius consults: Nerva, and Vipsania.
~Ominous bond between Livia and Caligula? Some unpleasant secret?
~Sejanus wants a betrothal between his 4 year old daughter and Claudius's 13 year old son Drusillus. Three days later D is dead with a pear in his throat. It was believed Livia did it because she was not consulted. I don't think so? The pear tree is charged with murder.
~Sejanus and Livilla frame Castor. Castor asks Livia for help, and she agrees because she hopes to get Tiberius to mistrust Sejanus. Castor completely out of favor. He falls ill and dies of consumption.
~Sejanus plots with Livilla to become emperor. Yeah, right. Livia may be old, but she is formidable.
~Piso's relative that defended him tells Agrippina he is not her enemy. He dies.
~Sejanus makes up a story about the "Leek Green Party" being formed by Agrippina. That was just Germanicus's favorite color, so of course his family bet on that one.
~Anything sealed with the Sphynx is "classified." Useful to hide ignoble acts, even promised payments.
~More and more are being accused of treason.
~"The fact was that the senator's wife one morning noticed a sheet of paper posted high up on the gate of the house. She asked her husband to read out what was on it--he was taller." The senator was reported by informer, cross-examined, and he was condemned to be thrown down a cliff. A crime to read something!
~More books are banned, of course that makes them popular, even though they're not very good.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Send a Bodhisattva to the White House?

Everybody's writing about it, blogging about it. So you and I can find it again, here is the video of Barack Obama's speech on race. Here is the transcript. It is being recognized as one for the history books, but on the other hand torn apart by those that would seem unable to do politics any other way.

I have been so turned off by political speech; so much of it is about cutting up and tearing down. This one could be the speech that turns this around. It isn't just about race, but about an even deeper need to change the way we engage in public discourse. It was about refraining from negative soundbites, and seeking instead to accept the humanity found in each of us. He still loves and accepts his former minister, and cannot disown him. No more disowning.

He said:

I chose to run for president at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together, unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction — toward a better future for our children and our grandchildren.

Some may dismiss that at empty rhetoric, but what I hear is the language of peaceful conflict management, and the language from someone who can find a new way of being rather than take sides one way or another, perhaps only in the way a mixed-race child could. He goes on to say, "It's a story that hasn't made me the most conventional of candidates. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts — that out of many, we are truly one."

He goes on to analyze the divisive turn that the national discussion has taken, and skillfully says no, I won't disown my family. My family is more than the snippets you get on TV and YouTube. He is refusing to play the pundit game. I've read some comments on news/blogs that he should have shunned, or he should have said more about sexism, or he should have answered questions from the media like all the other candidates do.

I am grateful he has done none of that. I think beyond this speech, he has opened a doorway to reframing the way politics is discussed. He has insisted that we treat race, and all of the issues that affect our nation's future, with the compassionate and complex discussion it deserves, not with sound bites. I hope this doorway can remain open. I think he may be the person to do it.

Also, while I listened and watched, I thought that his cadence and delivery reminded me of the sermons in churches of my childhood. The charisma of this man will persuade the heartland, and in the heartland that is all about family, not about divisive politics, religious or otherwise, I think he will have appeal. My mother's husband told me a racist joke, something about a black man trying to find change in the white house, and even while we laughed and said "that's bad," he said, "But you know, I think he's the guy I'm going for." Obama knows how to make people feel accepted, and included, and I think that's because he means it.

He would ask us to do the hard work of repairing our relations, to be willing to accept and build up, not tear down. This is radically different from the conservative thousand points of light, of rewarding those who help others. This is about helping each other, and about changing the very frameworks of our lives so we all can be lifted up. This is the work of a bodhisattva. If Barack Obama is for real, he could be the catalyst that brings this nation out of it's wounded war-mongering, within and abroad. (I add the caveat because I was deceived by Bill Clinton. I still have more to learn before I will trust a pol again.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

How to Hold a Meditation Vigil

It's too long, but what I meant to say for a title was, "How to Hold a Meditation Vigil at a Peace Rally...Complete With Music...In the Rain...Alone...

