Charter for Compassion

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Hole in Democracy

Recently on facebook, I posted a series of comments to which a friend commented, "You are such a radical." I don't agree. I have included the recent relevant posts and my response.

A lesson in values: Governor Schwartznegger's budget for bodyguards has tripled from 14 million to 43 million while he has been in office, meanwhile school budgets have suffered from successive budget cuts. Lets study this in school. (source NPR)

More than $17 billion has been cut from California public schools and colleges in last two years.

The Detroit News reports, "48.5% of male Detroiters age 20 - 64 did not have a job in 2008"!!! This is what capitalism and political corruption can do. For those of you who don't know, this is where I grew up. It is a terror to know that half of the men you knew in a once vibrant community didn't/don't have a job. This is a major city in America. It is the Katrina of our time, and yet, it has been shuffled off and hidden. It is a crime/a sin/a scandal.

Who is the real enemy of democracy? Who are the banks, let alone those laughing all the way to the bank? Who creates the wealth? Why are we who are left with a job working so hard and getting so little?

Who is experiencing record profits while education goes wanting, people go unemployed, and communities are destroyed? Who resists the utilization of our country's wealth for medical care for all? Who causes these prices to rise? Wall Street, Big Pharma.

Doesn't asking these questions just seem like the honest truth right now? I mean, I'm not so radical. I'm not a communist, I don't think revolution will bring an answer. Revolution sinks toward violence, and Martin Luther King Jr. among others long ago pointed out its destructive consequences. I studied the course of the revolution in China... it turned me into a live and let live, freedom, justice, and human rights kind of a guy. I believe democracy is our greatest hope. But democracy is not working right right now. The twenty first century finds us polarized and confused. If democracy is to work, we need to find an answer to the interference of money. Money has ripped a hole in all of our checks and balances. To resist the destructive tides of the market forces is a matter of survival now. The arrogance of all those bonuses is just astounding to me. We've seen it before with oil companies, and the shame just doesn't seem to occur.

Is it working for us? I don't think so. I don't have the answers. Building a moral force strong enough to overcome the power of forces so flush with money takes time. I also believe we don't have a lot of time; China is waiting in the wings, with answers of its own that will not be satisfying. You have seen my posts about China. Then there's Mother Earth. How long can we go on doing not quite enough by her? Please think about these questions. Let's work together and build that which values people, education, employment, fairness, real democracy and a real future.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Why I Write about China or a Series of Unfortunate Events

First they raped the woman who washes feet, but I am not a woman, so I did not say anything; they fished for more registration fees, but I have no car, so I did not say anything; they killed the prisoners Hurry & Scurry, I am not a prisoner, so I did not say anything; they beat the journalists who expose the truth, but I am not a journalist, so I did not say anything; they arrested the people who petition the government, but I did not petition, so I did not say anything; they demolished houses to make way for the Olympics, but I do not own a house, so I did not say anything; They arrested human rights activists, but I’m not willing to sacrifice myself to help someone else, so I did not say anything; they arrested scholars who criticize the government, but I am not a scholar, so I did not say anything; they gang raped a female high school student, and then let her transfer, but I have no daughters, so I did not say anything; they took away the cooking utensils of the man who sells baked potatoes, and beat this poor lame old man, but I do not sell potatoes, so I did not say anything; they caused housing prices to skyrocket, I do not buy houses, so I did not say anything; they suppressed the Uighurs and the Tibetans, I am neither Uighur, not Tibetan, so I said nothing; they arrested those young people who dared go to Tiananmen to bring flowers, I didn’t think of going, nor would I dare go, so I said nothing; they arrested Zhao Lianhai who had the baby who drank contaminated milk and got kidney stones, but my family didn’t have a baby with kidney stones, so I said nothing; they arrested the house church members, but I don’t believe in religion, so I said nothing; they arrested those political folk who talk online, but I’m not interested in politics, so I said nothing; they arrested Huang Qi and Tan Zuoren who spoke out for the victims of the earthquake, but there wasn’t any earthquake here, so I said nothing; They arrested the eldest son of the Liu family, the stutterer, who was just playing around, but I neither play those games, nor am I a stutterer, so I said nothing.
Then for no reason that I can explain they arrested me, and I discovered that there was no one left beside me who would say anything. (Credit for this post goes to the German Pastor Martin Niemoller, who first wrote, "First they came for ..." and to one of my friends in China who posted this series of events, but shall remain anonymous. The translation is my own.)

