Regular visitors to this forum will recall that I favor the Macintosh in the practice of the binary arts; and that I have little enthusiasm for the anti-creativity that is the Cult of Microsoft. What's a little disturbing in this dynamic of the digital is that Emperor Gates has directed a wealth of philanthropic activity toward the education of American children and the improvement of schools. As admirable as that may appear on its surface, the problem is in the noise and the labels that come with this storm of charity: every program, every charitable campaign, comes with the Gates name or the Microsoft logo attached. You can consider this axiomatic to human social life in general, that any generosity done with a business card or a brand name is suspect. Fame, as the ancient Chinese proverb reminds us, is to the wise person as fattening is to the pig—it opens the door to death. Bad enough to have fame or greatness thrust upon you; but to aggrandize oneself in the act of doing good for others simply ruins the gift.
Anyway, the last thing we need in education today is more of the corporate information model. If only "IT" meant "insight technology" rather than "information technology," we might be getting somewhere. But no doubt Mr. Gates, irked by the profuse sales of those pesky ipods—even to the point where they have been appearing among his own employees on the campus at Redmond—is looking to make inroads on his competitor's traditional market share dominance of the school computer room. Thus, his appearance among the students of our land as a saint bleeding green is enough to make a thinking person pause and wonder.
Meanwhile, Apple's success isn't alone among Uncle Bill's recent pet peeves. The fortunes of Google have risen faster than the national debt, though with far more salubrious results. Google is the leading innovator and creator of the PC universe. While Microsoft continues to sew band-aids for its hideously flawed and bleeding operating systems, Google simply creates new and cool stuff that people can use, enjoy, and even profit from. They have created an outstanding photo-management software, called Picasa, that is virtually on a par with Apple's marvelous product iPhoto; they have raised the bar on the freedom and overall usability of mail programs, with Gmail (still in beta—if you'd like to try it, I have lots of invitations to hand out—everyone who joins gets 50); and their Desktop Search application has accomplished for the PC what Apple did with its Spotlight feature in Tiger, the new version of OS X.
And, of course, Google still rules the roost in Search-ville, where their perpetual pushing of the envelope leaves competitors like yahoo and Microsoft wondering what just blew past them (and what happened to their executives). My favorites are Google Scholar, which I use for research, and Google Earth, which I, like most folks, use for just fun. The picture above, by the way, is the one "unplottable" point on the Google Earth (there's another Harry Potter term for you)—Dick Cheney's house at Observatory Place in Washington. Even the White House is not as visually encrypted as Paranoid Dick's crib.
As most of you also know, Google has plenty of other stuff for PC users (much of which is also Mac-compatible as well): there is Blogger, Translate, Froogle, Groups, and the fascinating contents of Google Labs (you can review the entire inventory of Google innovation here).
It seems as if every time I walk into the office at work, there's some new Google-game going on. The latest is this: open the browser of your choice and type the word "failure" into a Google Search box, and see what appears as result #1.
Saturday, July 30, 2005
Friday, July 29, 2005
Sometimes, I swear I am absent from my own lessons. I have written, both within this blog and elsewhere, of the stiff and morbid beliefs that get attached to the body of Capital and the practice of Commerce. I have been myself afflicted with these beliefs—the attachment to a "spiritual" idea of virtue as poverty; the notion of abundance as mere excess at best and the darkest sin at worst; the belief that to be making money at something that helps others is to be a mercenary of a corporate army.
These beliefs are, all of them, rank falsehoods and spells placed upon the body of Capital. They must be firmly dispersed from consciousness if we are to hope for a more just and generous distribution of either personal or social wealth. That we must learn these lessons with such difficulty and recurrent, backsliding error, is only an indication of the recrudescence and intractability of the spells themselves, the demonic consciousness that is so deeply stuck to Capital.
What these reflections are all leading to is a realization I had today, that my work is meant to benefit others and myself. I cannot put a price on the teachings I receive from the hidden realm, any more than you could place a value on those that you receive for yourself. What we can do, however, is to value our time, our effort, and the work that is involved in the opening of the spirit's ear to the sound of the Cosmic Teaching Voice.
Therefore, I am selling one of my books, which I have self-published with a print-on-demand company called Lulu.com. It is available here, and I do hope you'll have a look at its preview document and consider purchasing a copy. It is, of course, far from being a perfect (or even near-perfect) piece of work. But it is a fairly good book, and contains some insights, practices, and meditation exercises that are the products of much of my work with clients and myself as well. I suppose that what I'm saying is that it is worth its price.
Now that my business has been proposed, let's see what's in the news hopper. Ah, Mr. Bolton—the Devil and Captain Kangaroo himself. He will, it appears, receive his desired position as UN Ambassador by default, once Congress has gone off for its August recess. The astonishing thing about all this to me is that we as citizens even allow Congress to take a month off in the summer—just like that, all at once! Think about your own workplace: could everyone in your entire company, or your department, even, just up and vacate the premises for a week, let alone a month? How can the government get away with this? Why isn't there a million-person march descending on Capitol Hill to protest this madness? Why isn't there a petition with about a hundred million signatures on it, demanding that these people who are paid enormous salaries to represent the people of this nation in the most powerful legislative body on the planet put in the time and the work necessary to accomplish the will of the people? How do we allow this lazy decadence to persist, year after year after bloody year? Incredible.
And how did it get into the Constitution, anyway, that when the cooks are out of the kitchen the dogs can empty the cupboard? Who thought it a good idea to say that the President can do what he damned well pleases whenever Capitol Hill empties out for playtime? But people sometimes look strangely at me when I insist that our Constitution needs to be turned sideways, emptied out, and then refilled and reworded in the most thoroughgoing and painstaking manner. Just keep following this entire fiasco over the next week or so, and then tell me I'm baffy to entertain such an idea.
Posted by Brian Donohue at 7/29/2005 04:23:00 PM
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Tonight's entry will be brief, but that's because I've been working on a piece that doesn't comfortably fit into weblog format. It's about children, and how the horrible events of our world and the errors of belief in our culture tend to put our kids—and when I say "our kids" I mean that all children are our children—at a potentially tragic disadvantage in life.
You can download this essay here (Word doc, 56kb). If you happen to be an actual parent or caregiver to a child, or if you feel the same way about all kids that I do, then you may be interested in the resources that are referenced in that article.
The piece was occasioned by an email discussion with my friend Eric Francis, who is one of the foremost astrologers and eloquent bloggers on the web; and an artist with a digital camera to boot. I highly recommend that, whether or not you're into astrology, you check out his work and consider a subscription to one of his online journals. And if you are drawn to astrological insight, getting to know Eric Francis' work is a no-brainer: though my awareness of astrology is near to naught, I read his work regularly, along with Rob Brezsny's Free Will Astrology.
Speaking of great links, don't forget our Link of the Day (above, and yes, I know it's usually up there for about a week before I change it). Norm Jensen's onegoodmove site features the odd scraps of news you don't easily find elsewhere, along with Jon Stewart clips, a hilarious Bill Maher appearance on the Leno show, and a new video of Dubya flipping the bird in the hallowed halls of Congress. One Good Move is, as my daughter's Highlights magazine calls itself, "fun with a purpose."
Meanwhile, in the news, the IRA is turning over a new leaf and putting their bombs away. Rumor reached them, it appears, that Donald Rumsfeld was turning his cross-haired eyes away from Teheran and toward Dublin...George Pataki will not be running again for Governor of New York State: apparently, he decided going up against the redoubtable Eliot Spitzer was a lost cause in the making. Instead, Eliot's GOP opponent in next year's gubernatorial election will be none other than Maurice R. Greenberg, former CEO of AIG...well Hank, you know payback's a bitch, right?