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First, it really helped that I took Friday off in order to prepare, as well as Saturday for the Peace Rally. I created a tiny flier for the park festival, and other BPF activities, and I rode the bus to get it and some brochures copied at Kinko's. I had to spend waaaaay too much time looking for the banner. I got everything together: the camp chair back-pack, the table, fliers, signs, flags, tarps, canopy, Buddha, incense....but the banner eluded me. I even have a list on my computer of all the things to bring. This always seems to happen. And I can be stubborn, so I kept looking. I can be stubborn especially when PMS comes to visit, so I kept looking. Finally I found it in the closet where I looked first, and again another 2 times, but it was underneath stuff and pushed back.

I created a sign-up sheet so maybe people wouldn't take so many brochures. [note to self--add those people to the email list] The organizers asked us to do this to conserve paper. That actually didn't work out too well...visitors got cranky if you seemed reluctant to give them something to take.

In the morning my sweetie gave me a ride. The organizers kindly put me off to one end away from the other tables. He helped me set up the canopy (so easy with the EZ Up) and I made him go away. He was off to work. Methodically, carefully, I hung the prayer flags all around. I used some of the sides for the floor, and the remainder for a seat. Almost immediately the ballot-measure signature-gatherers swooped in for a voter's signature. I felt rather cranky in saying no, I am busy! The team seemed to be planning their strategy for the day. I don't want to sign these things unless I have the time to learn what it is, and even then it is tricky. I want to know who is behind this ballot measure attempt. Then the Street Roots guy also came around.

As Mr. S left, we saw some food-sellers arrive. They were setting up near me. Whew. I wouldn't have to worry about lunch. That turned out to be a good thing, because nobody I knew joined me long enough for a break. Fortunately I was also near the portable toilets. Still, I drank water sparingly.

So I set up, and I sat. I have this great folding seat that is easy to carry. The weather was promising at first, and I sat just at the edge, ready to meet people, invite them in. What is it about one person meditating in a vigil that people feel the need to interrupt, but more than one, they get it? Again, one of the signature vultures swooped in. I held up my hand, and said, "It may look like I'm not doing anything, but I am." I spent some time getting used to the idea that this meditation vigil would be fluid in nature.

OK, I was there to field questions about my group's purpose, there to help people interested in Buddhism, but not to chit-chat, and not to hear nasty jokes about George Bush. The first one, I moved out of the space and must have looked like I was hearing the joke. I was annoyed that this was the urgent thing that must interrupt a meditation vigil. Do these people not look at signs? Do they tell nasty jokes at their churches? Later in the day, the second jokester interrupted during one of three times that I actually had another person sitting with me. He said, "I have a Bush joke for you." I think my jaw dropped.

I put up the hand again, "I appreciate your...[I scramble for the kind word for the unkind thought] intent, but this is a meditation vigil."

"Oh, well sorry." He turns to the other woman. "Maybe you would like to hear it." She says, "Sure, but we'll go out here."

You may notice I haven't mentioned the music. There was music, loud music. Some of the peace folksong variety...but don't you believe us peace-mongers are a bunch of aging or new millennium hippies...most of the music was hip-hop that day. A self-styled forest mendicant that I know asked me at the end of the day, "Isn't it hard to meditate with all that noise going on?" and I replied, "You'd be surprised. If you can meditate here, you can meditate anywhere."

What I realized later what I wanted to get at is that what matters is the noise inside, not the noise outside. The music, the speeches, the march, that mattered not at all. What did matter that while I might have some hormonal crankiness, and I might be uncomfortable when the rain came...and left...and poured again...and hailed...and while each time I wiped off my buttons and fliers and moved the table back...and while I got cold and wrapped my hands with the blanket that my sweetie thoughtfully came back to offer me...was that I let it go, let it dissolve, and just let it all be what it would be. It mattered that I recognize the crankiness for noise, and the best thing for that is to shrug and let it quiet down.