Monday, November 23, 2009


A call to bring the world together…


The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and put another there, and to honor the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

在公共生活的私人生活中设身处地地对待他人,避免不断地给他人带来痛苦。 出于恶意,狂热的爱国主义或自私自利而出现极端言行; 剥夺他人基本权利,利用他人的基本权利或否定他人的基本权利;通过诋毁他人-甚至我们敌人-煽动仇恨都是有违于我们的基本人性的。 我们得承认我们的生活中缺乏仁爱,甚至一些人还以宗教的名义给人类增加更多苦难。

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.


We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

我们迫切需要 让仁爱成为我们已经极化的世界中一股清晰,引人注意的,动态的力量。因为作为一种本原上就可以超越自私自利的原则性力量, 仁爱可以打破政治,教条,意识形态和宗教藩篱。 生来就深深相互依赖的人类使得仁爱成为人类关系和完整的人性中的基本元素。仁爱是通往启蒙之路, 是创建公正的经济与和平的国际社会所必不可少的。

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Gifts and disabilities, they seem pretty random, not deserved or earned. It is how we respond to them that matters.

The following arose in part out of a facebook comment I had from a friend, Charles Reynes. Charles is National Science Teacher of the Year. Hopefully, he will meet President Obama when he goes to Washington D.C. in January for a week of activities in connection with his achievement, a blessing well deserved. But I digress, last night I posted:
Gifts and disabilities, they seem pretty random, not deserved or earned. It is how we respond to them that matters.
Charles responded:
When I first became a teacher, I had a principal who focused her attention on my deficiencies, which were numerous. She moved on. The next principal saw my weaknesses, I'm sure, but rather than trying to make me conform, she encouraged me to be innovative, to take risks.

Disabilities are often much easier to spot than gifts, in ourselves and others. We can squander a lifetime trying to become something we're not, to remediate or compensate for our disabilities. On the other hand, when we focus on our gifts, we become so brilliant that our disabilities seem to fade away.

As I heard Mister Rogers say one morning when my kids were small, "Look for what others can do, and when you find it, appreciate it." My life is so much better for the people who saw in me what I had yet to see in myself.

This is one reason you are such a great teacher, Todd. You are able to see what people can do. (Hey, I included this last paragraph not for reasons of vanity, but because it helped me see connections)

Charles' comments are a gift in themselves. As a fellow educator, I appreciate his constant effort to reflect on his own experiences in education. But I also appreciate his comments for more deeply allowing me to ponder even more and draw other connections. He took my thinking to another place, which is why I like talking with Charles so much. He has that gift for lifting thoughts, which is why I think he is a great teacher.

My original comment was generated last night after the Rabbi asked us to ponder why in Genesis 27:32, Jacob is tricking his father by pretending to be Esau in order to gain his father's blessing which "rightfully" belongs to Esau, and then in Genesis 28, Jacob is being blessed by God. Clearly, God can't be endorsing deception as the path to blessing. There are many possible explanations, and Rabbis of the past have not all agreed on one interpretation. My own explanation was that maybe God doesn't play the reward and punishment game; after all, the foremost patriarch, Abraham, also engaged in what appears as despicable behavior (when he went to Egypt for example and claimed that Sara was his sister, so that no harm would come to himself 12:11-). He too was blessed, with progeny (as many as the stars, and to become a father to many nations). I admit the idea that God doesn't engage in reward and punishment is somewhat tenuous given the tenor of some parts of Torah. On the other hand, I find the Torah to contains so much for so many. I take comfort in Rabbi Lawrence Kushner who said both, "If you try to make it all work together, you will 'crash and burn.'" and, "my choice is reverence".

At any rate, I found myself blurting out that gifts and disabilities seem pretty random, as part of my reasoning. For those who take a "God is all controlling view", I think this looks like a heretical claim for a believer. But in life, as in Torah, blessings do seem random, and the sufferings (for example in the case of Job), undeserved. Still, in our arguing with God (Genesis 18:25 Abraham: "The judge of all the earth-will he not do what is just?) and in our wrestling (Genesis 32:21-33 Jacob wrestling with the man/G_d on the verge of seeing his brother again.), God seems to learn and teach with us, granting us the blessing to see blessings. It may not be the only lesson, but it is a good one to take away from Torah. As Charles added later: "It's both a blessing to ourselves and to others when we are able to see blessings."

