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Thursday, November 27, 2008


Thanksgiving 2008


Families, Friends and Gratitude

The much needed rains finally came. But this Thanksgiving Day is expected to be dry. Good for travelers and for those busy with the labor of love that goes into preparation for a Thanksgiving gathering.

Today, we are going to meet with friends and families and leave the turmoils of our world behind. We are going to rejoice about what we have.

Excerpts from Jon Carroll's column in The San Francisco Chronicle say it better than anything else I have come across.


But still we have to get through the day. And, I am convinced, the route through the day is gratitude. Because there is always something to be grateful for, and that something is not in the chasm, it floats above the chasm, denies the importance of the chasm.

You choose: sunsets, apples, bedrooms in the morning, Bruce Springsteen, a child's second birthday, the smile on the face of a passing stranger, rivers, mountaintops, cathedrals, Shakespeare, Tina Fey, the curve of a thigh, the curve of a road, the nation of Switzerland, Carl Hiaasen, grass, orange, Bola Sete, jumbo shrimp, Pascal's theorem, Ockham's razor, clean restrooms, potable water, penguins, French kissing or peanuts.

Can you feel the floor beneath your feet get sturdier? Can you see the holes being patched? For a moment, the bounty of the world overwhelmed you, and you were grateful to be alive at this moment. See? Antidote.

So today, if we are at all lucky, we will gather with family and/or friends and eat food and talk of shared alliances and shared memories. Many Thanksgivings are family gatherings, and family gatherings are often fraught. My suggestion is: Embrace the fraught. You'd miss the fraught if it weren't there.

Besides, there's always the moment of escaping the fraught, going outside for a smoke or down to the store for more whipped cream or out for a walk with someone you love. You can't have the escape without the prison. Be grateful for both.

What I'm going to try to do this year is slow down. What I'm going to try to do this year is pay attention. Usually I run around. Lots of people make me frantic - we always have lots of people at our Thanksgivings - and there are always a thousand tasks. The point of the holiday is not the tasks, even though it seems that way sometimes.

I'm going to think about how each of the people at the table came into my life, and what I remember about that moment, and how we decided to become friends instead of just people who met each other once a long time ago. And I'm going to remember the kindness that each person has shown me, and I'm also going to remember my kindnesses, because I'm grateful for the times I behaved well.

And because not all the people I'm grateful for will be in the room today, I'm going to think about them and send them good thoughts across the miles. I don't believe in the transmission of thoughts, but I believe in trying. It's like a flashy vehicle for mindfulness, and mindfulness is hard when the talk is loud and the carbohydrates are disappearing at alarming rates.

And as I walk across the floor from one room to another, I'm going to notice how solid the floor feels beneath my feet today. I know how fragile it is, but it doesn't matter. Today, right now, this Thanksgiving, it feels like the oldest rock in the world, and I stand on it and rejoice.

Maybe at the end of the evening, when the dirty dishes are piled high in the sink and the air is heavy with rich smells, take a moment to thank someone for something.


Friday, November 21, 2008


A Walk in Foothill Park and Green Olives from the West Bank


It was a cool autumn afternoon, with just a hint of overcast sky, when we began our walk in Palo Alto Foothill Park. Took the Steep Hollow Trail west and found a good spot for picnic on a meadow with a view of Windy Hill slightly to north of us.

As I took the food out of my day pack, I told JHL about the small Middle Eastern grocery store run by a Palestinian couple that I found in San Mateo. I was looking for Harissa. The owner said that he had it but had some trouble finding the small cans. Harissa is a North African condiment, the main ingredient is red chilli paste. The can said Made in France but that was OK. North African immigrants are now ubiquitous in some cities in France. When I went to the counter to pay, the owner asked if I wanted some Pita bread. The pile of bread looked fresh and inviting. I picked up a pack.

Then he said "you want some olives" ? He pointed me to the shelf where the jars and cans of olives were. I looked and found green olives packed with slivers of garlic. The can read "Product of West Bank". That reminded me of a recent report about the destruction of olive trees by Israeli settlers.

Uprooted olive tree in Jayyous© www.eappi.org/.../eappi/images/gallery/07.jpg

Destroyed olive tree in Gith

© Rabbis for Human Rights


Palestinian farmers from the West Bank village of Gith claimed on Monday that Jews from the settlement of Havat Gilad had cut down at least 20 of their olive trees.

The Palestinians have yet to file an official complaint, but Judea and Samaria District Police officials said they would look into the matter.

"We can only approach our olive groves in coordination with police and IDF forces," 64-year-old Nasser Sachan told Ynet. "Today I arrived at the groves and couldn't believe my own eyes. The trees, some of them 40 and 50 years old, had been chopped down."

Before leaving the store I added a pack of Bulgarian feta cheese to my purchases.