Posted by Brian Donohue at 7/28/2005 04:33:00 PM
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
It has been exactly a year since a "skinny kid with a funny name" (his own description) delivered one of the more electrifying speeches in the history of American political rhetoric. The scene was the Democratic National Convention of 2004, and Barack Obama had been, most improbably, selected as the Keynote Speaker of the Convention. He responded with an address of such florid and earthy eloquence as to astonish even the numbest minds within the mass media.
In case you've forgotten it, you can go back and listen again—in fact, I would urgently recommend that you do so. (The audio file's been edited, it seems, and not very professionally; but it will give you enough of a feel for the energy of this speech to be worth a listen).
As I listened to it, I wondered, "what if...?" and "why not...?" Why shouldn't this young man, so full of life and ideals, become our next President? Couldn't he be just the kind of leader we need now in this morbidly sick and morally impoverished government of ours?
Before you form your own answer to my questions, think carefully about what we've had the past four-plus years; and then examine your preconceptions—the most common of which, I suppose, would be turned against Obama's youth and inexperience in Washington politics.
"He is unproven." Yes, he sure as hell is: unproven in the slimy power games of Washington's white and oily insiders; unproven in the ways of deceit and intimidation; unproven in the postures of aggression and hatred; unproven in the pursuit of war-for-profit; unproven in connivance and manipulation; unproven in the practice of politics as a game of cynical commerce; unproven in the conviction of having a golden earpiece connected exclusively to the mouth of a vengeful and violent God; unproven in contempt for the poor and working class of his nation; unproven in adulation for those with excesses of wealth and power; unproven in being the center of a circle of corruption; unproven in porkbarrelled legislation to benefit the rich and further impoverish the needy; unproven in the ideology of murder and oppression.
Yes, Barack Obama is unproven; and I can't think of a better recommendation on his behalf.
Posted by Brian Donohue at 7/27/2005 04:41:00 PM
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
I sometimes wonder about the web and the blogosphere...I often feel like I'm talking in a dark room, before a profuse but unseen audience. I know there are people out there, and some are even listening...but they can't be seen or felt or experienced. For all the trumpeted praise it's received as the ultimate in global communication, the world wide web is not very communicative. Yes, you can connect with anyone, anywhere in the world, at any time—but can you communicate?
Our technologies have run so far ahead of us, in both practical and evolutionary terms. It all began, of course, with Gutenberg's revolution some 550 years ago. I think it is one of the more tragic errors in human history that the first product of his new technology was a mass-producible form of an ancient and essentially dead literature that hadn't been reanimated since its birth in the oral mists of pre-history.
This seems to point to a crucial difference between old books that seem to remain alive and those that further stiffen in their morbidity. People like Legge, Wilhelm, Greg Whincup, and Carol Anthony are the stewards of a continually growing and renewing work called the I Ching, which was originally written some 5,000 years ago. Lao Tzu, of couse, has enjoyed nearly innumerable renaissance moments, from famous writers such as Ursula Le Guin and Stephen Mitchell, and others who live in that electronic anonymity that is the world wide web. Poets like Kabir and Rumi keep dancing in the light of the quantum Whole that some call God, and are able to reflect that light back toward us through a stream of fresh and vibrant translations, made over the centuries since they first sang. Fitzgerald and Fagles have given Homer a strong and modern voice that speaks to us just as deeply today as the blind poet's lyrics moved his contemporaries.
But the Bible is somehow different. True, there have been a few—Stephen Mithcell among them—who have attempted to draw its rigid and dying voice into the language of the present; but their influence has been minimal. The only modern translations that are available today are just as stiff and soul-smothering as the old King James and its feudal-era imitators. These are the works not of individual men and women, and they are certainly not the work of poets; they are the corporate efforts of boardroom-style committees with private and insidious agendas. In this month's Harper's Magazine, Bill McKibben draws a brief and fascinating portrait of this literary corpse we call the Bible, and its shrill and violent modern interpreters. He is forced to conclude his reflections on a rather dark, but probably realistic note:
...more likely the money changers and power brokers will remain ascendant in our "spiritual" life. Since the days of Constantine, emperors and rich men have sought to co-opt the teachings of Jesus. As in so many areas of our increasingly market-tested lives, the co-opters—the TV men, the politicians, the Christian "interest groups"—have found a way to make each of us complicit in that travesty, too. They have invited us to subvert the church of Jesus even as we celebrate it. With their help we have made golden calves of ourselves—become a nation of terrified, self-obsessed idols. It works, and it may well keep working for a long time to come. When Americans hunger for selfless love and are fed only love of self, they will remain hungry, and too often hungry people just come back for more of the same.
I am reminded that we are now able to download and access the Word of God, in nearly any known language, onto a cell phone, a PDA, or a Blackberry device; and draw spiritual inspiration after answering the last of our day's email. But can we feel the breath of God in that bundle of wires and silicon circuits? We can, indeed, assure ourselves that God is in the thing—as It is in all things. But really, can we feel It? Can we work past the level of appearances, and read beyond the word to the loving Energy that wrote it? McKibben's answer, which agrees with my own, is "No, we cannot—not yet." And as long as that answer remains the same, we will have leaders who will annihilate 3,000 innocent citizens of a great city, or who will wage a Sisyphean war against a foreign nation that had done his country no harm—all in the name of God and His holy and confidential Word.
Posted by Brian Donohue at 7/26/2005 04:44:00 PM
Monday, July 25, 2005
Quote of the day, from John Simpson of the BBC:
The Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq's next-door neighbour, has benefited in every way from President George W Bush's decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein. It is probably the best thing that has happened to Iran since the Islamic Revolution there in 1979.
Co-quote of the day (hey, it's my blog, I can make up words if I want to), from Eric Alterman of MSNBC.com:
Let’s tally it all up: Creating a murderous civil war, badly weakening our military, creating anti-American hatred all over the world, vastly increasing the terrorist threat, getting thousands of Americans killed and tens of thousands wounded, killing tens of thousand of Iraqis, torturing hundreds, perhaps thousands more, letting our true enemies retreat and regroup, and wasting hundreds of billions of dollars,—to say nothing of deliberately outing CIA agents for political payback and firing everyone who tried to tell the truth and starving homeland security—all for a war in which we were never threatened. Seriously, if I were Bin Laden, I’d just retire. Everything’s going swimmingly...
Meanwhile, across the pond, British government officials are "desperately sorry" and "profoundly regret" the killing of an innocent (the number of bullets drilled into the poor man's head has gone from 5 to 8, though this entirely meets with the approval of John "Five in the Noggin" Gibson of FOX):
So for the moment, all's well. Just catch the four bombers. Five in the noggin is fine. Don't complain that sounds barbaric. We're fighting barbaric.
Gibson also crows, "I love the way they popped the pictures of those four bombers so quick." What he forgot to ask himself is how the bobbies went and shot the wrong man after those wonderful pictures had been produced. But Gibson is another instance of the mindless, clueless sideline cheerleaders to whom such questions are meaningless in the face of good, solid, efficient killing.
Actually, the entire episode is something that has been well studied and publicized—most recently, and notably, in Malcolm Gladwell's justifiably bestselling book blink. Get the book and read his Chapter 6 ("Seven Seconds in the Bronx"), which discusses another incident of police shooting madly at something dark-skinned, scary-looking, and, it turned out, innocent.
What Gladwell adds to this discussion is insight and research findings on the phenomenon, along with some frightening evidence on its ubiquity in our culture. Gladwell concludes with a hopeful point about the potential for stopping this pestilence of mindlessness amid the people that carry the guns for our governments. His message boils down to if you're going to give people guns to do their jobs with, you'd better damn well train them how to use them—and how not to:
To a novice, that incident would have gone by in a blur. but it wasn't a blur at all. Every moment—every blink—is composed of a series of discrete moving parts, and every one of those parts offers an opportunity for intervention, for reform, and for correction. (p. 241).