Some people suddenly would want to join me when the rain came down. I said they were welcome to if they wished to join me in meditation. They said sure...but they didn't. Well duh, I thought, this is a refuge, they want to come in even if not for the reason I intended. I would stand up, meet people palm to palm, sit back down. One time I missed my lightweight skirt brushed it aside as I sat. Oh, how embarrassing, but nothing hurt with my roly poly body. Even with no one but me in it, some people would come along and exclaim at what a wonderful calm space it was...but they didn't want to sit...they were there to march. Some Buddhist strangers carried the banner in the march, and said about 8 people gathered behind it.
After the first burst of rain, I put up one side for more shelter. Some Earth-Firsters set up some kind of demo across the way, but I couldn't really see because of my wall. Some cops with bikes lined up on the path in front of me; nothing happened. I continued to sit. Sometimes I folded brochures, a sweet work practice. I bought some delicious sweet-potato-lime soup from the food vendors, along with focaccia and a cookie for breakfast/lunch. Sometimes I pulled the table back away from the rain. At one point the only spot where wind didn't drive the rain was the very center of the canopy. I was a bit discouraged, and I sent a text to my sweetie for a radar report. He replied that it was bad then, but would let up soon. At another point I listened to my voicemail from my friend who was offering to help me pack up after all.

A man squatted to look at my flier/altar table, studied them and took a couple, and said, "This has to be my favorite booth." I told a few people about the many Buddhist groups in the area. One woman was afraid to go to any, not wanting to act or dress in the wrong way. I told her to look at our festival website, and if a group had a website, chances are it would have some information about what to expect. [note to self....with a theme of Harmony for the Buddhist Festival, a workshop or two on etiquette at various temples would be appropriate.]

Near the end of the day, after the march, a white-haired man stood in front of the space and said, "I am so happy to see people meditating." (This was one of the three times another person joined me.) Another tawny-skinned man squatted in front of the Buddha and fliers, still and intent. Some dog tags fell out of his shirt. I sat. I wondered if they were the real thing. I stood up and we talked about possible places for him to practice. He needs this in his life. He asked where I practiced. I told him the next day there would be a special ceremony, that people would be taking the precepts and becoming Buddhists. He asked if I would be going. I wasn't sure. I would be tired from this practice. [my forearms still ache from sitting still, and I got a big knot on the left one from the paper-folding double-whammy] I said, "If you want me to be there, I'll be there."

That is the practice, being there for others.

Oh, at the end, my friend quickly packed up the stuff into his bio-fuel-fed truck and hauled it away. I took the one pink rolling crate, and found the bus home. I really must seek such a volunteer in the future. It was so refreshing to go home alone and not have to deal with all that stuff right away.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Big Read II: I, Claudius Ch. 17-19

I got some neat comments from Emperor Ropi, a student in Budapest. He answers my question about doctors: "Would a doctor at that time know how to treat, or to infect, such a wound?" He says, "In that time, camp doctors had advantage because in Rome post-mortem examination was illegal so their knowledge wasn't good compared to camp doctors whom met with death and cut people often on the battlefield."

He also notes that he thinks Livia knew Claudius would be Emperor one day, due to the birds and wolf pup omen. I know Claudius's mother had an inkling...perhaps she said as much to Livia.

Thanks, E. Ropi!

Chapter 17: The Peanut Gallery

  • In the Senate, Tiberius is heckled by Haterius and Gallus, until he manages to dis H, and Gallus is alone in his pluck. Haterius Haterius...could somebody good at this do something with the Diarrhea Song tune? I wonder if this kind of heckling occurs in our Senate and House, and if so, how much of it goes over most of the narcissistic politicians' heads. "Not Augustus, fool," Haterius would say in a stage whisper. "He's refused that title a dozen times. He only uses it when he writes letters to other monarchs."
  • Tiberius has two trusted advisors, Sejanus and Nerva. "Nerva never made an enemy and never lost a friend. His one fault, if you may call it so, was that he kept silent in the presence of evil when speech would not remedy it." Coming up: Sejanus ends up holding sway over Tiberius. This is the conundrum the good face. We do not wish to speak ill of others. This is one of my Buddhist precepts in fact. The ones that gain more ground then in the short run are the ones willing to speak ill, and Sejanus does that religiously.
  • Later on, Claudius deciphers Livia's secret is based on Homer. Clever Claudius.
  • Is Urgulanilla gay? She loves to gaze at the portrait of an elfin female in-law; Claudius has a concubine
  • Briseis's dream: this name is familiar. Where in the Western canon have I come across this name before? Oh yeah, duh. Homer. She dreams Claudius is a lame boy, safe in the tree while thieves murder each other and he gets all the loot.

