my life

transparency and openness in FSA politics

Posted on: Thu, 12/15/2011 - 22:02 By: Tom Swiss

Two posts I made to the Free Spirit Forum today, that may be of interest to FSA members who don't follow that list.

[name and address elided] writes:

> If one of the (reasonable) concerns about FSA and FSG leadership is
> transparency, it'd be valuable to have information like this posted/
> specified, rather than referred to.

I think that the concern with transparency and openness gets to the core of the idea of changing the rules for membership -- because it hits on why people choose to become or not to become members. If people feel that members are not being informed of what's going on and not being given a proper chance to participate in decision-making, why would they choose to become or stay members?

grave concern regarding the proposed changes to the FSA Articles of Incorporation

Posted on: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 22:42 By: Tom Swiss

As you may know, the Free Spirit Alliance is considering a change to its Articles of Incorporation to make it easier for people to become members. I've had a chance to review the proposed changes. While I appreciate Cat's work on this, and support the general idea, I have a very serious concern with the following provision of the proposed amendments:

"Any voting member has the right to request that another individual be placed on a ban list and removed from the membership roll. This would be followed by a vote at a meeting after notice has been sent to the individual. A ⅔ majority of all members in attendance, either in person or
by proxy, at that meeting would be required to place an individual on the ban list. In addition, being ejected from one of the Corporation's events automatically places a person on the ban list."

As I read this, since ejection from an event is at the sole discretion of the event coordinator, the FSG and Beltane coordinators can -- without recourse or due process -- strip an FSA member of their membership. However much we may trust the folks who currently coordinate our events, I don't think this is a wise policy.

Unless someone can point out something I'm missing, I must vote "no" on the proposed change, and ask that other members do likewise.

R.I.P. Harry Morgan

Posted on: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 17:17 By: Tom Swiss

Harry Morgan, the actor best known for portraying Col. Sherman T. Potter on M*A*S*H, died today. He was 96.

According to the NYT, Mr. Morgan had continuing roles in at least 10 TV series, and once estimated that he had appeared in one prime-time show or another for 35 straight years; and he had over 100 movie roles. He was never a star -- he was something more important and challenging, an actor.

It was his role as M*A*S*H's Colonel Potter, from 1975 to 1983, that most people will remember him for. M*A*S*H was one of the shows I grew up on, and certainly had an influence on me. Rest in peace, Mr. Morgan.

the map is not the territory

Posted on: Wed, 11/30/2011 - 18:19 By: Tom Swiss

I've always been a bit fascinated by maps. When I was a kid, we had placemats with a historical/cultural map of the Chesapeake Bay, and being the "read anything in front of me" child that I was this may have been formative. I remember having a world political map on the wall, and later a world topographic map (including the sea floor) on my ceiling. I always loved looking at the maps of fantasy realms like Middle Earth and Earthsea that would show up in the front of books. (Yes, I am geek.) When I started driving, back in the days before GPS and smartphones, I had a good collection of ADC street atlases floating around the car.

Live blogging from the Occupy Wall Street site, Liberty Plaza, New York City

Posted on: Mon, 10/17/2011 - 16:58 By: Tom Swiss

I came down for an hour or so yesterday, just to see what was what. Danced to the drumming for a bit, and the playful and gentle nature of some of what's happening here (drumming, dancing, art, communal sacred space, giant potluck meals) reminded me of some of Kery Thornley's "yin revolution" and "counter-games" ideas in his book Zenarchy. The Occupy movement is not just a protest, but an experiment and a demonstration of an alternative to the hierarchical socioeconomic systems that have dominated our thinking for centuries.

I also ended up running into someone I knew years ago in Baltimore and fell into good conversation with her and with a high school girl she had befrended. Just hearing people's stories is also a big piece of what this is about, for as John Steinbeck wrote, "two men [or women] are not as lonely and perplexed as one".

Came down again this afternoon after my plan to visit the Statue of Liberty was derailed by a security snafu. (Apparently the US Park Service fears that I will use the awesome power of my Gerber multi-tool to disassemble the Statue of Liberty. There is, of course, no irony at all in the paranoia of the security state preventing me from visiting the Statue of Liberty. I gave up my ticket rather than have them take the $60 tool.) Ran into a few more Baltimore people (between OWS, and running into a woman who used to date one of my best friends in the Village last night, seems I can't even escape into anonymity in New York), and got into more interesting conversations with strangers, but spent most of today's time here just sitting at the community altar, holding space. (Photos to come.)

