Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Not Straight? In My Military? Sure, Why Not?


After waking up quite late and checking Yahoo News, I found a compelling story to mull over. The gist of the article is that the Chief Officers in the various subgroups of the U.S. Army are less than enthusiastic over the President's goal to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Part of this no doubt has to do with tradition and general army deprogramming of certain interpersonal relationships (such as tolerance of explicitly different people: race, creed, sexuality, etc.) But the primary issue does seem to be practical for the motivation of the chiefs to advocate a slow process of change. With the U.S. in two wars (I thought we were in just one, but two sounds about right) the change of allowing openly gay people or gay people at all in the armed forces would apparently be difficult to implement.

Now, I understand these guys are uncomfortable about the whole idea of having GLBT people in service of the traditionally straight or nonsexual groupings within the army. And I realize they're probably in my parent's generation, who still refer to GLBT with such euphemisms as "a little funny" or "overly feminine" or the lovely one that's still around, "queer". This only makes me realize the idea of change would probably have to wait until they're all replaced or just have a moment of realization that gay people are just like everyone else and should be treated as such.

The implementation of change would no doubt cause even people that are within my own generation that serve in the army some unease. But somehow I doubt that just because there are people serving alongside you that "play for the other team" in a manner of speaking, that you can't swallow your pride, suck it up and stop whining to God about it and do the primary job you signed on for, protecting the country and the ideals it stands for. And isn't one of the primary ideals of the U.S. that oft quoted set of rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? If all the majority of straight men and women in the military can suppress their sexual desires, then what makes you think the GLBT can't do the same thing? Misinformation, superstition and other forms of self deception, that's what!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

How Cats Help Me Learn Zen

Edit: We have since lost Tiger to a blood clot in his leg that paralyzed his hind legs and slowly killed him before we euthanized him. I'll miss him, but I may comment in a future post about how our stray cat, Whiney, has improved my Buddhist practice in his own way.

Our present household has three cats, each of which I have a decent analysis of their personality. Cat personality at first glance seems to be a contradiction, since cats are essentially non human and thus have little potential to manifest what we’d term personality traits. But part of this difficulty comes through our regarding our pets as sources of amusement or distraction as opposed to companionship. When cats are observed as human companions, they have shared traits of behavior and approaches to their environment, and in this way there is what one can call a pet personality. Here’s the first link that gave me some insight into this apparently underrated topic in veterinary studies.


The title of the post may still confuse you, and that’s because I haven’t explained what the connection between cats and Zen is. While my knowledge of Buddhism is limited, even Zen, of which I probably possess ten or more texts of koans and the like, there are things that my cats make me realize as I observe them on a daily basis and seek more wisdom in Zen proverbs. This is actually something I only recently started doing in the free time I possess now that I’ve finished college and am working towards graduate school in the future. Each cat presents a certain facet of Zen teaching that I’ve discovered over time and these will be explained in the concluding points of each cat’s so called biography.

The oldest, to my knowledge, is Tiger, who is my younger brother’s cat. He is more than likely tied with the spot for the oldest with his cousin, Rachel, but we’ll get to her soon enough. At first glance, you would probably think he’s older. This is no coincidence, since he’s been exposed to the most in his life. First off, he was always the cat that was always outside and into things, exploring the yard, keeping up with all manner of pests and maintaining a perimeter of sorts. Although this by no means makes him what one would call the Alpha cat, who is the one at the top of the proverbial cat hierarchy. Tiger actually left the household for a significant period of time after we recently moved. And after returning, he has become a primarily outside cat, coming inside for limited periods of time. This is what I mean by his larger pool of experience. Though even as a cat that was a consistent part of the household, he was more at home outside. And as befitting what I’d say is a Gamma personality, he maintains an aloofness you don’t see as much in our other cats. With Tiger, the Zen property I find manifest in him would be tentatively called contemplation. When you see Tiger, he is actually commonly sleeping, which is a common trait of cats. But in his waking moments, he has a lingering suspicion about everything. Even with people like my family he trusts, there is a slow adjustment and not an immediate clinging. He slowly approaches you and is not one for being a lap cat, unlike the youngest cat. A direct connection to Zen with cats at present may be impossible, but with Tiger there is a distinct sense of his having experienced harsh reality and affirming a tenet of suspicion with a willingness to adjust, which he has over time done in his readjustment.