Chapter 18: Postumus killed again

  • Postumus reveals himself! After coming up with the secret milk messages, why does Claudius send a letter to Germanicus so easily intercepted?
  • "What greater sorrow can there be than to mourn a beloved friend as murdered--at the close of a long and undeserved exile, that he has somehow cheated his executioners, to have to mourn him a second time..." Tiberius and Livia pretend the recently emerged and killed Postumus was actually the formerly killed slave, Clement. Claudius is now too nervous, fearing poison, to fulfill his religious duties. He takes time off.

Chapter 19: Germany Subdued

  • Hermann and Flavius, German brothers, opposite sides: "I know you are but what am I?" ..."I know you are but what am I?" ..."Your own mother hates you." ..."Yeah well your wife hates you nyahh." The fighting goes exactly as Germanicus predicted. The Germans charge too soon, then flee when overwhelmed, too undisciplined.
  • Germanicus gives his men a rest, sending some by sea. They are shipwrecked. The Germans think the gods favor them, but Germanicus wins again and regains his Eagles. "Only the Eagle of the Twenty-Fifth now remained unredeemed..." Tiberius orders him back to Rome. Livia sends Claudius to Carthage so he can't talk to Germanicus. Germanicus of course tells Tiberius about the framing of Postumus, and of course Tiberius tells Livia. "She was pleased that he still feared her sufficiently to tell her so much, and called him a dutiful son. She swore that she had not arranged false charges against Postumus; this story was probably invented by Agrippina, whom Germanicus followed blindly and who was trying to persuade him to usurp the monarch." Ah, how liars can make the things they do, sound like the things others are doing.
  • Tiberius still doesn't have the super secret dossiers, so to exert political might he creates a law making it easy to accuse blasphemy.
  • Castor spreads foment among tribes in Germany, as Tiberius wished. Hermann, the spy turned German leader, tries to be a king, but Germans seem to have something more like mayors and won't stand for it. "His family, which had hitherto been greatly devoted to him, were so scandalized that, without even first discussing the matter together, they all rushed at him with their weapons and hacked him to pieces." I wonder, would Livia had gotten so far if she had been a German in Germany?

I, Claudius Mindmap

I found another timeline to help keep track of the story. (Must forget the details I glanced and saw for stuff I haven't seen yet.)

If anybody who is reading along would like to help me with this mindmap, let me know and I'll add you as a collaborator. Here's my color code: tried to make different generations different colors. Added in other significant people, other colors. The "bad ones" are more vivid, that is, more saturated. The killed ones, more pale, made the color lighter. Not exact, I may even be wrong. Thus the invitation for more minds on this?

For a better view, click here.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Unnatural Causes: In Sickness and In Wealth

Beginning March 27, PBS will be airing a mini documentary series called Unnatural Causes. While you may be right in thinking none of the Presidential candidates have a useful solution to the health care crisis in the US, this series would tell you even if we had universal, single payer care, that would not be enough. A person's health is completely tied with social status, as this series will show. I haven't seen Sicko, but I'm sure you'll see that, and more, and more proof, in these.

How do I know? I already saw the first one, and you too can get a preview in cities across the US. Check that website for related materials as well. At least you can supplement your viewing when it does come to PBS. Here in Portland, the Multnomah County (yay my employer) is partnering with the library and with other community centers to show each of seven parts, several times. See the schedule here.

