Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Peace on Earth

Ooh Superman where are you now?
When everything's gone wrong somehow
The men of steel, the men of power
Are losing control by the hour.

This is the time,
This is the place,
So we look to the future
But there's not much love to go 'round.

Tell me why this is a land of confusion...

I recently read the novelization for the new film Superman Returns by comic book legend Marv Wolfman, and I absolutely loved it. I have been thinking quite a bit about what the character represents to us as Americans. We live in such morally ambiguous times. War is used as a primary option, threats and fear cloud our judgement, and violence begets violence, which everyone seems okay with.

It is no wonder then, that the comic book heroes we admire most are 'Take-no-prisoners' revenge-driven nutjobs like Wolverine, The Punisher, and Batman. These guys use Razor sharp claws, automatic weapons or simply their fists to settle things. Their causes are just because they say so. They shoot first, ask questions later-- Perfect spokespeople for the world we live in today. Their kind of 'instant retribution' crusades make us feel good about our own violent impulses, and they underscore the primal satisfaction of exacting instant justice. To be sure, I love these characters too-- I really enjoy the X-Men, and Batman is one of my all-time favorite heroes. In the hands of some great writers, the characters help illuminate different parts of ourselves, and recent movie treatments of all three have proved highly entertaining.

(X3 rocked, Jennie & I saw it on saturday. Batman Begins was just great. That having been said, though, 'the Punisher' has always been my least favorite comic book character. A guy with a gun & a grudge does not a hero make-- at least in my book.)

Yet not many people these days seem to dig Superman. He is regarded as 'old-fashioned,' 'naive,' and some folks think he's just plain boring. He doesn't wear a mask. He has no psychotic revenge-drama to fuel him. Instead, he's a "strange visitor from another planet" trying to find a way to utilize his abilities for the greater good while simultaneously looking for his own place in the world. In many ways, his dilemma is closer to that of my other favorite super-hero, Spider-Man, whose mantra is "With great power comes great responsibility."

My personal favorite Superman story is an Alex Ross/Paul Dini oversized prestige format one-shot called Peace on Earth which my Uncle Bob bought me for Christmas in 1998. Peace on Earth centers on the man of steel as he undertakes a personal mission to try and reach starving people in every corner of the globe in an attempt to alleviate world hunger for at least one day.

In the story, Superman takes all of the surplus grain he can carry and attempts to deliver it to the starving nations of the world. Along the way he encounters agressive dictators (North Korea), moblike crowds of starving people (Sudan), war-weary victims of the eastern european genocides (Kosovo) and the scorn and mistrust of politicians and media worldwide.

It is the hardest task he has ever tried to accomplish, and the resistance he encounters, mixed with the world's collective apathy towards human life, causes him to question himself and his mission. He admits to himself that even he wouldn't be able to reach the same people every single day... He would never be able to live his
own life and meet his other responsibilities. At the end of his quixotic crusade, Superman returns to his home feeling defeated and emotionally exhausted, and he wonders whether or not his Herculean effort has made any difference at all.

during a sleepless night of soul-searching, Superman remembers the time his adoptive father, Johnathan Kent, showed him how to scatter seeds in the fields when he was a boy on the farm in Smallville, Kansas. Pa Kent says, "As far back as we go, we've always had problems with sharing. Seem's everyone's so busy holding on to what they've got to care about how their neighbors are doing." Superman takes some measure of solace in his ability to educate others to share and give freely. He reasons that it is ultimately humanity's responsibility to solve it's own problems-- he can only do the best he can to help that effort. He cannot shoulder the burden all by himself, but he can educate people and let his compassion and selflessness create an example which people will hopefull want to emulate.

The final tableau of the story is of Clark Kent showing a high-school agriculture class how to scatter seeds on the Kent family farm, where he imparts his father's wisdom to the young students, planting a seed of compassion within them... No Superhuman abilities required.

Peace on Earth is a warm and compassionate story that illustrates the best of what the character embodies: Truth, Justice, and 'The American Way'(A cringe-worthy phrase when uttered nowadays, one which could cause people to believe that Superman endorses Torture, Rendition, Governmental Spying, Rigged Elections and the death of Political Dissent. That's a joke... sort of.)

'The American Way' part of his mantra is supposed to mean 'freedom, dignity & equality for all people everywhere.' Superman gets that, and it is this simple philosophy that is the core of his strength.

In the 1978 film Superman, Marlon Brando's Jor-El says to his son (Played brilliantly by the real Superman, Christopher Reeve):

"They can be a great people Kal-El, they wish to be.. They only lack the light to show the way."