Rachel is our second cat within the hierarchy, and unlike Tiger, could be said to be very much in the middle, whereas Tiger is on the bottom, which he doesn’t mind. Rachel, being within the middle, is (ironically?) the heaviest of our cats, and this is due to a combination of factors, one of which may be the fact that she had kittens and they were systematically given away. There is a thesis among our household that due to this shock and trauma, she has given herself to eating more and more to fill a void of sorts. This also may be due to her general attachment to the house itself as a place that is safe. Her cat type is tentatively Beta, though she may also be a Gamma in some respects. Her Beta status is bestowed by my analysis that she is the mediator and general speaker for the other cats, though not necessarily in the audible sense. Our most vocal cat is the last of the three. Rachel possesses an equanimity that is belied by her insistence that you do not pick her up. Though that is a hard task as she weighs around 18 pounds. If you observe her interactions with our other cats, she is very unassuming. She isn’t too inquisitive or affectionate, but she isn’t one who hides away from the family either. She has points where she will have alone time, but there are also points of interaction with the family and the cats as well. None of our cats are very outgoing in terms of visitors, though, and will hide at the first sign of children or other intruders that they don’t recognize, and this is more than likely a flaw of their personalities or environment. But I’m hardly qualified to speak more than theoretically on these points, so on to Rachel’s Zen quality. If Rachel demonstrates anything best, it is a sense of compassion and human love. She is never one to be especially put off by even pulling her tail unless it becomes especially harsh. If she interacted with children (which she hasn’t to my knowledge) she could probably take some of their less than gentle treatment of her body. But if you meet her and she trusts you enough, she shows a trait rarely seen in humans to the same extent. She desires affection and will return it back to you as well with the cat headbutt that in her case can be surprisingly tough. This connects with Zen in the willingness to go outside the monastery, to interact with everyone and exhibit traits of the bodhisattva, one who has achieved enlightenment and postpones it to help others achieve liberation as well. Rachel similarly tries her best to be as friendly as a cat can be with everyone, including my grandparents when they come to visit, which is more than I can say for Tiger or Miss Kitty.

Miss Kitty is the last cat and the one I have the most experience with recently, since she has become particularly attached to me. This is not only because I’m home more than usual, but also due to an incident where she was anesthetized for a point and after recovering, she stumbled into my room and found someone who wasn’t too busy or too loud and just let her lay awkwardly and adjust to getting over the imbalance, which manifest acutely as she tried to jump on the bed and got halfway up, falling back on the ground. She’s quite fine in terms of jumping to places nowadays though. Since I got my new bookcase, she has taken it upon herself to get up as high as possible, which luckily is only the 3rd of 5 levels. My other family can attest that she is a very curious and inquisitive cat. She’s the first to smell new things as we bring them in the house and with at least my mother and I, is especially protective. Though this is not to say she isn’t like most cats, since she’ll just as easily leave without warning and go somewhere else. But as what I would describe as a definite Alpha cat personality, she is the dominant cat. Which is ironic, since she’s the smallest cat and it seems she will maintain the size that is her blessing and curse: a blessing in that she can jump higher and hide in smaller places, but a curse in that children are able to pick her up with relative ease. I would say her Zen trait is harder to place, but it definitely comes out in her nonchalance towards human expectations. She will be considerate to people when they are in need of cat comforts, but then will just as soon leave when she knows she is no longer needed. Like Zen koans and masters, she is equally unconventional in her methods of teaching.

While none of these cats are particularly good Buddhists, it is a general theme in Buddhist proverbs to use examples in nature to demonstrate a point of the Dharma and our cats are no exception. Until next time, Namaste and aloha

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Palin Versus Peter, or How Family Guy Makes Fun of "Retards" (Not Really)


After having gotten up surprisingly early and checking Yahoo News as is something of a religious habit, I noticed Sarah Palin has been hogging the spotlight again. In this case, it may last longer than when David Letterman made a joke about her daughter Bristol, since this has more relevance (and I use that loosely) to her youngest son, Trig.

A Family Guy episode, Extra Large Medium has a subplot where Chris, after having survived with Stewie in the wilderness for almost 4 days (gasp!), decides to get up the courage to ask a girl in his math class out on a date. It just so happens that Ellen, the girl in question, has Down Syndrome, although I'm skeptical of that. Her portrayal starts out innocent enough, but then she takes a drastic turn towards outright bitch. She constantly derides Chris for not reading her mind and doing all these things during the date to pamper and otherwise treat her like a queen (pulling out her chair is one thing, but giving her a freaking shoulder massage; this is a date, not a spa visit). And at the end of it all, she is indistinguishable from a selfish whining brat who just wants people to treat her differently because she has "special needs" (and apparently make her an ice cream sundae at the end of a probably expensive date at a fancy restaurant).