Not only is the Health Department showing this, and giving out FREE FOOD, the County is treating this as the beginning of a three year project to work on health equity. Go Multco! After the show, community discussion. The audience is in effect a focus group. The audience at the showing I went to last Monday was woefully small. We need more people there, and we need more people who don't come with their own AGENDA about what they think the solution is. One guy rattled on and on about people needing to get more involved in community, completely missing the point that the disenfranchised people who are too tired from too much poverty to even come, or even know about it because they don't/can't look at websites, can't go to such meetings and spend their time listening to windbags like him.

Sorry to be so disrespectful about a young white guy so gung-ho about people needing to get involved, but really, he needs to learn to shut up, and actually hear what the issues are. And get a clue as to why the few people there had the luxury to be able to attend this meeting. Most were in the health field. Some in the community activist field.

So right now, Portlandians, you can see this amazing series. It will open your eyes as to the complexity of the American crisis, and that we do not have guaranteed national health care only makes our ability to deal with the complexity that much worse.

Review of Part 1: In Sickness and in Wealth
Note that while I saw the last showing at a Multnomah County Library, there is still one showing in Portland. (Saturday, March 29 :: New Columbia Education Center, 12 p.m. - 2 p.m) If you care about SPOILERS, even in documentaries, proceed with caution.

One of the experts introduces the subject by saying "we carry our history in our bodies. How could we not?" Karma folks. Any Buddhist who's done a few go-rounds in meditation retreats could tell you that. Such psychic wounds that cause physical ailments, they are there. When I stopped dieting, and thus stopped feeling bad about every bit of food I ate, my blood pressure went down. Hmmm.

One person was a medical sociologist. I wrote it down so I could look it up. It "examines topics such as the social aspects of physical and mental illness, physician-patient relationships, the organization and structure of health organizations and the socio-economic basis of the health care system. Sociology majors who focus on medical sociology develop research and analytical skills to address issues facing health care providers and those needing health care."

Also, epidemiologist. Something to do with epidemics, but more than that? Ding ding!

From, Sci-Tech encyclopedia:

Epidemiology examines epidemic (excess) and endemic (always present) diseases; it is based on the observation that most diseases do not occur randomly, but are related to environmental and personal characteristics that vary by place, time, and subgroup of the population. The epidemiologist attempts to determine who is prone to a particular disease; where risk of the disease is highest; when the disease is most likely to occur and its trends over time; what exposure its victims have in common; how much the risk is increased through exposure; and how many cases of the disease could be avoided by eliminating the exposure.

For this first show, they look at the lives of several individuals who live in Louisville, Kentucky. Each lives in a different section of town, and each has a different income level. At the beginning, either the sociologist or an epidemiologist shows us a map of Louisville, and how the frequency of all the diseases we tend to think come from our individual preventative health choices can be mapped according to district. The poorest have more cases of cancer, of high blood pressure, of diabetes. By following these individuals, we begin to get a peek as to why income level allows for more choice to actually follow good health practices.

But good health practices do not decide all, and this is one of the points mr windbag missed: even with other preventative factors accounted for, people at different status levels have corresponding degrees of these diseases. The first to find it was one of those experts in Britain...where they have the universal health care. The occurrences of these conditions have everything to do with whether you have "the ability to influence the events that impinge on your life."

I always find the science of body chemicals interesting. That karma thing, after all. I learned that when we have a stress response, the body releases cortisol. When life is good, and you have stress sometimes, that's ok. A little adrenalin gets released, you deal with the stressful thing, and the levels go back down. When your life is chronically stressed, as when you're poor, or when you have a high demand, low control (and low paid) job, your cortisol levels stay up, and that is not good. When children grow up with that, that is very not good. It affects the development of the brain. This is toxic stress. It causes lifelong problems.

It affects whether you get colds. There was one (ew-producing) study shown in which people were fed a cold virus up their nose. The people in lower-income levels, lower-status levels were more likely to get the colds.

Having learned this, you should not be surprised to learn that "African-Americans die earlier ...across the social gradient."