JHL and I had risotto with butternut squash ragout, the green olives mixed with slices of fresh bell pepper, Persian cucumber and red onion; pita bread cut into wedges, accompanied by a Californian Syrah. Finished with black coffee and some lemon bread from Trader Joes -- good.

On the way back we walked on Valley View Fire Road to the crossing of Trapper's Fire Road and Madrone Fire Road, turned around returned to the parking lot via Sunrise Trail. We stopped to look at a flock of Canada Geese near the bank of Boronda Lake.

Windy Hill

JHL looking west

With a good cup of Jo
© J.O.H. Lazar

Canada Geese near Boronda Lake (I)

Canada Geese near Boronda Lake (II)

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Purses Remain Closed in this Season of Giving

Hunger * Lines Grow Long, Donations Dwindle * Auto Makers * Fall

Recently, there has been a spate of reports about problems faced by local (San Francisco Bay area) food banks. The meltdown of American economy has reached a level where organizations that serve the community's hungry and homeless are finding it hard to do so. As the lines of people waiting for meals or handouts have grown longer, the amount of donations -- cash and foodstuff -- have shrunk. Silicon Valley corporations, grocery stores, wealthy individuals -- have cut back on their contributions. It is a sign of the times. The trickle-down economy touted by free market proponents never took shape but domino effect of Wall Street's sub-prime mortgage scam that collapsed has spread all across America. The poor facing a bleak winter; even the well-to-do are jittery. And the end is nowhere in sight.

As a volunteer at St. Anthony's Dining Room, Menlo Park, California, I speak from first-hand knowledge. Signs of less food being available became noticeable early in the year. It has gotten worse. So far no one has been turned away. Food is served from 11:00 AM to 1 PM Monday through Saturday. Everyone who walks through the door receives fresh-cooked food, bread, salad and dessert. Service is friendly. Last week, on Thursday, November 13, more than 400 were served. St. Anthony's in San Francisco feeds many more.

“Every gun that's made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms...is spending the genius of its scientists, the sweat of its laborers,”

--Dwight David Eisenhower, America's 34th President (1953-61)

The Auto Industry and its Tunnel Vision

The American auto industry is in a terminal situation...in its last gasp. Without a large injection of cash the chances of its survival are slim. The auto industry is largely responsible for its problems. It built eco-unfriendly vehicles and fought against all proposals for fuel economy. It made money because the gas-hogging monsters appealed to a large segment of buyers. Fuel was cheap. There was no thought about the future. Now it is a different world. Should we bail the auto industry out? The questions we should ask are why and how long would the bailout keep it alive?

From what is known, the case is not strong enough to justify giving the auto makers money. Politicians, however, are doing their usual thing.....supporting financial aid not because it is the right thing to do but purely based on expediency.

Also, what the financial sector is doing with the bailout money must not be overlooked. It is showing every sign of continuing the merry old way.

Fall Colors in the Neighborhood

Unusually warm for this time of the year. Yesterday, the daytime temperature was in the 80's Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius). The weather man is forecasting rain November 22nd/23rd -- too far away. We need rain now. During a recent walk through the woods I didn't come across any chanterelles or oyster mushrooms. The ground felt bone dry. But we have more serious reasons to be concerned about than the absence of wild mushrooms.

The pictures below were taken during a bicycle ride through the neighborhood.

Tournament Drive, San Mateo, CA
© Musafir
Distant view of Crystal Springs Reservoir and Highway 280 Overpass
© Musafir

Tournament Drive, San Mateo, CA
© Musafir

Parrott Drive, San Mateo, CA
© Musafir

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


President Elect Barack Obama

A Historic Day, Momentous Day

"........ and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall 
not perish from the earth.
--Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863
11:15 PM Eastern, Nov.4, 2008 Listening to John McCain concede victory to Barack Obama. How good it feels. I look back and think of the election of 2004 which resulted in G.W. Bush's second term and the dark period that followed. Barack Obama's victory -- by a good margin in popular votes -- knocked the stuffing out of many experts who pontificated about race and the "Bradley factor". Virginia, once the center of Confederacy, went for Obama! The last time it voted for Democrats was in 1964.

"Rock Around the Clock"

Dance, sing, shout from the roof tops, and whistle.
Republicans pay for Bad Karma

Four years ago, after re-election of G.W. Bush, it felt as though Democrats would never be able to regain lost ground. But they have. They were helped by Bush and Cheney. Failure of the Bush administration's mean, deceitful, arrogant actions and policies, which completely disregarded beliefs and aspirations of all but conservative, right-wing Americans, made the voters lash back and reject the Republican Party's candidates. From foreign policy to the economy and domestic environmental protection, the Bushies had become like rampaging bulls. Now, it is time for them to pack their bags. Good riddance.

Democrats have reason to feel good and celebrate. However, members of Congress must not forget that we, the people, elected them. They must work for the common good. In their giddiness, if they sell themselves to special interest groups and begin to act like their predecessors then their time in the sun will be short-lived.

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