It's interesting how people react to the barriers the police have put up around the site. They don't completely enclose the space, you can move in and out freely, yet many people come up and stand on the other side watching, as if watching a parade or something. Perhaps a deliberate bit of police strategy to keep people from feeling like they can join or identify with the occupation -- establishing a boundary that takes a deliberate act to step across.

So I invite you to cross it. Go down to your local Occupy group and join them, even for an hour. Cross the lines that the power structure sets up to keep us divided.

Occupy Baltimore

Posted on: Tue, 10/04/2011 - 22:48 By: Tom Swiss

When i first heard of the "Occupy Wallstreet" idea a few months ago, honestly, I thought it was silly, that about 20 people would show up.

On this one, I am glad to be wrong.

Tonight, I'm in Baltimore's McKeldin Square (Pratt and Light Streets) for the first night of Occupy Baltimore. I couldn't make it down before 10pm, and I don't know what I'll be able to do over the next few weeks; but I thought it important to be here tonight and do what I can.

I went to the planning meeting at 2640 on Sunday -- there were about 200 people there. Certainly the largest meeting I've seen run by a democratic/semi-consensus model.

So why am I here? I'm tired of three decades of worsening economic injustice, of the L curve getting worse and worse. I'm tired of the suppression of democracy by monied interests. I'm tired of a socioeconomic system that pretends that poverty and homelessness and lack of access to medical care is some sort of natural force, and not the result of human political decisions about how we share and allocate natural and human resources.

I'm here because I want to see some economic justice, and the reinvigoration of democracy. While I'd eventually like to see the dawn of a Thoreau-ean Zenarchy, in the mean time I'd like the constitutional democratic republic they told me about in school instead of the corporate authoritarian militaristic plutocracy in which I find myself.

Join us. See Occupy Baltimore or the Facebook page , or Occupy Together around the world.

bullying kills: a personal reflection

Posted on: Tue, 09/20/2011 - 17:14 By: Tom Swiss

Bullying kills. If you did not know that, Dan Savage blogs about Jamey Rodemeyer, a fourteen-year-old from upstate New York who apparently took his own life to escape the abuse of his peers:

It sounds like Jamey had help—he was seeing a therapist and a social worker and his family was supportive—but it wasn't enough. Whatever help Jamey was getting clearly wasn't enough to counteract the hatred and abuse that he had endured since the fifth grade, according to reports, or Jamey's fears of having to face down a whole new set of bullies when he started high school next year.


The point of the "It Gets Better" project is to give kids like Jamey Rodemeyer hope for their futures. But sometimes hope isn't enough. Sometimes the damage done by hate and by haters is simply too great. Sometimes the future seems too remote.

Dan's It Gets Better Project has done a lot over the past year or so to bring attention to the problem of the bullying experienced by LGBT youth. I don't want at all to take away from their work, or from the fact that LGBT youth are frequently bullied; but I think it would be good to broaden the discussion a little bit.

LGBT aren't the only ones who are bullied to the point of making them feel suicidal. I know, because thirty years or so ago I was a straight kid (despite the fact that "gaywad" and "faggot" were among my tormentors' favorite insults) who was bullied to the point of contemplating suicide.

It's hard to dredge up those memories, to think about how hurt and frightened I was for years of my life, and about what might have happened if things had gone just a bit differently. If I hadn't had a chance to make a fresh start at a distant middle school with a "gifted and talented" program, where I could escape the bullies and meet friends, at least for the school day, though coming home to the same fears and threats; if I hadn't been able to get permission -- and parental support -- to go to a high school out of my normal district; if I hadn't found the practice of karate...looking back, the path that kept me from just giving up was awfully narrow at times.

I'm feeling much better now, thanks.

The important thing is this: the kids who get bullied -- gay, bi, straight, trans, queer, whatever combination of preference and gender -- are so often the ones who grow up to become pretty damn great adults. We're strong, because we had to be to survive it. We're brave and independent, because we learned that the opinions and judgments of others are not a measure of our success. We're ready to help, because we know both how terrible it was when no one was there to help us, and how wonderful it was when someone was. And after the years of bullshit, when we get out in the world and get to have so much more of a choice of whom we associate with, we find those who can see and appreciate that strength, courage, and compassion.

And so a suicide like Jamey's isn't just a loss for those who knew him and loved him. It is a loss for us all who might have known the man he would have grown up to be if things had gone just a little bit differently.