Why do we have such a health crisis? For all our "freedoms" we have a very inequitable society. One of those epidemiologists said, "Those countries where wealth is more equitably distributed are healthier."

Go see the rest. Be a part of the conversation. The next one I go to see tomorrow, Place Matters.

Health is more than health care. Where we live, work and play impacts health. The food we eat and the stress we endure contribute to our health. How can investments in education and neighborhoods improve the health of our whole community? Find out how…

  • Monday, March 17 :: Midland Library, 5:30 p.m. 7:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, March 22 :: Portland Community College-Cascade, 1 p.m. - 3 p.m.
  • Wednesday, April 2 :: Northwest Library, 6:30 p.m. - 7:45 p.m.
  • Saturday, April 19 :: New Columbia Education Center, 12 p.m. - 2 p.m.

2 1/2 Months ago: Wisconsin

I never really got a chance to write about my grandma's funeral and Wisconsin visit, did I? I meant to, but so many things crowd other things out of the way. I was glad I was there for the funeral. So many people that I've known over the years: relatives, my grandma's friends, neighbors. I spent a wonderful summer with my grandparents after I graduated from college. My grandpa played with my cat alot, devising toys from long girl's hair ties (perhaps they'd been mine from when I was a little girl). We played King's Corners a lot. My grandpa had pals that he played horseshoes with, and we women played cards inside. One of those guys wondered if I remembered him. Of course I did.
(Photo above: view from living room into kitchen. The mirror on the right is a door that leads up the stairs, or up one triangular step and down through another door into the kitchen. One of the peculiarities of the house that I will miss.)

I liked that the minister echoed pretty much everything my mom had been saying to visitors as we stood together in the receiving line. I liked that he is a third or fourth cousin of mine. I asked her later if he'd talked to her about that. I didn't like that he made it a pulpit for salvation or damnation. He said something like "we are so fortunate that we believe." This coming soon after mentioning my grandma's concern for her family, I had to wonder if he was trying to tell me something in particular. The Buddhist. The non-believer. That was so not my grandma. Much like this atheist encountered at his grandfather's funeral. I was surprised when he approached me about a tiny bit of research I did about our great grandparents for my grandma. He was hoping I could find out something further, like where they came from in Germany. I said I would try. I haven't had time, and not sure I have the ability. I couldn't help but wonder though, after the angels in heaven because we're believers speech, if I wasn't his mission.

In the month after I had disquieting dreams of being in my grandma's house, sorting through her things, sometimes with my mom, and my aunt, her sister Kay. Sometimes these things seemed so significant, now they are gone, like the non-corporeal whisps that they were. The hardest part about staying at her house was saying goodbye to all the memories, triggered by all her things. I talked to my mom about it Friday night...she and Kay had done that sorting for real, and had the big rummage sale this weekend. She also thought they might have a buyer for the house. That refuge will be there no more for me. We were sad that some things that meant so much would sell for so little. At least my nephew got the late 30's bedroom furniture set that was in "my" room. It was my grandparent's first bed when they got married.

My mom's husband is keeping this old thing from the door to the garage for the memories. He's going to have my nephews with touch it up with their airbrush. My grandma worked in a plastics molds and screen-printing factory, came home with these oddball things.
While I was there I got to see my twin nephews wrestle (not each other...the other team). Unfortunately they lost. I was struck by the sheer physicality of that sport, and amazed that it is so popular in such a homophobic state. Ummm, what happens if they get aroused. Somebody must?
I also got to visit with my stepfather's sister. The two families are not speaking. I encouraged her not to let that keep her from keeping connected to my nephews. She is a godparent to one of them. She and I went to the wrestling match together, after a long heart to heart
I also got to see my dad. Below is the first post I did on my library 2.0 blog, mentioned my visit with dad. He made pancakes for me after our little visit to the library. He plans to stay in Fond du Lac, closer to my brother. I ran out of archive on my lib 2.0 blog, oh that has been so annoying.
My first library blog post:
I recently made an unexpected visit to my home state of Wisconsin. One of the many reasons I escaped Wisconsin is the below-freezing winter norm. I feel I am slowly catching up after two weeks of vacation, a short week at work, and another week absent in Wisconsin. Now I just have a short time to get this blog started.

