Sunday, March 30, 2008

'The Economist' appraises America's foreign policy

Awaiting me when I go to my home away from Anderson Hall is the weekly number of The Economist.  While I don’t always agree with the views of this conservative, British-based  publication, I value the depth of its reports, elegant graphics and sense of humor.  It is also available on line in a richly hyperlinked verson at

This weeks number featured a 14 page special report on The Future of America’s Foreign Policy, which merits serious reading by all AU students, indeed, by everyone.  It offered a surprisingly harsh critique of President Bush, whom, as I recall, the Economist endorsed in 2004.  

“....Whereas September 11th had brought America together, his [President Bush’s] decisions to invade Iraq and turn the “war on terror” into a partisan issue relentlessly divided the country.  Democratic opposition to the war gathered strength with the insurgency in Iraq and exploded into fury as it became clear that Saddam Hussein’s regime had neither weapons of mass destruction or close ties to Al Quaeda.

The opposition to the war eventually spread beyond the Democratic Party.  And public unease about the iraq debacle has turned into much broader unease about American foreign policy.  Mr. Bush’s foreign policy has turned its author into one of the most polarizing presidents in American History.  At home he is about as popular as Richard Nixon at the depths of the Watergate scandal; abroad he is seen as a war mongering buffoon.


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The Dalai Lama is not a terrorist

Earlier this month I shared a note to my son about audiobooks by the Dalai Lama to which I have been listening.  I have now completed four and am listening to two of the deeper ones, not written for popular consumption, a second and third time. The voice of an official translator of His Holiness, P. Jeffrey Hopkins, has been my morning companion for many days.  A couple of days ago, I interrupted my audio studies to listen to NPR’s ‘Morning Edition,’ one of my principal news sources.  A report, focusing on Tibet, featured a statement by People’s Republic of China Government officials branding the Dalai Llama, recipient of the 1989 Nobel; Peace prize, as “a terrorist.’  The statement struck me not only as patently false, but inept.

As  anecdote from the book to which I was listening, How to See Yourself as you Really Are. came to mind. To illustrate the importance of not hating, His Holiness recounted a conversation with a monk who had been imprisoned and tortured by the Chinese for 18 years. “What was the greatest challenge you faced during those years of imprisonment” His Holiness asked, and was amazed at the response.  “My greatest fear,” the monk responded, “was that I would cease to love the guards who were my torturers.”

For a summary of the Dalai Llama’s views on the present conflict in Tibet and many other matters, check out his official website at Here is a brief excerpt from a recent statement, given on March 28.

Chinese brothers and sisters, I assure you I have no desire to seek Tibet’s separation. Nor do I have any wish to drive a wedge between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples. On the contrary my commitment has always been to find a genuine solution to the problem of Tibet that ensures the long-term interests of both Chinese and Tibetans. My primary concern, as I have repeated time and again, is to ensure the survival of the Tibetan people’s distinctive culture, language and identity. As a simple monk who strives to live his daily life according to Buddhist precepts, I assure you of the sincerity of my personal motivation.


I have appealed to the leadership of the PRC to clearly understand my position and work to resolve these problems by “seeking truth from facts.” I urge the Chinese leadership to exercise wisdom and to initiate a meaningful dialogue with the Tibetan people. I also appeal to them to make sincere efforts to contribute to the stability and harmony of the PRC and avoid creating rifts between the nationalities. The state media’s portrayal of the recent events in Tibet, using deceit and distorted images, could sow the seeds of racial tension with unpredictable long-term consequences. This is of grave concern to me.  Similarly, despite my repeated support for the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese authorities, with the intention of creating a rift between the Chinese people and myself, the Chinese authorities assert that I am trying to sabotage the games. I am encouraged, however, that several Chinese intellectuals and scholars have also expressed their strong concern about the Chinese leadership’s actions and the potential for adverse long-term consequences, particularly on relations among different nationalities.

The Dalai Lama is NOT a terrorist!