Which brings me back to my Rabbi, Rabbi Suzy Stone. I laugh as I consider that she changed around some of our local ritual (minhag) last night, so as to talk about what we are thankful for, on this, the last shabbat before a secular holiday, Thanksgiving. She then proceeded to go on about Jacob as if there was no necessary connection. I feel like I am in the presence of a Jewish Zen master when things like this happen. ... As I approach Thanksgiving, I am thankful for good friends like Charles, Rabbis like Suzy, my children, my students, Marshall School, and Shir Ami, you all inspire my thinking, hopefully my actions, and are in so many ways, such a blessing.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Letter to President Obama from Ding Zilin, a member of Tiananmen Mothers

from the Human Rights in China web site.

November 13, 2009

[Chinese / 中文]

In early November 2009, at the request of Ding Zilin, a member of the Tiananmen Mothers – a group of families of the victims of the June Fourth government crackdown on the 1989 Democracy Movement – Human Rights in China translated into English a letter by Ding Zilin, and delivered the letter in its original and translation to President Obama before his visit to China.

Ding Zilin: Letter to President Obama

Dear President Obama,

I am a Chinese intellectual, a mother who lost her beloved son in the June Fourth Massacre in Beijing 20 years ago.

First, I would like to congratulate you on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize this year, and I look forward to your outstanding contributions to maintaining world peace, promoting the advancement of humanity, and putting America’s founding principles into practice.

On the eve of your trip to China in November, I am taking the liberty of writing to you with a request that you use your political wisdom and influence to save Dr. Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned Chinese independent intellectual.

To my knowledge, legislators and fighters for justice from several democratic countries and regions across the world have used various approaches and channels to demand that the Chinese government release Dr. Liu Xiaobo. In particular, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution demanding the release of Dr. Liu with an absolute majority of 410 votes on October 1 this year, the 60th anniversary of the rule of the Communist regime in China. I therefore sincerely hope that you will not disappoint everyone’s expectations and that you will join in the rescue effort. As the president of the largest democratic country in the world, your actions will play a decisive role.

Dr. Liu Xiaobo has not only pursued democratic principles with courage, passion, and persistence, but has also steadfastly fought to achieve these principles with moderation and reason. He has been arrested and jailed many times over the past 20 years. Most recently, he was detained for taking part in the drafting of, and being an initial signatory to, the famous Charter 08 at the end of 2008. However, the deeper reason for his current arrest is his longstanding “June Fourth Complex.” That is, Dr. Liu has kept trying to do something for those involved with the June Fourth Incident, whether out of ethical concerns or his good heart. His actions have propelled him onto an independent intellectual’s path of no return. But, in the final analysis, who is at fault?

The arrest of Dr. Liu Xiaobo is representative of a whole series of “speech crimes” that have occurred in the Chinese mainland in recent years. That the police can, by brute force, deprive a citizen of his rights to freedom of speech and liberty of the person, and that this can happen in the glare of the public eye in the 21st century in a great country like China, must be intolerable to the leader of any civilized nation, especially the leader of the United States of America! I hope, Mr. President, that you will relay a strong message to the Chinese leaders: the United States does not support regimes that suppress the freedom of speech.

During your visit to China, numerous Charter 08 signatories and millions of those who love freedom and pursue democracy will eagerly watch your every move. If you think that one can overlook the Chinese government’s trampling of human rights and choose not to raise the issue during your visit, you will not only be ignoring the rights and interests of China’s political prisoners and their families, but will also seriously hurt the feelings of the Chinese people. Hasn’t the human experience provided enough painful lessons in the past?

This is why, with the conscience of an intellectual and as a grieving, victimized mother, I’m writing this letter to you today. Whether you agree with my views or not, please let careful consideration inform your actions.