And speaking of intervention, reform, and correction, we have Karl. And Karl, it seems, has company. Apparently, it is now a matter of record that the Bushies—specifically AG Gonzales—had advance knowledge of the DOJ's intent to investigate the blowing of Valerie Plame's cover; and that they shared this knowledge in conversations aboard Air Force One among their most interested parties. Frank Rich does a better job than I can in sorting out the actual and probable details, in all their sordid surreality.
There was plenty of time, it appears, to "prepare a face to meet the faces you will meet," as T.S. Eliot would say; plenty of time to prepare statements and stories; and to shred documents that the DOJ had already made clear it wanted to see.
What is becoming clearer and clearer still—as if any further evidence is required—is the bedrock case for impeachment, which I still think should be our national priority here. Get them out of office, out of the White House, first, and then let indictments ring.
Posted by Brian Donohue at 7/25/2005 08:52:00 PM
Sunday, July 24, 2005
To: Lewis Lapham, Editor, Harper's Magazine
Subject: Awakening the Rip Man
Dear Mr. Lapham:
I should start by saying that I'm a great admirer of yours. I've subscribed to your magazine for virtually as long as you've been its editor, and it's been a great ride.
Harper's has enjoyed a renaissance under your guiding hand as editor. The brightest lights of American literature appear in Harper's: fiction writers like Mark Slouka and Joyce Carol Oates; artists of non-fiction like Bill McKibben and yourself; and many of the most articulate political writers of our era. I usually read every issue cover to cover, and I never miss your "Notebook" essay at the beginning of every issue, just before the famous "Harper's Index".
Sometimes, it must be admitted, I don't understand what you're trying to say, as in this month's piece ("Moving On", August, 2005), where you write, "The sensibility adrift in cyberspace responds to the images of celebrity in the same way that the sea dances with the light of the moon." It seems as if you're pointing out a flaw in that sentence (though again, I can't be sure); with an image that I found rather attractive. I wish more of us here in cyberspace moved in our expression to the flow of events with the same objectivity and constancy as the sea's reflection of moonlight.
But further along in the same essay I found a statement that did not mystify me. In fact, I found it rather appalling. It was in the context of your complaint of our once-free press being trapped in a zombie-like state of deep sleep in a time where an Empire is being built right under their noses, in what used to be a democratic nation (thus the Rip van Winkle tie-in from the essay's epigraph):
Who can follow a story to the end of the week, much less over the distance of thirty-three years? Nothing necessarily follows from anything else, and the constant viewer is free to shop around for a reality matched to taste, to make use of the advice imparted by a wise old Jedi knight to the young Darth Vader in Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace, "Concentrate on the moment. Feel, don't think. Trust your instincts."
Joseph Goebbels aboard the Death Star that was Nazi Germany taught the same lesson in what we've since come to know and love under the headings of aggressive marketing and corporate knowledge management. The propaganda minister understood that arguments must be crude and emotional, instinctual rather than intellectual, endlessly repeated.
I'm really sorry, sir, but there is so much distortion and misperception in that paragraph that I really don't know where to begin. For a man who has dedicated his life to the correct use of language—and done more to further that end than all but a few others in our era—the seeming malignancy of your metaphors is nearly overwhelming. That's why I suspect that you simply got tangled up in terms, because the bulk of your essay reflects the same unflinching clarity that I've come to expect from your work.
A hundred years after the rise of Freudianism, we still live under its ideological shroud; it sticks to us like motor oil on white slacks, like a morning gloom on Monday. We still imagine that instincts are dark, boiling, bubbling currents of raw appetite—violent, lascivious, and destructive—and that this is the way of Nature. We still view feeling with a combination of suspicion and embarrassed self-consciousness, as if it were akin to a fart in church or laughter at a funeral. Feeling and instinct seem to take us out of the group, away from the normal, off the beaten path of intellect and its formulaic, reliable monotony.
What if it weren't so? What if Freud was wrong (as most scientists in the field of psychology now actually believe)? What if we took another look at instinct and feeling—redefined them and reexperienced them, in the context of a whole-person and whole-personality view of the self? What if we finally stopped shoving Intellect out naked and alone onto the stage of Life (and of politics, government, and journalism), and instead invited it back into a collegial relationship with feeling and instinct? What if we re-discovered our animal nature, which science insists is our phylogenetic endowment? And what if we viewed that animal nature as the gift that it truly is, rather than a burden to be carried and perpetually compromised or repressed?
I don't think that Joseph Goebbels would have agreed at all with the old Jedi knight who asked us to live in the moment and to trust our feelings. I suspect he would have put that Jedi on the first train to Auschwitz; because he would have recognized that people who trust their feelings, who allow their instincts some play in life, are not plotters, Empire-builders, and power-brokers; nor are they likely to be submissive to those who are.
But you know that already, Mr. Lapham: I know you know it. You work with people every day who are deeply in touch with their feelings, their instincts—indeed, those natural gifts are their bread and butter as creative artists. They understand the difference between feeling and emotion; they know that feeling is information from the invisible realm that leads the intellect into the verdant inner places where insight blooms into expression.
But you got confused about it, and made a grave error. Again, you know better than most that this is not a quibble over semantics—that's the kind of vapid rationalization that you were attempting to expose in your essay about the Bush Empire and its patsy media horde. Another election was probably rigged; and on the heels of that offense came even viler crimes against both democracy and humanity. These are the crimes that your magazine, its writers and journalists, work to reveal; these are the crimes that are confidentially smothered into ignorance by the mass media Corporate Estate.
So I would suggest that you have another look at that essay and—dare I suggest it—consult your feelings, and maybe even your instincts, to see what they may have to tell you (indeed, what they have told you before) about the true relationship between the human heart, the creative impulse, and the mission of exposing the depredations of Empire. I can assure you that those crimes of corporate government have more to do with the plotting, scheming calculations of a lonely and power-drunk Intellect than with the natural pulse of our animal phylogeny.
I think if you try that simple exercise, you will find that Nazism, and all forms of tyranny and Empire-building, are about the dogmatic manipulation and misshaping of human feeling. They survive and persist in their oppressions not through appealing to people's instincts, but rather by numbing our capacity to sense the currents of our true nature. To follow the metaphor of your essay, Mr. Lapham, I would add that the sleep in which we are now trapped as a culture is the sleep of a cold and hypnotic calculation that pushes and inflames human instincts until, like soldiers at Abu Ghraib or Gitmo, they have mutated into the ego-emotions that turn a democractic society into a brutal sink of corruption where, as you point out, "all questions of truth are converted into questions of power."
Posted by Brian Donohue at 7/24/2005 04:47:00 PM
Saturday, July 23, 2005
Today, I offer up my review of the new Harry Potter tome, which I had expected to appear elsewhere on the web earlier this week. And in case you haven't looked around the site lately, check out my Writings page for excerpts from my Tao of Hogwarts.
The true self tends naturally toward Success; but ego thirsts for fame, credit, and the prize of aggrandizement. The choices we make help to determine which desire—the real or the false—will prevail.
Posted by Brian Donohue at 7/23/2005 04:51:00 PM
Friday, July 22, 2005
Much as I admire them and what they've accomplished, I sometimes worry about the major progressive watchdog organizations. Sometimes it seems as if they've all got their fingers poised on the panic button, ready to start yet another shrill outburst and fundraising campaign at any moment (often every day, it seems). Another problem is that they seem to sell the public rather short for its capacity to multitask.
Please excuse the corporate-speak, but in their obsession with being the first, the loudest, and the most important voice in the progressive community, each of these organizations closes itself off, insulating itself in aggrandizement until we are in peril of no longer having a progressive community to speak of.
