Monday, February 23, 2015

Tom Cahill Recommends Happiness Project

The following is an open letter to Gretchen Rubin, author of "The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun." (2009).  She is a Yale Law School grad who once clerked for Justice Sandra Day O'Conner.  She lives in NYC with her husband and two daughters.

I'm sending this letter even to friends who consider spirituality and self-help books "whu-whu" for more reasons to think I'm a light weight--like I care.  Hey, enjoy life!



Dear Gretchen,

Two years ago, at the advanced age of 76 and not speaking the language, I moved to France for travel-adventure, spiritual unfoldment, and to get away from very, very disappointing USA politics.  Although I've made a number of stretches in my life, I hadn't made such a big one since age 30 when I walked off a job destroying a budding career in industrial journalism and became a full-time activist and advocacy journalist for peace, justice and the environment.

A month ago, prompted by a friend who took a "vow of happiness," I followed suit and within weeks found your book "The Happiness Project" in a thrift shop in Napa, California, where I was recuperating from a serious operation at the home of my sister and brother-in-law.

The past two years in France have been very difficult for me especially with my health and the bureaucracy.  But your book infected me with resiliency, determination, and faith that I am in the right place, at the right time, for the right reasons.

Two days ago, having flown into Paris from San Francisco, a pickpocket stole from one of my  pockets with a velcro flap an envelope containing about 600 Euros AND my French bankcard with pin code.  I telephoned my French "nanny" who in turn quickly called the bank and was assured my account would be closed immediately and a new card issued.   But today my friend discovered my  account had NOT been terminated and about 3000 Euros more had been stollen.

For hours today, I felt like I had been robbed by the bank as well as the pickpocket.  Dazed as if I had been bludgeoned, I also felt incredibly stupid for having my pin code with the bankcard which, in my defense, I did because I cannot keep track of all the bloody codes in my cyber life.

What a welcome home to France, I thought.

But then my depression lifted enough to grab your book and start reading including notes I wrote on the inside back cover.  I especially liked your quote by William Butler Yeats, "Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth.  We are happy when we are growing."  And as I recall, you added just "striving" for growth helps big time.

Thank you so much for your psycho/spiritual first aid.  Once again I feel like I'm growing.  And as someone once said, "Nothing bad ever happens to a writer.  Everything is material."  Who knows, I might make a novel out my misadventures in old  age.

Tom Cahill
Granville, France
19 Feb. 2015

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Left And Right Have Worked Together For More Humane Prisons

Left and right uniting on prison reform is in the news.  This story in the New York Times is about the unlikely alliance of usually bitter adversaries Koch Industries and the Center For American Progress.
Koch Industries, the conglomerate owned by the conservative Koch brothers, and the center, a Washington-based liberal issues group, are coming together to back a new organization called the Coalition for Public Safety. The coalition plans a multimillion-dollar campaign on behalf of emerging proposals to reduce prison populations, overhaul sentencing, reduce recidivism and take on similar initiatives. Other groups from both the left and right — the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Tax Reform, the Tea Party-oriented FreedomWorks — are also part of the coalition, reflecting its unusually bipartisan approach.
This is great.  The reason I can say that with such confidence is that I have seen it happen before and it really worked.  Here is a picture of left and right sharing common ground on a prison issue.

The picture there has Ted Kennedy watching while my friend Tom Cahill congratulates George W. Busch on his signing of the Prison Rape Elimination Act .  Not very long before that Tom had been in Iraq serving as human shield, possibly the only US Air Force veteran to do that.

In my nearly 20 years working with Justice Detention International (formerly Stop Prisoner Rape), support for the effort to end sexual abuse in detention has come from across the ideological spectrum.
When Kent Hovind, who is about as far right as you could conceivably published a book calling for prison reform, I asked Tom Cahill for his comments.  Tom had high praise.

Fixing the prison industrial complex is something that both left and right can embrace.  It should be interesting.