It does get better. Not just for LGBT kids, but for all of us who are different and become the targets of insults, assaults, and harassment for it. But it takes luck and support to get through, and not everyone will find them. So as I shed a tear for Jamey Rodemeyer I also look back at my own life and think how easily that could have been me.

And if the next Jamey Rodemeyer, the next kid ready to end it all, reads this -- please, please, please, hang in there. Don't let the bastards win. Because we need the fabulous adult that you will grow in to being.

letter to the editor, New York Times: "Guns in the Exam Room"

Posted on: Thu, 08/18/2011 - 12:19 By: Tom Swiss

The New York Times printed my letter to the science editor. (Any New York friends still have Tuesday's paper around and willing to hold page D4 for my scrapbook?) They trimmed it, of course, cutting out the good parts; the original version is below.

Amusing that some sort of automatic system apparently tagged "wasting" as related to muscle atrophy when they posted it to the web.

Re: "Gun Query Off Limits for Doctors in Florida" (August 9):

I'm fairly certain that firearms safety was not part of my doctor's medical training, and if she brought the topic up at my next appointment I'd be concerned about why she was wasting time on a minor threat to my health. More than four times as many people die in fires each year than in firearms accidents, yet I don't hear anyone calling matches a "public health issue".

So long as people like Dr. Marcus conflate murders and suicides by firearm with accidental deaths, people who understand the statistics will feel that they are being treated as potential murderers or suicide cases when doctors ask prying questions about firearms ownership. Firearms are just one of many potentially dangerous items in a home, and excessive focus on gun accidents reveals either ignorance of the facts or a political agenda.

Tom Swiss

anticlimactic list of crimes

Posted on: Tue, 08/16/2011 - 22:10 By: Tom Swiss

I recently received a flier from the local neighborhood watch group, "Westchester Citizens On Patrol". I don't have anything against neighborhood watches, but I almost had to chuckle about the list of local crimes in this flier:

1. Assault and trespassing off of Norhurst Way

2. Motorcycle stolen at gunpoint off of Stonewall.

3. Murder on Meyers Drive.

4. Large rock thrown through car windshield near St. Paul’s Church and on Meyers Drive.

5. Alert from Wilkens Precinct regarding a spike in vehicle break-­‐ins

6. House egged on Norhurst Way North

I'm sure that folks having their house egged found it a mess and quite upsetting. But to put that in the same list with a motorcycle-jacking and a murder...that's a bit anti-climactic, to say the least.

"To sit patiently with a yearning that has not yet been fulfilled"

Posted on: Mon, 08/08/2011 - 12:36 By: Tom Swiss

Something my friend Heather Kyle posted this morning: ‎"To sit patiently with a yearning that has not yet been fulfilled, and to trust that, that fulfillment will come, is quite possibly one of the most powerful "magic skills" that human beings are capable of. It has been noted by almost every ancient wisdom tradition." -- Elizabeth Gilbert

So, that hits me square in the heart right now on a personal level, for reasons some of my friends know.

But it also taps into a general concept that's been floating in my head for a while, at least since Starwood, which I'm filing under the phrase "the quiet side of magic."

Magic, according to crazy ol' Uncle Aleister, is "the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will." A similar definition is Dion Fortune’s one, oft quoted by Starhawk, that magic is "the art of changing consciousness at will."

The idea of active change is at the heart of these definitions. But lately I've begun to wonder if we're not neglecting the yin side of magic, if by a focus on active change we're missing the more subtle sort of transformation that comes from contemplation and from deep listening.

On the archetypical level, the Magician is the holder of the secret knowledge. How do you get secret knowledge? Ya gotta listen. Even the most active of the archetypes, the Warrior, knows the necessity of listening and observation. Sun Tzu tells of the importance of using spies to listen to the enemy, that "what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge", while Musashi tells us that we must "Nurture the ability to perceive the truth in all matters" and "Be aware of those things which cannot be easily seen with the eye."

But these still suggest that listening is a preparation for action. More and more I'm thinking of the ways that listening itself transforms us. (If we truly listened to the long would they remain our enemy?)

And maybe sitting quietly with a yearning can also transform us.

So, I'm trying to listen better. (Yeah, I know: needs improvement!) And I'm trying -- I'm trying hard -- to sit patiently with this yearning, to trust that it's not merely an attachment-to-desire-that-leads-to-suffering, but instead an opening and a guiding.

I recently stumbled across a quote from Hermann Hesse: "[W]e have to stumble through so much dirt and humbug before we reach home. And we have no one to guide us. Our only guide is our homesickness."

What a magic, then, it would be to learn to listen to that homesickness.

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