Wishing you a successful visit,

Ding Zilin

November 3, 2009






据 我所知,世界上一些民主国家和地区的正义之士、议会人士,都先后以不同方式、通过不同途径要求中国政府释放刘晓波博士;尤其是在10月1日中共建政60周 年当天,美国众议院以410票的绝对多数票通过了要求释放刘晓波博士的决议案。在此,我热切地期盼您不负众望,加入到这个营救行列中来。作为当今世界最大 民主国家的总统,您的举措,将起到举足轻重的作用。

一向以来,刘晓波博士不仅勇敢、热情、执着地追求民主的信念,而且始终不渝地以温和、 理性的态度去争取实现这种信念。在已经过去的二十年中,他数度遭中国政府当局逮捕入狱,最近一次是他於2008年底参与起草并发起签署着名的“零八宪 章”。然而,导致此次拘捕的更为深层的原因,是他始终怀有一种“六四情结”,对於涉及“六四”的人和事,无论从道义上还是良心上,一直想争取做点什么,致 使他走上了一条独立的自由知识分子的不归路。但这究竟是谁之罪?

逮捕刘晓波博士是近年来中国大陆所发生的一起最典型的 “以言获罪”。以警察之暴力去剥夺一位公民的言论和人身自由,此类事情竟众目睽睽地发生在二十一世纪的泱泱大国——中国,这恐怕是任何一个文明国家的首脑 ——尤其是美国的首脑无法容忍的!我期望总统先生向中国的领导人传达这样一个强烈的讯息:美国不支持压制言论自由的政权。

在您此次访华期 间,中国广大的《零八宪章》签署者、千百万热爱自由、追求民主的人们,将以热切的眼光注视着您的一言一行,如果在您的这次访问中认为中国政府对於人权的践 踏可以忽略,不必提及,那将不仅是对中国所有的政治羁押者及其家人权益的漠视,也将严重伤害中国公民的感情。以往人类所经历过的惨痛教训难道还少吗?


丁子霖 2009.11.3

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Perspective on Compassion

I have been thinking a lot about compassion lately; how it gets played out, what it means, why it is important. I really see it as key for our society right now. I was very happy to see Karen Armstrong, a prize winning author on world religions and God emphasize it. Ms. Armstrong has called for religious people from all over the world to create a Charter for Compassion. Religious leaders including the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu support it. It is to be unveiled this week, November 12, 2009.

Compassion is really very simple, it comes down to feeling each others pain, seeking each others happiness and doing something to make for happiness and avoid suffering. Doing unto others as we would have them do to us, and what is not pleasing, don't do to others, this is the core. In Judaism, the Torah says, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." Rabbi Hillel, said, "What is not pleasing to yourself, do not do to others..." It is a simple concept contained in all the major religions. It is our world heritage, a strength that we have moved away from in our attempts to more clearly define ourselves. You can hardly find people who would consciously say no to it, yet we don't always carry it out. Rather than defining ourselves away from each other, we should be building a greater unity, and compassion is the key. Our world requires it of us.

In my view, the world and especially the United States is over full of bureaucracy and prisons. Do you realize we have more prisoners than the Chinese?! I, for one, am not willing to set China up as a role model. But actually, China is a place to look at when we think about where we have gone wrong. China's first dynasty, the Qin, the one responsible for a unified written Chinese language, the unification of the Great Wall, the standardization of weights and measures, the Terracotta Soldiers, and a lot more, took rules and regulations, rewards and punishments to the extreme. The Qin way of going about the unification of language was to burn books that didn't meet the standard. When Confucians didn't follow the standard philosophy, they were slaughtered. The Qin were so good at punishing, that you could count on being killed if you were a conscript laborer and didn't get to the designated meeting place on time. (That's how so much got done in the Qin) In fact, that is how the dynasty came to an end: A large group of conscripted workers were delayed by a rainstorm. Rather than show up late and be killed, they decided to revolt, and there were many others who joined them. Bureacracy, prisons, the death penalty, the Qin, were good at it. Sustainability, they were not. The dynasty lasted less than 20 years.

If someone is doing wrong, make a rule for it, and designate the punishment. It seems that this is the trap we have fallen into. (I know, we are not so severe as the Qin, but...) I look at my work as a teacher, and what is overwhelming is the bureaucracy. The education code has become a massive tome, (that's one letter away from tomb). All of the regulations for how to handle students, teachers, principals, situations... its untenable. I certainly don't know all the rules. No one could possibly know all those rules. I look at all the paper work I am responsible to fill out, it is overwhelming. As many teachers complain, it is cutting in to our ability to teach the students. The requirements by the state on the school districts are also overwhelming, hence the tendency toward increased staffing at the district offices. In the current economic crises, this can not all be maintained. Looking around at society, I don't think I am so unique, bureaucratic forms seem to be necessary for so much. Then I look at the prison system here in California, it is also becoming untenable. More and more we have built. It certainly doesn't seem to be stopping crime. Some argue that it perpetuates it as a training ground and communication network. I see it competing with education for funds and worry. There is still not enough, prisoners are being released into society due to the shortage of funds. More rules, less schools, more prisons seems like the direction we have been heading for too long. Why do we have to have all of these rules? To keep us on the right path, but obviously it is not working.