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

May this palm bring you comfort on your journey

As my intense week in Sri Lanka neared its end, I attended Palm Sunday services in Colombo’s Anglican Cathedral.  Anglican services have been a regular part of my Sri Lankan sojourns ever since Emily and I made our first visit.  Now the Cathedral is a familiar setting, I frequently  accompany my hostess, Sutami, and often see one or more old friends, as I did on Sunday.

The rather stark Cathedral, constructed entirely of shaped, poured concrete, was especially beautiful.  Of course palms are plentiful in Sri Lanka.  The entire interior was decorated with palm bows.  The opening procession was lead by the congregation’s children bearing bows.  There were more on the aisles leading to the altar.  Anglican Bishop Duleep de Chickera gave each congregation member the traditional palm leave,shaped in a cross, saying as he did, “may this palm bring you comfort on your journey.”  Since a 30 hour journey back to Washington, beginning at midnight, awaited me, I appreciated his good wishes.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Alive for 70 years

Today is my 70th birthday.  Birthdays ending in zeros are viewed by (American) society as significant milestones and a time for stock taking. I note that more and more, I am the oldest participant in meetings I attend. Most of my Dartmouth and high school classmates are now retired and more than a few of them have died. Financier Kirk Krekorian was asked why, at age 87, he was still working and plotting a takeover of the General Motors Corporation. “Its more fun that playing shuffleboard,’ was his response.

My feelings are similar. I am a member of several vibrant communities, in daily contact with young people and given ample opportunities to make a difference. My organization, CTE, has become an uniquely affirming and productive place to work. My colleagues and I are still energized by the challenge of pushing to new frontiers and learning from the experience. I do wish there was more time for writing but not enough to give up something that I am now doing. I am reflecting on the next path I might follow, perhaps one or two or three years in the future. The path is not yet clear.

My hostess, after learning that my 70th birthday was upcoming, made plans to invite some Sri Lankan friends over for a quiet celebration. She is 72. When I remarked that a 70th birthday does not, necessarily seem like something to celebrate she responded: “having lived 70 years and being in good health: those are things to celebrate!”

Sri Lanka day 4. Traveling wired

One of my first tasks, after arriving at an international destination, is to set up my computer, printer and other electronic devices. However Monday morning, I did not do a full set-up before walking to the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, where I most often work. All my electronic paraphernalia lay on the desk in my room as a disorganized pile for more than a day.

This lead me to compile an inventory of all this stuff and reflect on it. Here is the inventory:
1 Laptop computer (MacBook Pro, 17in.)
1 Transformer and cord for MacBook Pro.
1 Seven port USB (universal serial bus) hub
1 Transformer and power cord for USB hub
1 Six port switchable 220 volt surge protector and power strip
1 Canon ip90 portable inkjet printer
1 Transformer and power cord for printer
3 multiport converter plugs for Sri Lankan power outlets
1 converter plug for UK power outlets
1 converter plug for European outlets
1 externally grounded converter plug for US ourlets
1 220/240 to 120 volt power transformer
1 USB mouse
1 Blackberry and holster
1 mini USB charger cable for Blackberry (also can be used as a data transfer cable for camera)
1 transformer/charger and power cord for Nikon camera
1 Motorola mobile phone with Sim Card for Sri Lankan account
1 transformer/power cord for Motorola phone.
1 wired earphone and mike connector for Motorola phone
1 video iPod (doubles as a 30 gigabyte backup for computer)
1 data transfer/charger cable for iPod
1 spare inkjet cartridge
1 250 megabyte flash drive

Number of items: 23 (more if detached power cords are counted separately). Each of these items has an unique function that does make working while traveling more productive and efficient.

