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Harvey Gotliffe, Ph.D. Headshot

I Respect Tom Brokaw and Al Huang, but I Can't Afford to Eat With Them

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October in California is fundraising time and if you are on any Republican Party's mailing list you'll be receiving pleas for contributions from two political neophytes, billionaire gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman and senatorial candidate, millionaire Carly Fiorina. If you are on a Democratic mailing list, you'll be hearing from two career politicians, three-term U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer and gubernatorial candidate and former governor, Jerry Brown. You may also get fundraising requests from both prophetic and non-profit organizations

I recently received fund-raising requests from two of the latter groups including an e-mailing from the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California asking me to share a meal and talk with Tai Ji maven Chungliang Al Huang and others. The second mailing was a full-color, multi-piece USPS-delivered invitation with a form letter encouraging me to share a meal with three well-known persons including Tom Brokaw at the Panetta Institute in Seaside, California.

My wife, daughter and I go to Esalen at least once a year to participate in a workshop led by Al Huang and in March we went for a weekend retreat with Al and Bob Walter. The last week in November we will be attending a five-day workshop under Al's capable leadership.

That weekend cost $595 and it included the workshop, a comfortable cabin overlooking the Pacific Ocean that my wife and I shared, all savory meals from Friday evening through Sunday's lunch, the use of Esalen's hot baths on the cliffs above the Pacific, and the marvelous ambience of Esalen's serene, soothing setting.

Esalen's e-mail invited us to attend their 9th Annual Benefit Weekend this November 5-7, costing $1,600 for one and $3,000 for a couple. I personally know, respect and like Al Huang and have two of his Tai Ji videos, two cassette tapes on his Living Tao philosophy, six books he either authored or co-authored, and I just finished his most recent contribution Spirit of the Dancing Warrior. However, the cost of the benefit weekend is budget challenging especially after we paid to be "Seminarians" at Al's full, five-day workshop the end of November for $1,080 each.

Tom Brokaw is known from his days with NBC and I have great respect for his integrity and his well-honed reportorial skills. Brokaw, Cokie Roberts, the award-winning broadcast journalist from NPR and ABC, and New York Times political columnist David Brooks are the recipients of the 11th annual Jefferson-Lincoln Awards presented by the Panetta Institute for Public Policy.

The institute's chair is Sylvia Panetta, the wife of CIA Director Leon Panetta. For years I would send him the printed issue of The Ho-Ho-Kus Cogitator and always received a personal thank you note. The last one read, in part, "I appreciate hearing from you and reading your interesting original take on the events of our day and yesteryear." If I could get through to him at CIA headquarters, I'd send him the sixteenth and current issue, and if not, perhaps in his spare time he will either read this post or the Cogitator blog at TheHo-Ho-KusCogitator.com/.

If I had known about the dinner earlier, I could have been one of eight honored guests who bought one seat at Tom's table for $2,500, or at Cokie's or David's for $1,875. However, seats at all three tables were sold out and I was left to either sponsor a table for ten guests for only $7,000, or dine by myself for $400.

As a practicing vegetarian and occasional pescadarian, I can't imagine that any meal suited to my dietary tastes would be worth $400, yet alone $2,500. There was no mention whether or not I could bring my own salad in a Tupperware container, and if so, what their lid-removing fee would be.

Both events are taking place forty-miles apart off of California Highway One, and at the same time. The awards banquet is on November 6th and the Esalen event takes place November 5-7. I have chosen not to attend either one and will stay home although aside from the dinner's cost, I was ready for the Panetta affair since the invitation read "Black Tie" and I own one.

Chungliang Al Huang latest book is a most interesting read and although it's only 203 pages long, I wrote ten full pages of neatly printed notes on the most meaningful of his ideas. I hope to sit across from him in the dining hall at Esalen and discuss them, but that will take place at his workshop, not at the donation weekend.

Both Esalen and the Panetta Institute need to update their mailing lists, and I am quite pleased that I have not received any recent mailings from either the GOP or the Democrats.

You can find out more about Al Huang's work at www.livingtao.org, more on Robert Walter's efforts at www.jcf.org, more on Esalen at www.esalen.org, and more on the Panetta Institute at www.panettainstitute.org.