23 September 2007

Goodbye, Old Friend

Walt Crowley died Friday evening, September 21. He was 60 years old, three years younger than I am, and he was a friend of mine. The best article about his life appears on the website historylink.org, which he co-founded in 1997. The warmest personal remembrance of Walt was written by Seattle City Council member Jean Godden, a former newspaper reporter and columnist.

I met Walt when he and I worked at the Weekly (now called Seattle Weekly) in the mid-1980s. We had neighboring desks in the open newsroom and soon became friends. I enjoyed his keen intelligence, playful sense of humor, personal integrity, and compassion. He knew a lot of people, some of them movers and shakers, and had a lot of friends.

Walt believed in engagement. He was not one to withdraw into cynical detachment in the face of appalling official injustice and cruelty. He sought to do something about it.

"As we know from any reading of the morning papers, liberty is never at a loss for ambitious enemies," said Lewis Lapham, former and longtime editor of Harper's magazine, in a salute to Molly Ivins last year. "But the survival of the American democracy depends less on the magnificence of its Air Force or the wonder of its fleets than on the willingness of its citizens to stand on the ground of their own thought."

Walt Crowley was more than willing to stand on the ground of his own thought. I'll miss him as a friend, and I'll miss him as a model of what a citizen should be.

14 September 2007

Unsafe and Insecure

With the 2008 presidential race already rolling along, we're hearing a lot of noise from the candidates, Democratic and Republican alike, about "keeping America safe" and "securing our borders." It's all nonsense, of course.

No one can keep you safe from anything. Here are the facts: You are not safe, you are not secure. Life is uncertain. But you do have a choice. You can accept the reality of uncertainty, or you can deny it and convince yourself that this or that presidential candidate will do a better job of making you "safe" and "secure."

In the wake of 9/11, Bush and Cheney established a cabinet-level mega-department, Homeland Security, to protect us from terrorists and evildoers. Now we all know that B & C are tough guys, eager to dispatch the Air Force bombers and Devil Dog Marines. Shock and awe, baby!

Endless and ill-defined "war on terrorism," colossally inept Homeland Security department, disastrous invasion of Iraq ... you tell me, do you feel safe and secure? Well, do you?

08 August 2007

The Plane Truth

An item in the August 4 New York Times titled "Passengers Scowl as Airlines Smile" finally confirms what anyone who's flown in the past few years already knows; namely, that the airlines have been consistently downgrading service to passengers. You know the drill: We get nothing to eat, inadequate seating space, dirty cabins and lavatories, broken equipment (e.g., seat-tilting controls), and, of course, regularly delayed or canceled flights.

Here's the bad news:

"For the first five months of this year, the on-time arrival rate of the big airlines was 73.5 percent, the lowest in seven years. Complaints about service were up 49 percent from May 2006. This summer, flights are booked at average levels of about 90 percent, a historic high. That means that if a flight is delayed, it is much more difficult for a passenger to get a seat on a later flight.

"Airlines make a simple calculation, comparing the loss from flying with an empty seat against the risk of bumping passengers, to whom airlines have to pay $200 or $400, depending on how quickly they can be rebooked."

The Times quotes Serguei Netessine, a professor at Wharton School of Business: "Previously, airlines worried about dissatisfied customers. Now I don't think they worry about it, because the customer service at all airlines is so horrible." [italics mine]

25 July 2007

Blowing Smoke

Despite the proven health risks associated with smoking--e.g., lung cancer, emphysema, congestive heart failure, colorectal cancer, hypertension--many Americans continue to smoke. Here are the latest figures, reported in Time magazine's July 16 issue:
  • 71.5 million Americans use tobacco products.
  • 23.4 percent of men are cigarette smokers.
  • 18.5 percent of women are cigarette smokers.
  • 44.3 percent of young adults 18 to 25 years old use tobacco, the highest of any group.
The article also mentioned that tobacco use is lowest in the West and highest in the Midwest.

29 June 2007

Stuff Happens

Last night, we went to see a production of Stuff Happens, a play written by David Hare, at A Contemporary Theatre (ACT) in Seattle. The play, whose title refers to a comment made by then-US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in response to a reporter's question about looting and pillage in Baghdad, is concerned with the run-up to war in Iraq, and the actors portray the members of the Bush administration who were centrally involved in making the case for war: Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, and George W. Bush, along with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain. It's a powerful play, and the ACT production was superb, with strong, convincing performances from the entire cast.