Perhaps I should give an example of what I mean here. Quoted below are two very significant points raised by two separate groups, which arise from the same complaint. Or is it, the same misperception of the American public? The first is from the great 527, still the model by which all other 527's are measured, moveon.org:
Like a roller coaster, the news out of Washington this week has been an up and down ride. On Monday, the entire country was focused on Karl Rove's leak of the identity of an undercover CIA operative to the media. Then President Bush announced his nominee for the Supreme Court on primetime TV—nearly pushing the Rove story out of the news. The timing was intentional, a top Republican told Reuters: "It helps take Rove off the front pages for a week.” Monday, there were 1,043 news stories mentioning "Karl Rove" on top TV stations—yesterday there were 128.
Next, we have a rather more ominous message from an outstanding organization called The Center for American Progress:
A week ago, we launched the BeAWitness campaign, in conjunction with the Genocide Intervention Fund, to tell our TV networks to cover the genocide in Sudan. Why do we need to air this ad right now? Here are just a few reasons:
• As many as 400,000 people have died in the genocide, with thousands more dying every month.
• CBS hasn’t run a story about the Darfur genocide in 73 days.
Well, what's the problem here? Both organizations are working independently to point out a hideous lack of balance in the mainstream media. Point well taken—have a look around this weblog and through my archives, and you'll see that I couldn't agree more that there is a terrible attention span problem in the mass media. Call it institutional ADHD, if you will: the inability to maintain focus or to truly plumb an issue to any depth beyond the thinnest veil of appearances.
We could also argue that it is the principal medium that is the trouble here: television, with its forced passivity; its economic engine of 30-second bites of advertising (each of them the ADHD symptom constellation in microcosm); its compulsion to overcome that ingrained passivity in the relationship between the box and the viewer by focusing its hyperactive searchlight on the shrillest noise, the bloodiest scene, the most offensive scandal, the strangest rumors. As Robert Bly said in The Sibling Society, "Television provides a garbage dump of obsessive sexual material...,minute descriptions of brutalities, wars, and tortures all over the world: an avalanche of specialized information that stuns the brain." He goes on to cite a 1995 study sponsored by the National Institutes of Mental Health, which concluded that eating a meal typically requires more skill and concentration than watching television.
But these are points that no one allows in our culture today: how can we listen to voices of sanity that tell us to turn off the television, when its decadent momentum is so far advanced as to be inescapable? Just look at what those two admirable organizations, quoted above, did to publicize their just complaints against the mass media: they each produced a television ad!
So all right, let's leave aside the television issue for now, as crucial as it may be in the larger scheme of things. Still, there are some points that must be made to moveon.org and the Center for American Progress:
1. You're not communicating very well: how can we have a progressive movement whose principal public voices can't connect and communicate? Quoted above we have two statements of a very well grounded complaint toward the mass media, but the disparity in their direction is alarming. One of them says that the Karl Rove fiasco is being repressed by a manipulative government and a hyperactive media; the other sternly points out that a scene of genocidal murder is being ignored by the same media, under the influence of the same manipulations. It would be laughably ridiculous if it weren't so serious in its implications and consequences. Why couldn't these two organizations have connected with one another during their planning of these campaigns, and come out with a unified voice on this issue?
2. Is it also possible that you're committing the same mistake that the media make in underestimating the attention span of the American citizen? People tend not to respond very well to insults, either implicit or overt. But if your message is that we're all pawns of tabloid TV journalism, and then reinforce that message with a tabloid TV-style advertisement, then the insult is blatantly palpable. All of this probably arises from an even more insidious and obstructive attitude, which is:
3. The polarization of the issue. The genocide in Darfur is not a right-wing vs. left-wing, Republican vs. Democrat type of issue. It's a matter of a crime against humanity—a violation of Cosmic law and the inner truth of every human individual capable of feeling pain, injustice, and horror. And even the Rove debacle is a matter of bipartisan agreement, as public statements from Republican Congressmen and polls of the American people have abundantly illustrated this past week. But turning it all into an us vs. them dynamic winds up making the conflict itself the main story. The only effect of that is to further deflect attention away from the very issue you'd like people to be focusing on!
So my message to moveon.org and the CAP would be this: stop the pissing contests. Put your dicks back in your pants, zip up, and then join hands (don't forget to wash first). And for god's sake, communicate with one another. Learn from the conservatives: how have they influenced major elections for some six years running? Well, we can begin to get an idea by looking at their organizations. Check out TownHall.com's member page—it's astonishing what a nest they've built on the world wide web. More like a beehive, in fact. Now go to moveon, or CAP, or Democracy Now, and try to find even a Links page! Winning the American public's trust is not about taking some imaginary moral high ground—it's about finding common ground, among people, organizations, and movements—and then delivering a reasonably consonant message to the public. For the Democrats, this is something that Dr. Dean will have to help steward.
By no one's measurement could I be deemed a genius. In fact, with the onset of middle age and with a history of somewhat dissolute ways, I would fall firmly into the average realm of intellectual metrics. But guess what—I can really understand the need for Karl Rove and the administration he represents being called to public account, even while I also openly demand that my government and the free nations of the world work assertively toward ending the slaughter in Darfur. And all of the Joe Normals out there like me are capable of the same level of intellectual multitasking. For most of us, our jobs demand it; and for all of us, so should our sense of citizenship. But the public voices and organizations that purport to lead us must begin by affirming that ability, and then offering us the information and the opportunities to exercise it.
Posted by Brian Donohue at 7/22/2005 04:59:00 PM
Thursday, July 21, 2005
I try not to kid myself: I've still got a long way to go in learning the Way of Nature. Lately, for example, I've noticed myself clutching onto these various books I've written as if they belonged to me—as if they were my property.
Well, obviously, they are not—they no more belong to me than the Presidency belongs to the Bush family; than Iraq's oil belongs to America. Whenever we mark out turf for ourselves, we plant the seeds of conflict.
So, every day of our lives, our primary job in terms of broadening understanding and supporting growth is to ask ourselves what it is that we're clutching—to identify what and where we are claiming ownership. It can be a self-image, a material possession, a person or relationship, an idea or a system of belief, or a feeling of allegiance to a nation, company, religion, or group: whatever it is, we have to learn to unclench the fist and let go.
Therefore, I tried a new meditation today, which is dedicated to that act of letting go. I did it while standing on the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan: you don't need a mysterious or sacrosanct place of ritual or immaculate spirituality; you don't have to travel to Sedona or to Chartres. You just have to suspend disbelief, retreat to your center, ask for help, and then act inwardly.
For me, this meant opening a path to what I call "image reception." This is different from visualization, in which people are trained to force a particular picture or feeling into being, according to the dictates of a Master, guru, priest, or other expert. Image reception is simply dropping the defences of ego and letting whatever arises within Mind come with its healing and growth-enhancing imagery.
The image that came to me today was of a clutching hand slowly opening wide, the fingers stretching outward, the palm fully revealed. From that opening hand came people, animals, ideas, and books that began to move quickly off the surface of the open palm and out into the soft light of an evening sky. I watched them all leave the prison of a clenched fist: as the hand opened, they walked, or rather flowed, to the edges of the hand and leaped gratefully out into the welcoming Cosmic night of freedom.
That was when it occurred to me that much of the discomfort and angina that I've been experiencing had to do with that clenched fist, holding onto to people, things, and thoughts that never really belonged to me. How could they benefit another if I kept them in my clutches, if I continued to imprison them in the closed fist of ownership?
Well, one realization I had this morning from that meditation was that it is time to let go of these books I've written. So now, if you go to my Writings page, you will find links to pdf downloads of my three completed books. All the pages on this site that once contained discontinuous excerpts from these books have now been removed. Admittedly, this may make for some dead or misdirected links around the site and within this weblog; but it's a small price to pay for enduring growth.
I'll admit that this is a simple lesson, but it is nonetheless useful. The more we own, the less we have; the more we claim, the less we are. Demand restricts the field of life, just as expectation stills the flow of Nature's gifts.
Posted by Brian Donohue at 7/21/2005 05:05:00 PM
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
I'm sure you've heard it on the news from time to time: some famous person has been hospitalized and is said to be "resting comfortably" by a reassuring media voice.