I already keep three other blogs, one personal (email me privately if you care to see it) and two for my volunteer work with the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. I think for this blog I will stick to library stuff, and will consider an audience wider than MCL employees, such as the folks in my branch's Pageturners.

Anyway, in Wisconsin I got to visit my dad, who is living in a new town for him. We went for a walk, and he showed me his library, the Fond Du Lac Public Library.

Fond Du Lac Public Library, Wisconsin

It is an award-winning library, looks beautiful inside.

Some features:

art in the Fond Du Lac Library

stacks, Fond Du Lac Library book return reading lounge

My dad amused himself while waiting for me to check it all out. I liked their signage, see above.

Dad reading the paper

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Big Read II: I, Claudius Ch. 14-16

Chapter 14: Augustus a god, Tiberius an emperor
~Augustus is declared a god.
~Previous chapter: flash-forward. This chapter: flashback. Before he died Augustus visited Claudius, their usual roles reversed. Claudius asks, "Claudius, do you bear me any ill-will? ...I hope to be able to earn both your love and your gratitude. ...[Germanicus] says that you are loyal to three things--to your friends, to Rome, and to the truth. I would be very proud if Germanicus thought the same of me." It says something about his character that at that late age, this man could change his mind, could so thoroughly admit his previous lack, and then set about doing the right thing. Augustus improves in my mind. He hints that he's left a new will with the Vestal Virgins. Uh-oh. They may be good, but they are under the thumb of the evil Urgulania.

~Of course Augustus's new will is rejected, and the older one disinheriting Postumus is used. (It doesn't appear Urgulania had anything to do with it.) While Augustus had been rich in power, he died without so much money. After it was divided among so many descendants (still plenty left after all those poisonings) there was little left for the troops. Apparently they get a bonus for serving their dead monarch, but they are restless because it's not a very big bonus and they've been waging war a long time.

~While the Senators would love to name Germanicus the new emperor, he is, as he always is at the wrong time, away at war. They dare not pass by Tiberius, so they ask him to be the next ruler. Symbolic protests of unworthiness ensue, on both sides. The bold Gallus calls all bluffs, and challenges Tiberius to name how he would divvy up ruling between three heads.

~Thus begins a shaky partnership between Livia and Tiberius. She holds all the state secrets, Ancient Rome's version of CIA and NSA intel. He depends on her to hold power; she depends on him to wield power. She yields some of the secrets, but not the super-secret dossiers.

~The faux-Postumus is murdered...and Livia wasn't the one to orchestrate it! Poor Claudius doesn't yet know of Postumus's escape.

Chapter 15: Mutiny
~Sure enough, never-ending war without enough compensation takes its toll. The soldiers mutiny, first in the Balkans, then in Germany. I muse to myself on how civilians conducting a stop-work demand are on strike, but how soldiers do not strike, they mutiny. Our modern soldiers are hardly compensated enough, return home to grudging medical care, and are being deployed too long and too often. How long before they abandon an ill-begotten foreign war? Oh, wait, many of them are going AWOL rather than report for yet another deployment. We just don't hear about it in the propaganda press. Sorry, back to Claudius...

~A fortunately timed (for Rome) lunar eclipse convinces the men in the Balkans to make peace with their commanders. Who knew grunts were so superstitious?

~The mutiny on the Rhine is much worse. These had been commanded by Tiberius. Germanicus works miracles. His courageous and calm manner keeps him from getting slaughtered. Because there were many old men recalled to duty (never-ending war syndrome) they remembered his father's just command. When Germanicus spoke of his father, they thought he meant their long-dead commander, while he meant Tiberius. It gets them to listen.

~The soldiers would have Germanicus be their emperor. Germanicus shouted, "You're mad, men, to talk like that. What do you think I am? A traitor?" They do NOT like Tiberius. Without the masses behind him, Tiberius's days as ruler are numbered. Cassius hears of a plot to send news to troops in the Upper Provinces, urging revolt.