Many have argued that we need a new mythological framework from which to unite the greater populace of the world, but it is clear there is no myth that holds all of us together. I have thought about this a long time. People aren't ready to give up their religion, or their atheism, and it really isn't the democratic way to give up your religion, or atheism, nor does it respect diversity. But compassion, this key component of all religions and yes, science has had a lot to say for it too, can play an important role in bringing us together. By bringing about a resurgence in compassionate action, everyone trying to do the right thing, everyone talking about how compassion works in our houses of worship, our schools, and our workplaces, we can make a difference. It may be the glue that brings society together. A society working on compassion would need a lot fewer rules and prisons. Compassion means concretely figuring out how to help each child learn, how to help people stop engaging in crime and ultimately how to build the human endeavor. It means, getting our priorities straight. I think we can go much deeper in our practice of compassion.

I look forward to the unveiling of the Charter for Compassion on November 12th with great hope. I hope you do too. We need a change in direction, and putting compassionate action at the fore has great potential. For more information and perspectives, please see the Charter for Compassion web site at:

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Untitled For the Time Being

you learn about life
watching kids in a service
it happened to me
it happened to the rabbi
a good idea
well thought out
with places for participation
but children can hijack a service
sometimes the best sermons
should be abandoned
for what
for improvisation on reality?
not so good at that
it takes a long time
to come up with
a good idea
well thought out
with places for participation
and the rabbi had that
one would have thought that
the downfall would be
too much noise
while the message is delivered
noise can be diverted
but children can hijack a service
you call out for justice
you argue with the Infinite for justice
little james
he called out for justice
he argued with his parents
for justice
the other little boy was a hoarder
there are hoarders in the world
what do you do about them
james didn’t want to ignore
and there wouldn’t be a story
if james did ignore
justice, justice, you shall pursue
james had heard the message
but the other little boy had not
now some might ask
where was the other boy’s father?
the Av/father of this situation
laissez faire freedom
some might argue
he was there
but he was not there
laisssez faire freedom
is just too easy
it isn’t the father
after all
we have a world full of hoarders
and the spiritual message
should be able
to deal with hoarders
one would have thought
the father would
step in
and take away
the hoarded goods
but he did not
looking at the father
he wasn’t a hoarder
he looked more
the victim of hoarders
he looked exhausted
spent by the hoarders
so spent
that he was not there
so that is where we are
for whatever reason
hoarders we have
was what was
called for
justice should be combined
with compassion
thats what the rabbis
what is not pleasing
to you
do not do to others
so where was the rabbi?
he had a plan
a good idea
well thought out
with places for participation
but children can hijack a service
if you abandon the plan
what do you have?
it really isn’t a simple problem
somebody call the president
oh, that’s right
he gave millions to the hoarders
but now he is looking to
give us inexpensive health care for all
socialism the hoarders declare
this really isn’t simple at all
so where is God?
God too had
a good idea
well thought out
with places for participation
but children can hijack a service
so that’s why its back on us
can someone figure out
a creative end to this
what do we do
when others
I’m not talking violence
a poem
for God’s sake
how about
a sustained
how much longer
will we let
others hijack
the service?
how much longer
will we let
others hoard?
that is also why
titles should come at the end
because children can hijack a service
Rational Mind
Spiritual Mind
and me

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

We Refuse to Believe that the Bank of Justice is Bankrupt

I recently heard a Yale professor say, the often ignored, but most important part of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech is the first part. I agree, and am reprinting it here. I believe it is applicable to all Americans in their struggle for decent health care. I have also included a translation in Chinese, for my Chinese friends who have their own Civil Rights struggle. Although the Chinese people will work out their own way, I believe King's words are an important inspiration and very applicable to the Chinese people's struggle for their rights.

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.


Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.


But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.


Martin Luther King, Jr., delivering his 'I Have a Dream' speech from the steps of Lincoln Memorial. (photo: National Park Service)

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.


It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.


(translation not mine)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Thomas Jefferson on Democracy and the need for Education

I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.

All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.