My ass he is. Having just been in the hospital myself (and a fairly good one by NYC standards—New York Methodist in Brooklyn's Park Slope), I can tell you that there's no such thing as rest—never mind comfortable rest—in a hospital. And that's a curious thing indeed, which perhaps tells us something about our culture: the one universal aid to healing the body of almost any ailment—sleep—is the one thing that's impossible in a hospital!
Televisions, PA systems, and telephones are blaring constantly in your average ward; conversations are always going on between doctors, nurses, patients, and visitors; and someone's always coming by to stick a needle in you, take you someplace to be tested or examined, or the old stand-by—waking you up to give you a sleeping pill.
But I am well (or, as baseball great Ron "Babe" Hassey once explained to the media, "physically I'm fine, but mentally I'm day-to-day"); and I'd like to invite Terry McKenna back to the blog, to discuss other great American lies while I try to figure out exactly who this Mr. Roberts is, and what kind of scrum he's likely to incite in the hallowed halls of Congress.
Mr. McKenna, front and center:
How did we end up here, with a corrupt government of lying insiders who refuse to explain what it is that they really want? Our leaders have lots of talking points, but they express no truths. It was not supposed to be this way. The ancient politics of party bosses and back room deals was supposed to have ended in the '60s and '70s, replaced by the era of open government.
We have government by rhetoric. On almost any issue, spokesmen appear on the news shows, ready with talking points and stock evasions. They stay frighteningly on message. Yet they never tell us what it is that they really want to accomplish. It was not always like this. Yes, I know politicians have always lied to us, but even the liars revealed their plans. For example, during the New Deal, Roosevelt was in earnest with the many initiatives he proposed to get our economy moving. For example, when the FHA was invented, it was designed to put the moribund housing industry back on its feet. Throughout the next 60 years, when big government solutions were proposed, they were meant to do entirely what the politicians said they were meant to do. Whether they worked or not is another question. For example, many believe that Head Start is a failure, that it produces only short term gains. But the bottom line is that for the most part, politicians meant what they said with their big ideas. With the current Bush administration, that is no longer so.
Almost everything Bush says is meant for effect. For example, look at the Bush tax cuts. These were first proposed as a vehicle to return excess revenue to the people who paid the most taxes; then when the economy tanked, the tax cuts were re-positioned as a stimulus package. Since capital gains and estate taxes provide little genuine economic stimulus, it is unclear why the administration went ahead with them in the midst of a recession. Similarly we have the so called War on Terror. George Bush lied to us regarding the successes in Afghanistan, and told even bigger lies when he urged us into Iraq. And yes, I know that he avoided outright lies, but if businesses made similar sorts of misrepresentations, they would be hauled before the courts for commercial fraud.
The entire Bush program is made up of empty slogans. We get a “clear skies initiative” that stands for an excuse to let old power plants off the hook - especially old coal fired plants that spew dangerous mercury into the environment. And look at the “healthy forests initiative” - this is a back door way to let the loggers back in. And when GW proposed Social Security reform, he was looking for a way to convince Americans to back out of paying back the huge loan our government took from wage earners since the 1980s (by borrowing excess Social Security taxes).
And where has our free press been while all this is happening? Sadly, nowhere. Local newspapers are a shell of what they once were. And broadcast TV is little better with its diet of happy local news mixed with national news roundups. Foreign news is almost forgotten. Cable is the worst of all, since it pretends to be a 24/7 connection to the world, but we really get reruns and titillation. By the way, for the over 40 crowd, if you remember the movie Network (1976) - what once seemed over the top looks pretty much like a straight forward prediction.
Some blame for where we are now must go to the arrogant left that dominated the 60s and '70s. Growing up in a working class suburb, I remember my reaction to the limousine liberals of my teenage and college years, when luminaries like Leonard Bernstein and his wife would host the Black Panthers, and politicians like John Lindsay would dismiss concerns of middle class New Yorkers, in favor of welfare recipients and thugs. While big cities collapsed under a mountain of spending; the left proposed finding ways to tax the suburbs. There was no thought to living within one's means.
The greatest assault on America was in Academia, where history, psychology and law were redesigned to push Marxist inspired ends. And yes, the changes wrought by the 60's were long overdue. But any strong push in one direction will inevitably be counteracted as the pendulum makes its return swing.
So an era of leftist extremism is dead and replaced by one of right wing extremism. Now would be the time for Democrats to rethink their reliance on interest groups (thus Democrats have minorities, women, pro abortion folks, environmentalist etc. in their camp). But despite losing the majority, the Democrats are afraid to fight for the middle. When I look at their website, I see several communities: Religious Communities, Hispanics, Women and African Americans - but as a middle aged man who lives in suburban New Jersey, I don't see a place for me.
Posted by Brian Donohue at 7/20/2005 05:06:00 PM
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
I missed blogging yesterday because I had to go to the hospital. Nothing catastrophic, obviously (I'm back here now); but certainly a wake-up call to Life. As many of you know, I like to get the I Ching's perspective on things, whether of global or personal importance (there's really only a formal difference between those realms, after all). Here's what I learned when I asked what the larger meaning was of the event that landed me in the hospital yesterday:
I cast Hexagram 22, Grace, with lines 2 and 6 changing. Grace is about cleansing our consciousness of the forms of propriety and the obsession with appearances, to reveal the things within ourselves and the universe that truly matter—in other words, those things that are natural, that reveal true beauty, that endure.
According to the simple method described elsewhere at this site, I asked the Cosmic Teacher for some personal detail on the hexagram and lines I received. Line 2 points out that there is a situation involving a mistaken reading of appearance for reality; the text says, "He lends grace to the beard on his chin." When I asked for phrases that embodied the error implied by the text, the expression, "The body is merely a machine, and the cardio system is simply a system of plumbing" came to me. It was quickly confirmed by the rtcm that this was indeed the primary obstruction to healing and forward movement; and that deprogramming this phrase was the Cosmic recommendation at hand.
Line 6 reminds us that "simple grace is without blame." In other words, the more we clear our psyches of self-images and projections of science, religion, government, and other errors of societal conditioning, the more we approach "simple grace" and hold to the center of our being, which I've also discussed elsewhere in this blog.
This doesn't mean that Science, Religion, and Government are always wrong! (This is one of those conclusions that people often leap upon when they read some of my work). All it means is that we have to stop and question previously unquestioned beliefs and the various systems they come packaged in, especially when something alarming or unbalancing has occurred to, around, or within us. If you'd like to try this approach for yourself, the best place to start is still by getting a copy of this book and applying its insight and instruction to the questions and challenges of your own life.
Meanwhile, I've got some book reviews completed. Aside from my review of the new Harry Potter, which will be viewable at later this week, I've also written a review of the controversial book Freakonomics, by Univ. of Chicago economist Steven Levitt. Since nobody seems to want to publish that review, I may as well make it available here.
Posted by Brian Donohue at 7/19/2005 05:07:00 PM
Sunday, July 17, 2005
I finished reading the latest Potter tome at around 3:00 AM Sunday morning, and have written a review of it, which will be appearing on Thursday in The Noyse, an online magazine. I promise not to give anything away to those of you who haven't yet read it; and because I focus on the metaphor of the stories rather than the plot, it's easy to reveal what's in them without giving away what they're about.
Suffice it to say that this novel is eerily topical to our world and time (it includes, among others things, a rather pointed and unflattering reference to Bush in the very first chapter). It is as richly entertaining as any of the other five books in the Potter series, and beautifully written by an artist at the height of her prowess. That will do until the review appears on Wednesday, but I'll leave the subject with a quote from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; and then you can tell me whether or not this lady's literary antennae are raised to the current of our era:
Don't you see? Voldemort himself created his worst enemy, just as tyrants everywhere do! Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress? All of them realize that, one day, amongst their many victims, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back! Voldemort is no different!...It is essential that you understand this! (—Professor Dumbledore speaking, p. 510).