But when I list it al out, it does seem like a lot of stuff.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sri Lanka day 3 - settling in

I am writing this reflection in the spacious Executive Director’s office at the Colombo International Centre for Ethnic Studies. The office seems unchanged from many previous visits, but outside, the signs of last years’ turbulent attempt at a leadership transition are everywhere. There is no welcoming receptionist, only stacked files and debris in her former place. Ceiling tiles have been removed from a chronically leaking roof, but the roof has not been repaired. Funds were being sought from donors, but the proces stalled when controversy over the ICES Colombo leadership and participation in an organization promoting the international ‘responsibilty to protect’ erupted. Despite financial problems, most of the staff members remain on the job. But one wonders for how much longer the current scale of operations will be sustainable. Some protagonists seem more concerned about ‘being right’ than saving the Center

What strikes me about the dynamic of current contentions facing the Center is parallels with the larger conflict in Sri Lanka. There are ‘sides’ though not differentiated by ethnicity. Each has its grievances. Conversations must begin with a recounting of history or, more accurately, ‘histories,’ because perceptions differ so greatly. Neither side is wiling to view circumstances from a different perspective or even to admit that a different perspective exists. Those who disagree are viewed as either fools or knaves.

“I can never forgive them, never!!” is the phrase I am hearing from proponents of both sides.

I have suggested that the inability of an organization, whose mission includes conflict resolution, to resolve its own conflicts seems paradoxical, but that is the reality. “This is not the time for Christian charity!” was the response from one friend of long standing that greeted my mediation efforts.

Yet hope springs eternal. If the Irish and South Africans can find grounds for resolving their conflicts peaceably, why not the staff, Board members and friends of the international Center for Ethnic Studies?

Sri Lanka day 2. Getting organized and catching up

For several years, now, I have treated myself to a business class ticket on the London-Colombo leg of my flights to and from Sri Lanka. In contrast to the outrageous prices for Trans-Atlantic flights, the cost seems reasonable, it adds only about $2,000 to the price of the ticket. This transforms 22 to 24 hours in the air from an endurance trial to a sybaritic oasis, at least semi-detached from the cares of the world.

All went smoothly at check-in, in the air and on arrival. Previous readers will be familiar with my comments on Sri Lankans’ basic civility and honesty. One encounters this first when securing a taxi for the drive into Colombo. My driver, Mr. Premasiri, was a former schoolteacher, 50 years old, with a wife and 3 children. He drove cautiously, sloping for bumps and potholes to protect his vehicle. Drivers’ major income, when available comes not from trips to and from the airports, but form tourist tours around the island, when they not only drive but book hotels and sightseeing. But resurgent conflict has taken its toll on this aspect of Sri Lankan life as on others. Even though March is towards the end of ‘high season’ the plane was nearly half empty. The one touristic looking middle-aged couple in business class refused the offer of a Sri Lankan newspaper. Almost certainly, they were transiting to the Maldives.

Despite numerous obligations during this brief visit, I am trying to pace myself. After arriving at #100/5 Horton Gardens at 4 AM, I slept in until nine, ate breakfast, unpacked and took lunch with my hostess before walking to the International Centre for Ethnic studies offices about 3:00. Afterwards, there were a series of meetings lasting until after 10 PM, so despite a leisurely morning, I could feel that the day had been productive.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Sri Lanka Diary day one - in transit

On my last trip - to Hungary - I was congratulating myself on being a knowledgeable, ‘together’ traveler - and then I left my laptop at the security checkpoint in Budapest. Amazingly it was recovered and shipped to me by caring staff of Hungary’s Maalev airlines. But then it was destroyed by a company that has eclipsed my cell phone provider (the former Cingular) as the world’s most customer hostile and dysfunctional corporation, DHL express. ‘Never relax’ and 'never take anything for granted' are now my travel mantras.

Anyhow this trip is off to a good start. A service that has made my travel life pleasanter is ‘Priority Pass’ which, for a relatively modest fee, provides business class lounge access even when one is not traveling business class (which in my case is most of the time). Business class lounges provide free snacks - in Europe and Asia really good snacks - free booze and, most important, free internet hotspots. Thus, I was able to work at Dulles Airport while waiting for my London flight and can now do the same in London, while waiting to connect to Colombo. Apart from the comfort, the savings in internet charges alone make Priority Pass a good buy.