Late in Act II, Bush summons his war council to a critical meeting in the Oval Office regarding the Tony Blair problem. Powell, fed up with the vice president's frequent sarcastic asides about Blair, breaks in on Cheney:
Powell: Come on, this is ridiculous. This isn't worthy of you, Dick.
Cheney: Not worthy? You want me to be serious?
Powell: I do.
Cheney: You want me to tell you what I really think?
Powell: Yes.
Cheney: All right. I'll tell you. Tony Blair? I've read his stuff. I've heard him talk. This is a man on a mission. This is a man with a history.
Powell: Sure.
Cheney: He knows what he wants: He wants to build some new world order out of the ruins of the World Trade Center. He wants the right to go into any country anywhere and bring relief from suffering and pain wherever he finds it. And I don't. What I want is to follow this country's legitimate security concerns. And, for me, those come above everything.
Rumsfeld: Me, too.
Cheney: Now: If those interests happen to coincide with some Englishman's fantasy of how he's one day going to introduce some universal penalty system -- three strikes and the UN says you can overthrow any regime you like -- then that's fine. If not, not, and we won't miss him.
Powell: That isn't fair. Blair's loyal. He's been loyal from the start.
Cheney: OK, I admit it, if we want him, Blair's good at the high moral tone. If you want to go into battle with a preacher sitting on top of the tank, that's fine by me. But bear in mind, the preacher's one more to carry. Needs rations, needs a latrine, just like everyone else.
Powell: I like Blair.
Cheney: Maybe you do. But we don't need him. And as of this moment, he's bringing us nothing but trouble. It's a good rule: When the cat shit gets bigger than the cat, get rid of the cat.
Rumsfeld: Nice.
Cheney: This guy is putting himself halfway between American power and international diplomacy. And sorry -- but that's a place where people get mashed.
If you have a chance to see the play, by all means go. It's provocative, it's enraging, it's discouraging, but you won't soon forget it.

27 April 2007

Inside Passage

For many years, I've thought that meditation, the practice of sitting quietly alone in a room with nothing but your breath and your thoughts for company, may be a key to understanding the fundamental mysteries of life. Who am I? Why am I here? What (if anything) is real? True, philosophers have grappled with such questions for centuries, publishing enough scholarly papers and books to fill entire libraries. But what about the rest of us? Is there a chance we might learn something important by going inside ourselves instead of opening a book?

Thinking about the value of meditation is one thing. Creating a practice is another. These things were going through my mind this morning as I was waiting at the chiropractor's office for my appointment. To pass the time, I started paging through the May-June Utne magazine and spotted an article by filmmaker David Lynch titled "Deep Thoughts." Admitting that he originally thought meditation was a waste of time, Lynch eventually decided to try it when anxiety and anger began to subvert his creative powers (and his marriage). As he writes, "Anger and depression and sorrow are beautiful things in a story, but they're like poison to the filmmaker or artist." After he'd been meditating for a couple of weeks, Lynch's wife asked him: "This anger, where did it go?" He hadn't even noticed it had lifted.

Now, Lynch tells us, he hasn't missed a meditation in 33 years. Reading about the lasting benefits of his practice, you can see why.

I meditate once in the morning and again in the afternoon, for about 20 minutes each time. Then I go about the business of my day. And I find that the joy of doing increases. Intuition increases.The pleasure of life grows. And negativity recedes.

31 January 2007

Popular Demand

Yes, friends, Spiraglio has yielded to unrelenting pressure from his readers--all six of you--and reopened for business after a lengthy hiatus. Now, let's see ... where was I?

Oh yes, the Cheney-Bush administration. What are they up to? Well, for one thing, they're busily firing all the competent US Attorneys, and replacing them with legal hacks loyal to themselves. By doing this, they hope to avoid inconvenient federal criminal investigations into such practices as illegal eavesdropping against American citizens. James Bamford wrote about the NSA's four-year unauthorized monitoring of our phone calls and e-mails in a New York Times op-ed piece today, "Bush Is Not Above the Law":

Last August, a federal judge found that the president of the United States broke the law, committed a serious felony and violated the Constitution. Had the president been an ordinary citizen — someone charged with bank robbery or income tax evasion — the wheels of justice would have immediately begun to turn. The F.B.I. would have conducted an investigation, a United States attorney’s office would have impaneled a grand jury and charges would have been brought. But under the Bush Justice Department, no F.B.I. agents were ever dispatched to padlock White House files or knock on doors and no federal prosecutors ever opened a case.

The ruling was the result of a suit, in which I am one of the plaintiffs, brought against the National Security Agency by the American Civil Liberties Union. It was a response to revelations by this newspaper in December 2005 that the agency had been monitoring the phone calls and e-mail messages of Americans for more than four years without first obtaining warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, as required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.