Educate and inform the whole mass of the people... They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.

Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.

Errors of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.

I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

Information is the currency of democracy.

It takes time to persuade men to do even what is for their own good.

Truth is certainly a branch of morality and a very important one to society.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.

Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.

Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching.

Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.

"The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government." - Thomas Jefferson ...Jefferson for Health Care Reform!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Shir Ami Means Song of My People

Shir Ami is the shul I go to
an old converted house
a place of witness
last night
like other nights
a place where our
are transformed
into an ark
transported by song
a bottomless
floating boat
across the Reed Sea
to fetch
to find freedom
to find the infinite
a land of milk and honey

singing songs of freedom
is what gets us there
the realization that we
slaves in Egypt
we are the ark
the other side
the other
even the Palestinians
we are freedom
and we don't even
a boat
we are already
and yet
and then
the weekly struggle
life in samsara
until we recognize
this sea of bitterness
is also
this place of freedom
this little song of freedom
as Bob Marley said
its all I ever had
Shir Ami

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Twitter and Facebook

Just a short note to say how amazing twitter is (facebook too). Having conversations around the world with people literally in 4 or 5 countries of the world at times, and understanding each other better than in a town hall meeting.

Open Letter to US President Obama

A student living in Western China has written an Open Letter to President Obama. In it, he expresses the frustrations of justice denied. It expresses several clear instances where civil rights have been ignored. It is in English, so I have included it here. Open letter to US president Barack Obama

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sydney Morning Herald Reports: HK Reporters 'Detained' in China

The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that Now TV and the Hong Kong Journalists' Association have filed protests with China's HK-Macau Affairs Office over the restriction of journalist freedom in reporting on the Tan Zuoren Case discussed below. Here is that article. Chinese left no stone unturned in their attempt to hijack justice.

Observations about Taxes by a friend, Charles Reynes

On my pay-stub: Federal Taxes Withheld $597; State Taxes Withheld $145; Kaiser $959 emp. + $352 dist. Taxes are the price we pay to live in a civil society. Fear, violence, crime, and ignorance are also taxes. Losing a home to medical bills is a tax. Going to school with poor vision or tooth aches is a tax. These are taxes of a different nature: they diminish both society and the individual.

Chinese Artist Reports Being Barred From Trial

The New York Times has finally posted an article about the story I followed on twitter and wrote about in this blog yesterday. Here it is.

Chinese police detain 11 who planned to attend activist's trial

Here is a link to the Guardian's article on the trial.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Daring Photo Taken While in Police Custody

Ai Weiwei taking a picture of himself and the police escort in the mirror image of the elevator. Ai was prevented from being a witness at a trial of his colleague. See article below.

Ai Weiwei Beaten and Restricted from Testifying at This Morning's Court Hearing for Tan Zuoren

This just in: Late into the night, by the cover of darkness, Ai Weiwei (one of the designers of the Bird's Nest Stadium famous as the Olympic Stadium) was roughed up by police. He was medically checked out, and is okay, but he has been restricted from attending the court hearing of Tan Zuoren, which is happening this morning. Ai had traveled to the Sichuan to be a witness at the hearing. With Chen Yunfei, the other witness already held by security, the Chinese state has free rein to get a conviction on Tan Zuoren. It appears that the Chinese government has successfully silenced the witnesses. Tan Zuoren, is an environmental activist on trial for investigating the deaths of school children in the earthquake last year. The following comes from the NY Times via China Digital Times. , a writer and also a prominent rights advocate, faces a potential five-year sentence for and is to go on trial Aug. 12. The charges are broad ones the Chinese government often uses to silence people who publicly challenge the government.

“These trials are not about a reasonable application of the law, but about silencing government critics whose work has considerable public benefit and sympathy,” Sophie Richardson, the Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group based in New York, said in a written statement released Tuesday. “The government is likely seeking to squelch those who cause it embarrassment, but in the process it is undermining domestic and international confidence in its ability to cope in a transparent way with natural disasters.”

The situation continues to develop: Professor Ran Yunfei, and others who intended to attend the trial have now been taken into custody or prevented from attending the trial.


A link to The New Yorker article on China's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. -Dr. Xu Zhiyong, which I helped translate back into Chinese:

White House Health Care Reform Site

The White House has launched a health care reform site to give a reality check to what is being said.