British Airways lands at Heathrow Terminal 4, which is also the departure point for Sri Lankan Airlines. this saves me a long bus ride and arduous security procedures - security was crisp and efficient, this morning. Having heard horror stories about BA from the summer, I anticipated the flight with some trepidation, but surprise! it was great. Service was as good as one could possibly expect on a crowded economy class flight. The fight left on time and arrived early. Perhaps there is even hope for my return carrier, United. After my last trip on United, I characterized the staff as ‘sullen and dispirited.’ A 'commenter' wrote back, ‘what would you expect given the vile way employees have been treated by United Airlines management.

I have been catching up on Sri Lanka news - I receive daily digests from several sources, but do not have time to read them daily when I am working in DC. The reports I read this morning were disturbing. They described an increasingly polarized society. Sinhalese were described as celebrating reports of military victories over the Liberation Tigers by government forces. These compensated for high inflation and draconian security procedures, the reporter said. Tamils were described as living in fear, with harassment and ‘disappearances’ mounting. They are increasingly reluctant to show their faces in public, the article said and are reluctant to speak out, fearing hostile responses from the Sinhalese community - or worse. Long ago, I learned to be cautious about relying on the picture of Sri Lanka that news reports provide. Tomorrow, I will have the opportunity to begin making up my own mind.

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The Dalai Lama's Audiobooks - A note to my son

Dear [Son]

I have begin listening to audiobooks on my ipod. I do this, in particular, in the morning after a period of meditation in early morning darkness. Obviously, this would not be possible when you are at home, but might be a considered as a way to begin the day when you are traveling. For reasons that I cannot now recall, I have begun with the writings of the Dalai Lama. Like Gandhi and Buddha, he interests me because his life experience is very long. The Lord Buddha is said to have lived to 81. Gandhi was assassinated when he was 80. The Dalai Lama is in his 70s. I have listened - several times to two of the Dalai Lama’s books. ‘The World in a Single Atom’ (about 5 hours) is an examination of the relationship between Western Scientific and Tibetan Buddhist ontology and epistemology. This is based on many conversations between His Holiness and Scientists including for example, Karl Popper and the German Physicist Ernst Weisacker (sp?). In particular, the book includes reflections drawn from the 10 or more years of Mind and Life Conferences at his home in exile, Dharamsala. My second listening was ‘The Art of Happiness’ an abridgment of of the most widely read of the Dalai Lama’s writings, communicating some of his most basic ideas, intended for general audiences. This has lead to a much deeper exposition, ‘How to Practice: The Art of a Meaningful Life’ which I began this morning and which will be my companion on my upcoming trip to Sri Lanka.

Possibly, heightened Buddhist sensibilities may be quite helpful in dealing with the concerns and challenges I will be facing there.

I hope all is well with you and family


Sunday, March 02, 2008

Celebrate Your Existence

When friends marry, I always give a copy of Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee’s The Good Marriage as a wedding present. (Often, I include a check as well.) I have blogged about this book before, particularly at the academic year’s ending when AU students who are friends share marriage plans with me.

Wallerstein’s Preface describes the The Good Marriage’s motivation

On a raw spring morning in 1991, I shared my earliest thoughts about this book with a group of some one hundred professional women—all friends and colleagues—who meet each month to discuss our works in progress.

"I'm interested in learning about good marriages—about what makes a marriage succeed," I said cheerfully. "As far as our knowledge is concerned, a happy marriage might as well be the dark side of the moon. And so I've decided to study a group of long-lasting marriages that are genuinely satisfying for both husband and wife." I looked around the room at these attractive, highly educated women—women who had achieved success in our high-tech, competitive society and who appeared to have it all. "Would any of you, along with your husbands, like to volunteer as participants in the study?" I asked.

The room exploded with laughter.

I felt disturbed and puzzled by the group's reaction. Their laughter bore undertones of cynicism, nervousness, and disbelief, as if to say, "Surely you can't mean that happy marriage exists in the 1990s. How could you possibly believe that?"