On an equally topical note, don't miss Frank Rich's new column in the New York Times. Rich delivers his usual cut-the-crap insights to the entire Rove fiasco—and he comes to similar conclusions that David Gregory of NBC had arrived at last week, but with a uniquely historical perspective:
This case is about Iraq, not Niger. The real victims are the American people, not the Wilsons. The real culprit - the big enchilada, to borrow a 1973 John Ehrlichman phrase from the Nixon tapes - is not Mr. Rove but the gang that sent American sons and daughters to war on trumped-up grounds and in so doing diverted finite resources, human and otherwise, from fighting the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. That's why the stakes are so high: this scandal is about the unmasking of an ill-conceived war, not the unmasking of a C.I.A. operative who posed for Vanity Fair.
Posted by Brian Donohue at 7/17/2005 05:13:00 PM
Friday, July 15, 2005
I have frequently and sometimes vigorously disagreed with New York Times op-ed columnist Thomas Friedman. In what follows, I will find cause to criticize an argument of his again. But you'll never hear me say that this guy doesn't have cojones.
In his column today, titled "A Poverty of Dignity and a Wealth of Rage", Friedman expresses a pervasive opinion in the West, to the effect that it seems as if all the terrorists and suicide bombers these days are Muslims, and that Islam is the scourge of our age.
Obviously, I hope Friedman is never physically attacked for that opinion, in spite of Ann Coulter's wishes to the contrary. I would only suggest that his focus, even allowing for the global climate we're in at this moment, is rather narrow.
Friedman complains of the fact that virtually all of the most violent murderers of our time seem to be Islamic fundamentalists. He cites the example of Muhammad Bouyeri, the confessed murderer of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who claimed that he acted "purely in the name of my religion." Friedman goes on to consider the possible factors involved in this epidemic of Muslim murderers, and he concludes, quite correctly, I think, that a regressive fixation with medieval notions of heavenly justice and religious revenge is responsible:
Also at work is Sunni Islam's struggle with modernity. Islam has a long tradition of tolerating other religions, but only on the basis of the supremacy of Islam, not equality with Islam.
Funamentalist Christians have the same attitude toward the Jews: the latter comprise a necessary but temporary ally in the war against Satan. Once that war is won, the Jews will be sent off to join Satan in the pit of damnation. So it is with institutional religion and funamentalism of all stripes: it's all about a pre-defined exclusivity that I call "cosmic racism."
Friedman's chief complaint, then, is not really with Islamic fundamentalism, but with fundamentalism, period. The same superiority-complex that drives Sunni Islam also fuels the actions (and pre-emptive reactions) of the Israelis in Palestine; or the Bushies' religiously-motivated murder of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis. Here in America, we have seen it time and again: the suicidal cult driven by a cultish religious leader obsessed with medieval ideas of rectitude and sanctity: we have seen it in Waco, in Jonestown, and in hundreds of smaller-scale murder/suicides committed in the name of (or by one claiming to be) Jesus, God, Allah, or what-have-you.
Finally, Friedman follows the story of the conversion of one of the London bombers, and concludes, "The secret of this story is in that conversion - and so is the crisis in Islam."
I would agree, but with a very crucial qualification added: Islam does not have the market cornered on either conversion or fundamentalism. The "secret" to both our current distress and, paradoxically, our potential escape from the inner slavery of group-violence, is not in the problem of Islamic conversion (or conversion to Christian fundamentalism, or White Supremacy, or Judaism)—the secret is in identifying and undermining the conversion to fundamentalism of any order or degree. To the extent that each individual looks within and identifies his and her own psychological burden of fundamentalism, and then discards it, we will become more and more liberated from the pall of fundamentalism that currently hangs over our world. This is what the Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, asked us to do in the days following 9/11: he simply asked that before we strike out or respond in action to the violence committed against us, we turn within and kill the "inner bin Laden" of prejudice, intolerance, exclusivity, and the impulse to violence. I thought it was a good idea at the time (and I still do); obviously, the American government did not agree. Today, that opportunity that Thich Nhat Hanh saw has been all but lost: the nations of this earth are trapped in a vortex of panic, death, and violence. In many of these nations lie the secret red buttons which can launch the missiles that will kill this planet.
Islam does not have to be rooted out of the world, but fundamentalist ideologies, grounded in the violence of feudal beliefs, do. Anyone, of any prejudice of belief or dogma, who projects the phrase "Vengeance is mine" into the mouth of God, is a fundamentalist, and is likely to murder—either suicidally or otherwise—in the name of that phrase and that false God. This goes for Christians, Muslims, Jews, and the various secular cults that have sprung up around the world in recent times. As we in the West know all too well, Science, Money, and Government can become the gods of a fundamentalist ideology, too.
I would encourage Mr. Friedman to continue speaking out to all nations and all religions—not just to Islam—that they cleanse themselves of the scourge of fundamentalism. It is more pervasive than he may imagine: just review the history of war over the past 5,000 years or so. In every era, every religion, every cult of sacrifice and state, you will find words and sentiments very much like these:
Let me die dignified in wars: honourable death is better than my current life.
Those particular words, by the way, were written by Osama bin Laden, in the fatwa against the United States.
Posted by Brian Donohue at 7/15/2005 05:18:00 PM
Thursday, July 14, 2005
As I write this, we're about 27 hours away from the release of Book Six of the Harry Potter saga, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. So let's take a break from the storm of bad news and brutish speculation, and focus instead on this celebration of the child that lives within each of us. The President will be just as impeachable, and the devastation in Iraq just as horrific, after Mrs. Rowling's next phase of her story of transformation has been shared with the public. But perhaps some of us will have a less desperate view of it all; and in any event, the wonderful people of Great Britain in particular could use this small moment of relief from the fear and grief that has enveloped them this past week.
Apparently (to judge by the back cover released by Bloomsbury), the story opens in Harry's summer home at Number 4, Privet Drive. But this time there is to be a visit from his mentor, Professor Dumbledore—a character, by the way, who we really need more of in this age of disposable old people. This is the continuance of Rowling's theme of weaving together the magical and Muggle realms, revealing their inter-connection and ultimate union. In other words, what is erroneously termed "magic"—by those who imagine that there is some gulf separating the sparkling light of quantum spontaneity from the iron drill of reality—is truly the inherent and natural flow of lived experience.
To invite this natural magic into our lives only requires that we release the grip of expectation and discard the impulse to control—for this liberates the healing and transformative energy of the universe that we call Love. This, in essence, is Professor Dumbledore's teaching, which is repeated throughout the stories: whenever Harry successfully incorporates these lessons into his life, there is some transformative moment—a "magical happening" that some would refer to as a "miracle."
Some, that is, except for the powerful leaders of religion and state of our world. They are the figures represented, throughout the Potter epic, in Lord Voldemort (religion) and the Ministry of Magic (state). Here's what Pope Benedict had to say about the Harry books in 2003, before he was a Pope:
Harry Potter [contains] subtle seductions which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly...
This is a characteristically insidious Voldemort claim that says, "if it is not authorized by me, it is Evil." Oh, and by the way, seduction is evil, too. What if people really listened to this crap in their real lives, where lovers dance, embrace, and live the natural magic of sex, without any thought of it being evil or ungodly? So if we don't take it seriously in the way we live amid the most joyful and nourishing relationships and encounters of our lives, then why do we give it a penny's purchase in our attentions or allegiance?
So as you read the Potter novels, let the symbols and the poetry of this woman's writing seep deeply into you, to the level of your heart or body-center, where a more personal and pervasive meaning will arise to you—one that you can take forward into the quotidian challenges, events, and relationships that we Muggles mistakenly refer to as "reality." As Professor Dumbledore teaches us, there is so much more to it than we can see on the surface; we just have to feel that quantum fire beneath, whose sparks resonate within us like the glow from the tip of a wand.