Eunice Mary Kennedy Shriver and Rebecca MacKinnon

Just a short shout out to Eunice Mary Kennedy Shriver, who passed away today. Her work shows us how a mother, a grandmother, a sister, an aunt, a friend, a stranger, a member of a distinguished family, can contribute to the betterment of the world. Her belief in the dignity and worth of human life is a gift that we can all learn from. What would this world be without the Special Olympics, which she helped found?

Here is a link to an interview with Rebecca MacKinnon, a highly respected citizen journalist on the internet and its role and limitations in creating a space for democracy and dialogue.

In Amoiist's words, "How Did I Break the Jail?"

Just a short mention and a link to Amoiist's post in English! It is an amazing adventure, with the ending that Amoiist was released from jail, and continues to write thanks to quick wits and the support of twitter friends.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Towards the Etiquette of Democracy and Dialogue

As I have mentioned on facebook, watching the town hall meetings on health care, I have been alarmed that there is a growing problem with civility. This made me think about a book I have held in high regard on this topic. It was published in 1998. Here is what the inner jacket cover said, back then:
"Something terrible has happened to civility. We can no longer hold political discussions without screaming at each other, so our democracy is dying (my emphasis). We can no longer look at strangers without suspicion and even hostility, so our social life is dying. We can no longer hold public conversation about morality without trading vicious accusations, so our moral life is dying. All the skills of living a common life-what Alexis de Tocqueville called "the etiquette of democracy" -are collapsing around us, and nobody seems to know how to shore them up again."
The above lets us know, this is not just the current generations problem, but it does point to the urgency of solution. The book is Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy by Stephen L. Carter. The book is still available. Some of you know that Carter was criticized as a conservative back then... I only wish the conservatives of today could also follow these guidelines. I found it interesting that the book took its inspiration from Abolitionist sermons of the nineteenth century. So, at the risk of sounding old fashioned, and in the interest of democracy, here is some of what Mr. Carter, Professor of Law at Yale recommends:
• Our duty to be civil toward others does not depend on whether we like them or not.
• Civility requires that we sacrifice for strangers, not just for people we happen to know.
• Civility has two parts: generosity, even when it is costly, and trust, even when there is risk.
• Civility creates not merely a negative duty not to do harm, but an affirmative duty to do good.
• We must come into the presence of our fellow human beings with a sense of awe and gratitude.
• Civility requires that we listen to others with the knowledge of the possibility that they are right, and we are wrong.
• Civility requires resistance to the dominance of social life by the values of the marketplace. Thus, basic principles of civility -generosity and trust-should apply fully in the market and in politics as in every other human activity.
• Civility allows criticism of others, and sometimes even requires it, but the criticism should always be civil.
• Civility values diversity, disagreement, and the possibility of resistance, and therefore the state must not use education to try to standardize our children.
• Religions do their greatest service to civility when they preach not only love of neighbor but resistance to wrong.
Carter's book explains each of these bullet points and more, one per chapter. It is an interesting and provocative book, I recommend it.

It is a high order, in some countries people are jailed for it, but it is important for democracy. Only when we model it can others see the value of it. I am wishing to start a dialogue. What do you think?

Dr. Xu Zhiyong reminds me of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Both defenders of the marginalized, working for justice and civil rights.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Is China's People's Armed Police Crying Wolf to Terrorize its Citizens?

Big Brother China is either jittery,
or has some explaining to do.
• First a hijacking is reported by the People's Armed Police in Xinjiang.
• Next it is reported that the hijackers have been subdued.
• Now it is reported that it is a bomb on the plane, and earlier hijack versions deleted. The plane is reported to be inbound from Afghanistan.
• Then a report that the plane will not be allowed to land in Urumqi.
• Pictures followed showing the Peoples Armed Police going to the Airport.
• Next, the English version of these pictures were labeled as if they were leaving the Airport.
• At which point the plane was said to have landed in Afghanistan.
• NATO reports that no plane with a bomb on board has landed, and if one had, they would know.
• NATO reports that a plane was turned back from China, but it was due to a paperwork problem, and that the reason it landed in Kandahar and not Kabul where it originated is due to bad weather in Kabul.
This really has the appearance of a Chinese news report that scares people about terror, ends up being followed up on by social and mainstream media... and paints China into a corner as the boy who cried wolf. So far, I haven't seen a decent explanation.
“I want to make people believe in ideals and justice, and help them see the hope of change.”- Xu Zhiyong