Many of the women in the group had been divorced. Some had remarried, but a good number remained single. Some had come to feel that marriage should not be taken all that seriously. "Happy marriage doesn't exist," protested one woman, "so I'm going to get on with my life and not worry about it." Yet when their sons and daughters decided to marry, these same women announced the marriages with great pride and accepted heartfelt rounds of congratulations from the others in the group. No one acknowledged the apparent contradictions involved.

When I pondered the meaning of their laughter later that night, I realized I had hit a raw nerve. For many, my innocent mention of a study of successful marriages seemed to strike below the well-defended surface, bringing to life buried images of love and intimacy. For a brief moment, I believe, the women had reconnected with passionate longings, only to confront again their disappointment that their wishes had not been fulfilled. And so they had laughed, dismissing their longings as illusory—vain hopes that could only lead to sorrow.

This duality of cynicism and hope is familiar to me, as it is to millions of men and women in America today. We share a profound sense of discomfort with the present state of marriage and family, even wondering sometimes if marriage as an institution can survive. At the same time, we share a deeply felt hope for our children that marriage will endure. I do not think this hope is misplace

Wallerstein continues:

In every study in which Americans are asked what they value most in assessing the quality of their lives, marriage comes first—ahead of friends, jobs, and money. In our fast-paced world men and women need each other more, not less. We want and need erotic love, sympathetic love, passionate love, tender, nurturing love all of our adult lives. We desire friendship, compassion, encouragement, a sense of being understood and appreciated, not only for what we do but for what we try to do and fail at. We want a relationship in which we can test our half-baked ideas without shame or pretense and give voice to our deepest fears. We want a partner who sees us as unique and irreplaceable.

A good marriage can offset the loneliness of life in crowded cities and provide a refuge from the hammering pressures of the competitive workplace. It can counter the anomie of an increasingly impersonal world, where so many people interact with machines rather than fellow workers. In a good marriage each person can find sustenance to ease the resentment we all feel about having to yield to other people's wishes and rights. Marriage provides an oasis where sex, humor, and play can flourish.

Finally, a man and woman in a good, lasting marriage with children feel connected with the past and have an interest in the future. A family makes an important link in the chain of human history. By sharing responsibility for the next generation, parents can find purpose and a strengthened sense of identity. These rewards take root in the soil of a strong, stable marriage.

Wallerstein and Blakeslee studied the lives of fifty couples in depth and reported on their findings. Couples had to meet the following criteria.

... Both husband and wife had to consider their marriage a happy one. They had to have been married at least nine years, because the number of divorces peaks in the early years, and I wanted my subjects to be past that danger point. The shortest marriage studied was ten years, the longest forty years. The participants had to agree to lengthy interviews. I asked to see each spouse separately and then together in interviews that often lasted up to three hours each. Most people were interviewed at home, and a few at their place of work. I wanted to observe them in the surroundings they had created.

I have been married twice, each time for more than 20 years. My first marriage, entered into when my wife and I were quite young, ended in divorce. When the young marry, they make a lifetime commitment, but most have not the remotest idea of what such a commitment means. When I married for a second time, again pledging a lifetime commitment, I did know. I have taken that commitment seriously, however neither my first marriage (obviously) nor my second would qualify for Wallerstein and Blakeslee’s study.

In fact, I know of only two marriages that do qualify. One of them I experienced intimately because the couple welcomed me into their tiny condominium for extended periods while we were producing a book together. Their gift allowed me to view the joys and vicissitudes of a resilient relationship from a unique vantage point.

In the more than thirty years since Making it Happen: A Positive Guide to the Future saw the light of day our paths have crossed rarely. However each year we have exchanged Christmas newsletters and I have received a Valentines Day greeting that has become a tradition. The Christmas newsletters paint a vivid picture of the joys and anguish of a two personal and professional lives shared richly together. Children have grown, married and produced grandchildren. There have been arduous stretches of physical illness to be endured and surmounted. There have been professional achievements and recognition.
The Valentine’s Day greeting is simpler, always a white sheet covered with hearts surrounding a single phrase. This year’s quote, from William Blake may provide one clue to the resilience of a good marriage and two lives very well lived.


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