We don't "lack the light." It is within all of us. The purpose of this character called 'Superman' is to inspire us to look for that light within ourselves, and nurture it-- so that one day, perhaps there will really be Peace on Earth.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

My Grandfather Saved My Life.

Tomorrow would have been my Grandfather's 83rd birthday.

Ben Bates passed away on tuesday, May 29th, 2001-- five years ago monday. I have always been struck by the fact that he died the day after his birthday, and so close to memorial day. He was a Marine, and a veteran of both WWII and Korea. I often wonder what he would think about the world today and the direction of the country. Chances are, he and I would get into some loud debates about the how the United States should face the future.

He was very much a student of the 'My Country, Right or Wrong' school of thought, and I do remember us having several heated discussions about wars and service to one's country. He once said to me, "When your country calls, you GO." I said that I felt that a man had to follow the call of his conscience, not of his elected leaders.

Well, one can imagine how that sentiment went over with him. He yelled so loudly in my face that it changed my hairstyle.

But he was funny. An passionate. And verbose. And intolerant. And Imperfect. Most of all, he was uniquely himself.

I really miss him. He was a hardscrabble guy, a red-blooded 'meat & potatoes' American who would probably flip if he found that I've been a vegetarian for almost three years and I've taken up meditation and a deep interest in Buddhism. I can just see him now, rolling his eyes and letting out a protracted "Jeeeeeeeesus CHRIST."

On the other hand, I have to say that he probably saved my life, and, in a way he is responsible for my evolving sense of what it means to be a part of the world.

You see, for many years, I was hiding what I felt was a shameful secret-- I suffer from the disease of alcoholism. I felt like I was hiding a 'double life,' and the weight of it seemed to drag me down to the point where it threatened my marriage and would have, eventually, wrecked my career. Luckily it never got to that point.

Many alcoholics have what is called a 'Moment of Clarity' where everything becomes crystallized for them, and the problem and solution become apparent in an instant. I experienced the same thing, only it was in a dream.

And the vessel carrying the message of change was none other than Ben Bates, right in my face, yelling at me to change my life.

About a year after he had passed away, I saw him in my sleep. I don't remember anything about the dream, other than in the grey fog of another fitful, booze-induced coma, my Grandfather's voice cut through the confusion and his words hit me like a hammer as clearly as if he was right next to me: "SCOTT, STOP DRINKING."

Of course, it took me awhile to do that, but I can pinpoint the birth of my ablity to deal with my own personal reality from that night. And whether it was actually him calling me from 'the other side' or a combination of memories of him mixed with my own subconcious desire to put down the bottle, I'll never know.

However I am sure of this: He loved me very much. And I can still feel it.

Yesterday I was going through some shoeboxes filled with rememberances and souvenirs from shows, etc, and I came across the leaflet which St. Stephens Parish handed out at his funeral in Pittsfield, Mass. Tucked neatly inside was a copy of his obituary in the Berkshire Eagle, and a copy of the eulogy I wrote for him. I'd like to share it with you now.

Eulogy For Bejamin F. Bates,
by Scott Wichmann, Grandson
11am Friday, June 1st, 2001
St. Stephen's Parish
Pittsfield, Massachussetts

"My Grandfather was a very special man to me. He was my idol, my role model, and my friend. I think Ben Bates is one of the great success stories of our time. He may not have ever been given national recognition, but that is beside the point.

Look around the room. He made us all possible.

He won a bet with a Marine buddy in Washington in the late 1940's. He bet his pal that he could get a date with a certain Virginia girl who was sitting on a park bench. Needless to say, he won the bet, and here we all are. And how lucky we are to have been the recipients of his unique brand of love. He showed he cared in crazy ways. I would spend the weekend with him, and he would wake me up at 5:30 am and say gruffly "Whaddya want for dinner?? I'm goin' to the grocery store!!"

It may have been early, but he was busy thinking ahead to when I'd be hungry. He cut all of our wants & needs 'off at the pass.'

He took care of all of us, babysat us or babysat for us, and had a delightful time doing so, even as he hid his delight from us behind a killer poker face. Benny was the last of a dying breed, the man that handles his business, bringing up his family in a changing world, while holding fast to the principles of hard work, discipline, and sacrifice.

How many times was he there when we needed him? I got really sick in 1994 and I remember him bringing me the Boston Globe and the Herald every day because he knew I loved the Celtics. He bought me the STAR WARS TRILOGY on video and watched all three movies in a row, rolling his eyes the whole way through while I repeated every line.
Birthdays, weddings, graduations, births, moving days-- He was there for everything, showing a dedication to his family that is sometimes lost on the modern american male.