And Chris' point seems to stand strongly against Palin's apparent desire to make her son so "special" that anyone else is not even close to his level. As he put it, they're the same as everyone else (though admittedly he uses stronger words, which I'll choose not to use, since I like to limit myself to “curse words” in my blog). Overall, the offensive nature of this episode seems excessively overstated by Palin, since the only thing that has any tinge of a personal insult is quoted in the Yahoo News article. That is, Ellen notes that her father is an accountant (which last I checked, Palin's husband isn't) and her mom is the former governor of Alaska (which while Palin fits that description, I imagine that she isn't the first former governor of Alaska).
Stewie, as per his musical character, does have a song that would appear to have some amount of offensive references towards the mentally handicapped, but his overall tone suggests that she is a good person, even if she has flaws that he brings up. The last lines before he concludes the song with its title "Down Syndrome Girl" are indeed "happiness and joy creating", which I imagine Palin can agree her son and all her children are examples of.

To say that this is the first time Family Guy has made jokes regarding the "retarded" is to be too lazy to make even a short Google search. The episode Petarded brings up that Peter Griffin, the main star, is special needs himself. Though admittedly, Palin hadn't had Trig at that point, so she couldn't make such a stand that she's supporting the rights of the mentally disabled. And I doubt she'd care about a joke towards Grimace from McDonald's franchise being "Ronald's retarded (or in some edits) autistic friend". And any jokes regarding a retarded horse would be least in her horizon of defending the human children with special needs.

My biggest gripe overall would be why Palin takes it upon herself to try to protect her son and all such people affected by Down syndrome by association. Considering there are plenty of organizations that do the same thing and make a similar effort to confront issues of people misusing or otherwise using the term "retarded" or "retard" in a context that is less than hospitable and benevolent to the special needs community. Though from what I recall, she didn't make a gripe about Rush Limbaugh calling "liberals" the same term that she had a problem with Rahm Emanuel using in what was apparently a not-so-closed strategy meeting over healthcare. But her political issues would be another thing entirely that I don't feel entitled to speak on.

Overall, I would think that like Focus on the Family, maybe Sarah Palin could deal with a secondary "kick in the gut" and align herself with Special Olympics or the Burton Blatt Institute in Syracuse University in order to promote what I find to be an otherwise respectable agenda. But if she uses her son as the only motivation to advance the rights and standing of the mentally handicapped, then she almost doesn't deserve to paint herself as a defender of the community at large. But she wouldn't be the only parent to overestimate how "special" her child is. She just has a failsafe to fall back on that few people would call her on initially. Because no one would bring up hypocrisy in a person who has a child that has Down Syndrome, oh no... That's just not right. But seriously, this is Sarah Palin, she's just digging herself into a bigger hole by the day.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Pro Choice/Life Ad?

While I didn't watch the Super Bowl at all (haven't for a couple of years; never been interested in sports to begin with, particularly team sports), I did get emails from Christian Response (research purposes primarily) emphasizing how pro-life the 30 second ad is. While the point I found amusing was point where Tim tackles his mother (odd, isn't it?), the supposed focus of the ad towards pro life is contested and for good reason.

The only instance where it really gets into pro-life territory is in the beginning where she emphasizes how she persevered even though her pregnancy was hard. The backstory, from my limited research, is that she was infected with a dysentery amoeba and the medicine she took to cure it caused a complication in the pregnancy that probably would have killed her and/or her fetus. While she does demonstrate that it is possible to carry a child to term with this complication, the pro life aspect that is emphasized in the commercial is hardly admirable. To admire someone for persevering against someone's better judgment seems especially troubling when one does not by necessity need to continue having children, in the context of the Tebow family. Tim is the youngest of five, count them, five children. Why the family insists that they must have another child when providing for four as missionaries would be difficult enough, I cannot say.

I can say that while I see the pro choice aspects of the ad, the ad itself is mostly there to get laughs. But in the beginning there is an emphasis by Tim Tebow's mother that he is a "miracle baby" and such things. Last I heard, in a Christian's perspective, all babies are miracles from God. But then, that would make Mr. Tebow even more miraculous. Like there's a hierarchy or some such nonsense. I'm not one for censoring, but I am one for contesting a position that I find objectionable that Focus on the Family holds. Although to continue on this rant would necessitate another blog post entirely.

For now, I will leave it at this: I disagree with Focus on the Family, but it is good that they are exercising a basic right to a free marketplace of ideas. Though frankly, I would think they'd direct their funds towards other modes of advertisement. The Super Bowl attempt recently seems to only demonstrate desperation in trying to push their message when they are in an extreme area of the position of pro life and "family values". Perhaps they will succeed, but perhaps they will realize a fault and try a new approach in the future. Why not, oh, I dunno…advertise on the 700 Club?!