It may be true, as some seem certain to claim, that Professor Dumbledore will meet his death in this story. No matter: for though he may be killed, he will never be defeated.
Let the sixth year begin.
Posted by Brian Donohue at 7/14/2005 05:27:00 PM
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
I hadn't meant to write about this political nonsense all week long; it just happened. I was really hoping to do a couple of pieces this week on the approaching release of Book Six of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. Those of you who might have looked around this blog a little would guess that I'm a little goofy about the blonde billionaire and her boy wizard; and I mean to explain that further.
But right now, speaking of goofy, there's too much going on in the world to be distracted by anything pleasant. Well, to be truthful, what is happening might actually be pleasant—or at least hopeful. I am thinking of some remarks I found on MSNBC's website today, from David Gregory, one of the reporters who pilloried the unfortunate Scott McClellan during the recent White House Press Briefing on the Rove intrigue. Keep in mind as you read the excerpt below that this is a reporter, not an op-ed columnist:
I think, were Karl Rove to be indicted for any crime, it would be impossible for the president to keep him on. Short of that, I don’t think that he will go anywhere. I think the president will stand behind him. If you look, the president’s past comments were pretty clear: that anyone who is responsible for leaking classified information, which is a crime, would be fired. Until and unless that’s proven in this case, I don’t think that Karl Rove will go anywhere.
As to the question of whether what Karl Rove did was a smear campaign, or politically sleazy, it’s pretty clear to me that everyone in White House — from the president, to the vice president, to other officials — shared Rove’s interest in discrediting former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who was critical of the administration’s case for going to war in Iraq.
I highlighted the end of that for a reason, because it basically tells us the whole history of this administration: a pattern of lies and slander against people with proven records of worthy public service and loyalty in highly confidential, responsible, and even dangerous government positions—the last folks you would expect to be liable to abuse or debasement from anyone, let alone their bosses. We are talking about a key diplomat and an intelligence agent—people trusted with the most critical secrets of the United States of America. Thus, Gregory's conclusion is chilling:
Really what this is about is the case for going into Iraq. The issue is really the debates about the war, the evidence that was used to go to war, and the claims that were made by this administration that proved to be false.
In other words, to my mind, Mr. Gregory is stating, fairly clearly and succinctly, the case for impeachment. This is a White House pool reporter, mind you (who will probably be sitting in the Helen Thomas section of the Briefing Room beginning
tomorrow)—basically saying, "the president is directly interested in smear and sleaze tactics against perceived political enemies—even if they work for State or the CIA." This is the strongest piece of journalism I've seen from inside the White House Press Corps in about five or six years. And if the mass media are beginning to turn towards asking such questions and arriving at such conclusions, what about us?
Now I have space for just a quick word on Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, to be released on the stroke of midnight this Saturday. Amazon has already broken its pre-order sales record for any new release—1.4 million, so far—and the CEO of Barnes
& Noble was quoted as saying that they expect to sell 50,000 copies of this book per hour for the first day it's on sale. I know it seems strange for a grown man to be so immersed in this stuff (though I work beside several people with Master's degrees and 140+ IQ's who are just as frenzied in their Potter fan-dom as I am). But there's something deeply genuine behind that runaway popularity—this is no sputtering fad, but a connection (now in its 8th year) between an author in touch with a fathomless
well of universal energy, and a world of readers who feel and respond to that energy. So perhaps if you could read the brief Preface to my book about the metaphor of Harry Potter, you might understand it more, and perhaps even appreciate it a little.
Posted by Brian Donohue at 7/13/2005 07:45:00 PM
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
We have another entry from Terry McKenna, below. First, about Karl: I am here to defend the inventor of Rovespeak. Perhaps you and the other two people who read this blog regularly might be confused at that statement, as I have been pretty rough on Karl lately.
But firing Karl Rove (as moveon.org and other groups are demanding) is a very poor solution to the problems we are dealing with in Washington. My sights are set somewhat higher than Karl.
In terms of regime change, Impeachment is the next step, the most crucial and pressing need for this nation. This is not just "if Bubba can face impeachment just for getting his lollipop licked, why not Dubya?"—never mind Bubba and the past. This is a little bit more substantive, more urgent, than that.
This is about an imperial presidency built exclusively on lies—criminal lies that directly led to the deaths of thousands of innocent people of several different nations, including our own. This is about a President and his inner circle who lied to Congress, lied to (and manipulated) the press, and even lied to (and bullied) their own international allies—on the most critical and profound matters: intelligence, national security, military preparedness, and the grounds for war. So while I agree with moveon.org and others that getting rid of the man who essentially represents the public voice of this administration would be a very good thing indeed; it's not enough.
Let's show this administration how a regime change should be done properly: without bloodshed, without bombs, even without hatred (remember, to hate them is to give them power). Let your Congressman and the mass media hear your voice: we must impeach this President, and we must start it now.
Speaking of the mainstream media, is there an awakening afoot? Check out this video from yesterday's White House Press Briefing. No more softball questions from the reps of the big three networks—could the imprisonment of Judith Miller have been the straw that broke this camel's back? We don't know yet: let's see them work the President himself over the way they handled poor little Scott McClellan, and then I'll agree that there is a transformation under way in the American mass media.
Mr. McKenna, front and center—the blog is yours:
Might as well add my two cents to the flood of verbiage about the London bombings. Since we are here in the US, I'll focus on what the bombings mean for the homeland. To begin with, they reaffirm the failure of the so called War on Terror. By the way, isn't it ironic that we are only a few weeks past G W's major speech on the War on Terror. Of course it was much more a mantra for staying the course that a strong rhetorical defense for current policy. Bush kept repeating: ”9 11, democracy, stay the course, 9 11, democracy, stay the course” to which the only fair retort is, “the man is a moron.” If he was a smart man, George Bush would no doubt be humiliated. But he's not. He just tightens his facial muscles and keeps going right along. The current public figure most like GW is the energizer bunny. In the ads, the bunny keeps on beating his drum, even after falling down. But the bunny is a toy, and at the whim of his handlers....Oh, so too is George Bush! Good point.
The War on Terror works best as a metaphor. Unfortunately, we've gone way past metaphor by our invading both Afghanistan and Iraq. Our Afghan adventure can be understood as part self defense and part vengeance. Even if the war turns out to have been a failure it will also always be understood as the necessary consequence of the attacks of September 11, 2001. The US was shaken and did what any powerful nation does when stirred. It fought back. But the war in Iraq was based upon no similarly shocking event. Although there is a small element of vengeance on a personal level - Saddam wanted to kill GW's daddy; the real motives for the war were geopolitical, and founded on issues arising in the first Gulf War, long before 9 11 occurred. Among other things, we needed a foil against both Iran and Saudi Arabia - as an Arab oil state, a compliant and pro-Western Iraq would yield significant dividends for us. Pro Israeli Neo-cons had an additional motive. They understood Israel's desperate isolation. If they could change the entire thrust of middle eastern history - by creating a free market democracy in Iraq, then the Arab masses in the surrounding states would eventually pressure their governments for a similar system. It was assumed that a democratic middle east would be a much less dangerous place for Israel. Of course that was just a pipe dream.
So wither the war on terror in the aftermath of London? Is there anything to win? And even if we decide there is, do we have a tactical goal to help achieve victory? Our long term goal remains the defeat of radical Islam, and the destruction of Al-Qaeda. But we apparently have crippled much of the Al-Qaeda that operated in Afghanistan, and so what. And tactically, we have no focus.