I can't remember when he wasn't there. Along with Grammy, he was the other pillar holding up my life, and even after his own body began to betray him, he still remained a fervent family man, keeping track of his kids and seeing to their needs.

Towards the end, his physical capabilities began to diminish. He lost weight. He became delusional, frightened, and angry. We may miss him, but I like to think of him as free from all that now.

I think that on tuesday morning, May the 29th, 2001, Ben Bates awoke to the sound of birds outside his window. He softly found that he had the use of his legs. He could move his arms. He looked up in the cold grey dampness of a Berkshire morning and saw a light...

And in that light was my Grandmother. A beautiful vision standing there with arms outstretched, saying gently "Benny, it's time to come home."

And they walked together into the light, and all the fear, anger, and hurt disappeared. No more arguments about things that don't matter. No more miscommunication. Just love, pure and simple.

I'm certain that he is in a better place, one that is free from worry and hurt, and he's in his cosmic tree-stand, keeping a silent (maybe not so silent) & loving eye on us all.

I've learned a lesson from being Ben Bates' Grandson: Family Comes First. Nothing was more important to him-- He is an inspiration to me as I will set forth to start my own family very soon. I will take what he taught me and use it wisely. and so will you, I know. Look around the room. Ben Bates is alive and well in all of us, everyday.

I Love You, Grampy."

Thursday, May 11, 2006

My Friendly Correspondence With Verizon.

Dear Verizon,

This email is to let you know that I am disgusted by your four-plus-year-old practice of handing over the private calling records of your customers to the Bush Administration and The National Security Agency in flagrant violation of the 1979 Foreign Intelligence Services Act.

As an American Company, you should be ashamed of yourselves-- The one thing that makes us different in this country is our freedom to express ourselves without the government casting a glance at our calling, reading, assembling or purchasing habits. In case you had forgotten that inconvenient little fact, allow me to furnish you with a small reminder:

Amendment IV, US Constitution:

'The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.'

Thanks so much, Verizon, for volunteering to violate the Fourth Amendment Rights of myself and all my fellow Americans. You should be very proud of yourselves.

I am currently a Verizon customer. My home phone service is handled by your company, as well as my high-speed DSL service. As far as I'm concerned, any contract we had together is nullified by your criminal practices.

I will be switching service providers effective immediately.

I sincerely hope your company suffers the backlash it deserves.

God Bless America,

Scott Wichmann

Friday, May 05, 2006

A Peace Worth Working For.

I write a lot. Especially when I feel passionate about something.

I was recently looking through my email 'saved' folder, checking out which emails I have kept over the last few years, and a few of them sparked my interest from february of '04.
The War in Iraq was almost a full year old, and I was talking to a friend via email about how we personally addresss the violence of the world. Her mom survived the holocaust, and 'Mom' took issue with my statements about the way of Non-Violence as a lifelong practice.

I said that it was important to listen to 'the enemy' with a compassionate and open mind.

Here's what she wrote back-- my response is below:

> don't want to get into this, but playing devil's advocate.(i'm turning into > a real hawk lol) > Scott, you leave out greed and need to control and power seeking. > in any case, violence may beget violence, but "first you gotta attract the > guy's attention" before you can listen with compassion, or you won't be > around to listen with or without compassion. > jj

Hey JJ--

Mom raises an interesting point. I sat there thinking about that one for awhile. The most honest and jaw-dropping, almost inconcieveable way to 'Get the guy's attention' is to love him.

I know, I know. I'm thinking it, too... Naive. Incredibly impractical. Delusional. Crazy. No way.


...but that's the BEST way. Notice how I didn't say 'The easiest,' the 'quickest'-- We all saw what kind of attention 9/11 got. What kind of attention 'Shock & Awe' got. What kind of attention Palestinian Suicide Bombings and Israeli Airstrikes get.

The BEST way is to love your enemy-- for then he ceases to be your enemy!!! Christ, Buddha, Gandhi, MLK-- They put this idea into practice... And if I'm not mistaken, all four of those guys got some things accomplished, no?? They were flesh & blood human beings!!!! Just like you & me!!!

The BEST way to create peace is to love your enemy. And-- Not to simply to pay lip-service to this idea of Love, but to really, truly, deeply see in your heart of hearts, that you and he are inextricably woven into the same tapestry.

This is not easy.