~Germanicus "committed the first and only crime of his life: he forged a letter purporting to com from Tiberius..." He promised retirement for the long term soldiers, and double the bonus.

~Meanwhile, back in Rome, Tiberius is booed in the streets.

~Claudius receives the letter begging him to raise the money, and keep it quiet. Along with Germanicus's money, Claudius puts in half. When Livia hears that he's sold property, he blames his gambling. There's a little aside about his funny book on playing dice, but no one gets it because they don't know all the stuff Claudius knows, so everybody thinks it a pedantic book.

Chapter 16: We meet Little Boot; Germanicus prevails
~Drunk and still spoiling for mutiny, the soldiers riot in the night. Brilliant Germanicus:

When dawn came Germanicus told the trumpeter to blow the Assembly, and stepped on the tribunal, putting the leader of the senatorial deputation beside him. ...He stood up, commanded silence, and then gave a great yawn. ...and apologized, saying that he had not slept well because of the scuttling of mice in his quarters. The men liked that joke and laughed.

~After their scolding, the men get the rest of their money. More drunken brawls loom, so Germanicus sends his wife away. We, the readers, meet little Caligula.

"This pretty child had become the army mascot, and someone had made him a miniature soldier-suit, complete with tin breast-plate and sword and helmet and shield. Everyone spoilt him. ...he used to cry and plead for his sword and his little boots to go visiting in the tents. So he was nicknamed Caligula, or Little Boot."
~Agrippina would stay, but Germanicus reminds her that Livia would be her children's new mother if she died.

~Again, superstition saves the day. The soldiers want their Little Boot back. Germanicus makes his demands, and the men comply. They round up and execute the lead mutineers. Germanicus offers them full pardon if they will avenge the Governor's defeat in Germany.

"So everything was all right again at Bonn, and Caligula was told by the men that he had put down the mutiny single-handed and that one day he'd be a great emperor and win wonderful victories; which was very bad for the child, who was already, as I say, disgracefully spoilt."

Oy. I'll bet he was. A fiend in the making.
~Germanicus is ruthless across the Rhine, "burning the villages and slaughtering the inhabitants without respect for age or sex."

~Because Tiberius is one of the bad ones, he cannot understand the loyalty and sincerity of Germanicus. And Germanicus does not suspect Tiberius's collusion with Livia. It takes 3 years for Germanicus to return, all the while exchanging letters "of dutiful affection" with Tiberius.

~Claudius keeps doing this to us. Agrippina's new babe in arms, daughter Agrippinilla, "turned out one of the very worst of the Claudians--in fact, I may say that she shows sign of outdoing all her ancestors and ancestresses in arrogance and vice." How could she be worse than Livia?!

~ Caligula is recognized everywhere, still everyone's mascot, and consequently a big brat. When Claudius's mother spanks him, little Caligula starts a fire out of spite. Claudius sells his last valuable property to rebuild.

~Germanicus captures the German ringleader's wife (one of the former spies) and proceeds finally to defeat the Germans. False news that the battle was lost reaches the bridge where Agrippina waits. The captain would retreat.

But Agrippina was there and countermanded the order. She told the men that she was captain of the guard now and would remain so until her husband returned to relieve her of her command. ...Her popularity now almost equalled that of her husband. She had organized a hospital for the wounded as Germanicus sent them back.... Ordinarily, wounded soldiers remained with their units.... The hospital she paid for out of her own purse.
I just couldn't leave that out. Agrippina is amazing.

~Again, cliffhanger end to the chapter: "But there was still no news of Postumus, and Livia, until she was certain of his death, could not be easy in her mind." Part of Livia's evil genius is that she fortuitously chose the right man's strings to pull. It occurs to me that Livilla did not. What if she had done the same with Postumus? Maybe she couldn't because the timing wasn't right, with Livia still so strong. I so hope Postumus causes Livia's and Livilla's downfalls.