I sure as heck couldn't say this-- That I LOVE everyone I come into contact with-- Or that I can say "I Love Osama." Or "I love Saddam." That's crazy even to me!! Hell, I have enough trouble getting past the the idea of being able to say 'I don't hate the Yankees!!!'....The guy taking his sweet-ass time at the McDonald's drive-thru pisses me off... Because I'm not rooted in the moment. I'm not seeing, listening, breathing-- I'm full of fear, anger, frustration about the past & the future. I'm somewhere else-- Deep inside my own brain. I cannot see clearly.

Being non-violent is not passive. It is not inactive. To find peace, I have heard, I must first work every day to cultivate the conditions for peace to exist within me. No one can say--
"Good morning!! I'm Non-Violent!!! I have compassion!! I understand!!! I get it!! I Think I'll have a soy-chai latte!!!"

If they could, I'd be following them around all day.

And have a soy-chai latte, too. I deserve it...

But I am open-- I think-- I am praying for the willingness to start on the long, tough, uncertain path-- In order to maybe, possibly, someday-- create the right conditions within me for that idea to really take root & blossom in a way that is genuine. That would be freaking awesome.

That is worth working towards.

And I can only work on me. I cannot be responsible for what others do or say or believe-- Nor should I be-- But I can listen to them, I can try to be attentive and mindful and present and all of that really simple-yet-near-impossible type stuff.... And I can send emails to everyone I know.... And talk about peace...And hopefully I will touch someone else. And then maybe the seed grows and the whole thing is set in motion again. Maybe... and then, maybe not.

If we want peace, true peace, we must lay the groundwork-- Set the stage-- For the possibility of peace. We must create the conditions for it to exist. Millions of people are creating these conditions already right now-- you and I are doing that in our minds, hearts & souls. Right now,we are tapping & reinforcing something that is already there. We are creating the seeds of true peace RIGHT NOW as I write this & you read it.

As my character in 'Fifth of July' says: "Isn't that far out??"

Jackie, We have possibility all over us!!!


(Humor goes a long way to getting the job done, too!!!)

Anyhow, tell Mom here's a great way to 'get the guy's attention.' On the subject of altering institutional government to begin the slow process of changing our view of conflict resolution-- Here is the best idea I've ever heard, from Congressman Dennis Kucinich. It involves shifting our perspective as a nation from 'War as the solution to everything', to the root causes of violence, and, even more beneficial, it can instill peace as a workable, easily practiced concept in our daily lives.


Scotty Wichmann

"As we stand on the threshold of a new millennium, it is time to free ourselves, to jettison our illusions and fears and transform age-old challenges with new thinking. We can conceive of peace as not simply the absence of violence but the active presence of the capacity for a higher evolution of human awareness, of respect, trust, and integrity. Of peace, wherein we all may tap the infinite capabilities of humanity to transform consciousness and conditions that impel or compel violence at a personal, group, or national level toward creating understanding, compassion, and love. We can bring forth new understandings where peace, not war, becomes inevitable. Can we move from wars to end all wars to peace to end all war? Citizens across the United States are now uniting in a great cause to establish a Department of Peace, seeking nothing less than the transformation of our society, to make non-violence an organizing principle, to make war archaic through creating a paradigm shift in our culture for human development for economic and political justice and for violence control. Its work in violence control will be to support disarmament, treaties, peaceful coexistence and peaceful consensus building. Its focus on economic and political justice will examine and enhance resource distribution, human and economic rights and strengthen democratic values. Domestically, the Department of Peace would address violence in the home, spousal abuse, child abuse, gangs, police-community relations conflicts and work with individuals and groups to achieve changes in attitudes that examine the mythologies of cherished world views, such as 'violence is inevitable' or 'war is inevitable'. Thus it will help with the discovery of new selves and new paths toward peaceful consensus. The Department of Peace will also address human development and the unique concerns of women and children. It will envision and seek to implement plans for peace education, not simply as a course of study, but as a template for all pursuits of knowledge within formal educational settings. Violence is not inevitable. War is not inevitable. Nonviolence and peace are inevitable. We can make of this world a gift of peace which will confirm the presence of universal spirit in our lives. We can send into the future the gift which will protect our children from fear, from harm, from destruction. '

-Dennis Kucinich

Congressman Kucinich is the 2003 recipient of the International Gandhi Peace Prize. Former recipients include Eleanor Roosevelt, Cesar Chavez, A.J. Muste, Dr. Linus Pauling, Dorothy Day, Sen. Wayne Morse and Marian Wright Edelman. See website: http://www.pepeace.org/tmpl/gandhi.html