What do I mean by tactical objectives? I'll illustrate with examples from US history. In the Civil War, after it was realized that we would not be taking Richmond in one battle, the Union's objective became the capture of the several confederate armies. With this simple goal, Union generals were able to plan several years of effective campaigning - and eventually the War was won. In the First World War, the two sides grappled in a pan European trench battle. The tactical goal for both sides became breaking the enemy's lines. This was not easy, but late in the war, after American troops started appearing in large numbers, the German army finally reached its breaking point and an armistice was quickly signed. Even in Viet Nam we had a tactical goal, which was to use our overwhelming firepower to destroy concentrations of Viet Cong troops. The goal was never achieved, but almost all of our efforts were focused on this simple idea.
But with the War on Terror; all we have is a pipe dream - that we can bring democracy to Iraq, and eventually to all of the middle east. But in terms of tactics, we have no goals. So, day in day out, our soldiers and their commanders risk death for a pipe dream. And day in day out, we get nowhere.
OF course, we could reassess our involvement in the middle east. We could withdraw our support for the Saudis and our knee-jerk support for Israel. But then we would also have to leave the middle east alone for a few decades. Long enough for the Arab street to know we meant it. Then maybe they would have no other excuse but their own behaviors for their backwardness.
Posted by Brian Donohue at 7/12/2005 05:32:00 PM
Monday, July 11, 2005
Too often, people become so passionate about their positions or beliefs on things that they wind up carrying on a pale and weak reflection of the "real" wars that are raging around our beautiful planet. In other words, they forget the principles and ideas for which many of those wars are supposedly fought. In a word, democracy.
Rabid partisanship, of course, is not democracy. I know there are theories that say open partisanship that's tolerated within a state will tend to settle into a communal consensus. But I suspect that there is a better way, which begins at the level of the individual, working within herself, to arrive at and hold to that center-point of being that I've written about many times here.
But we live in times where partisanship rules—often with violent passion on every side. I don't see any point in talking to myself in this forum, or in preaching to some online choir. So it's time to give some divergent opinions a little air: we will begin tonight with a note I received recently via email (the sender wishes to remain anonymous), which goes as follows:
Unlike the true believers on the left (you), on the right (Newt + Hillary), w/the death squads of allah, I tend to read most if not all of the news I can in order to buttress my proven, supported theories of why in the words of the Immortal Jerry Lee Lewis "I am right". yeah, please lets discount the Islamic websites w/thier notices of death to the infidels and we'll do it again. Let's ignore Madrid, let's ignore 40 years (at a minimum) of terror by Arabs, originally supported by the lovely Soviets. Lets listen to George Galloway hector the press and the world in front of a Mosque yesterday that the west is to blame for this atrocity, especially the Jews. hey, we are in a war of civilizations, between the light and the dark, the good and evil. No matter how bad we are (and we are at times) there is no comparision. As for the Mafia, ask John Giotti Junior what he thinks of his paisan, Ruddy the G et al. Fuck, the feds took them down, but they, the Mafia wasn't killing at random. they at least had some weird code of honor. The Islamo facists don't.
Now this was in response to a comment I'd made about the aberrant claim that 9/11 was a case of America "getting what was coming to it." My response had been the same for that as it always is for the Osamas and Rumsfelds and Cheneys of this world: if Osama could just take out Bush and leave innocent people alone, or if Rumsfeld could have iced Saddam without bombing Baghdad and dozens of other cities into cinders, then I'd be less of a pest about their behavior. In other words, I concluded, if they could only be as efficient as the Mafia in their killing, I'd be far more patient with hearing out their self-righteous religious rants.
But guess what—whenever there is war, it's schmoes like me and you who do the dying—usually in horrific numbers; all in the name of what some psycho in a cave in Afghanistan or a chicken-hawk druggie in Washington calls "justice." My business (which, as I've pointed out elsewhere, is doing really lousy) is working with individuals, and helping them as much as I can to restore their own sense of perspective, without having to rely on the lies fed to them by geopolitical bullies and paranoid lunatics. An individual life is too precious to be sacrificed to ideological deceit or group-based hatred, no matter how it is packaged or marketed by the spinmeisters of this pitiful world.
Yes, there's been 40 years of terror between Arabs and the West, between Palestinians and Israel, between the haves and have-nots (and that's a conservative estimate—I'd say it's been more like 4,000 years of continuous war). They shoot two bombs, we shoot back with two hundred; they kill 3,000 of ours, we kill 30,000 of theirs. And so it goes, war without end, Amen.
What if enough of us finally said, "No more—not in my name, not with my tax dollars, and certainly not with my life or my child's life." It all begins within each individual, and that's why I work the way I do.
Now before closing this discussion, I want to make one thing clear: I am not a Christian. I mean, a real Christian—not one of those Jerry Falwell warmongers carrying a burning cross. In other words, I do not believe in "turning the other cheek." When I'm attacked, I tend to try to repel the invader—but not with the tools of ego or the weapons of war. There are other ways to stop a fight, though most people don't give them much credence.
Nor am I Jewish—in other words, I do not believe in the Levitican code of Justice: eye for an eye and the rest of that nonsense. Even animals don't practice such a decadent code of conduct.
But Nature is wiser than we are. So why don't we learn from Her? Why do we continue butting our bloody heads against the same wall of hatred, enmity, revenge, and death that we have been bashing against for 4,000 years? If you've got an answer to that, you're my nominee for 2008.
Posted by Brian Donohue at 7/11/2005 05:41:00 PM
Sunday, July 10, 2005
It's supposed to be a fun week ahead in England: they've won the 2012 Olympics, and a certain blonde billionaire is about to let the world in on the further fortunes of her boy wizard.
But instead, there is mourning for what has been and fear of what may yet come. Scotland Yard is calling for help to the general public for any leads that may help to identify the murderers; and there was a partial evacuation of the city of Birmingham over a suspected additional attack.
Americans—and especially those of us here in New York—ought to remember what it feels like to have to keep going with life after a shock like this. And most of us do.
The problem is with the gossip mills like the New York Post, which has already named a suspect and is calling for revenge. Even the tabloids in England are showing some restraint; but the NYP sees an opportunity to sell newspapers (this is the same rag that has made numerous errant calls in the past), and they'll shriek whatever noise is necessary to fatten their bottom line—exactly as Brit Hume decided to buy some futures in response to the news of the tragedy in London. I am reminded of the words of Joseph Welch to Senator Joseph McCarthy: "have you no sense of decency?"
The fact is that we do not know whether we are dealing with Britain's 9/11 or with Britain's Oklahoma City. Scotland Yard—one of the world's most experienced, talented, and deeply-resourced police departments—can so far only say that at least four very sick but demonically efficient people planted the devices that eventually killed 49 people, wounded some 700 others, and cast an entire nation into the same kind of grim, uncomprehending sorrow that we in New York felt nearly four years ago. All else is speculation; and while speculation may sell newspapers or lead to the buying of futures, it assists neither the business of criminal investigation nor the work of healing.
So my message to the New York Post, and to all the rags like it, would be the same as it was for Senator John McCain: please shut up and show some restraint. Shouting out names and theories in shrill ignorance at a time like this does no more good than dropping bombs onto Baghdad helped in uncovering Osama.
On a related note, a good article from The Guardian newspaper in London was sent to me today by a friend. It's a reminder that times and events like these call upon us to consult not our political but rather our human affiliations. I've written about this before: holding to one's center, especially amid crisis, is not about finding some imagined median between far left and far right (or however the extremes may be defined). The center is a personal and organic space that's unique to each individual; it is nothing less crucial than the inner reference point of a life successfully and fully lived. When a person is in his or her center, others around them can feel it, and benefit. But when the center is lost, or buried under the stinking loam of ideology, there is danger. If you want to know how much danger, just consider Bush and bin Laden, or Rumsfeld and al-Zarqawi: these are significant and tragic examples of people who have lost all contact with the center of being.
Posted by Brian Donohue at 7/10/2005 05:47:00 PM
Friday, July 8, 2005
Cover your keyboards and get your vomit bags out and at the ready, ladies and gentlemen—it's time to review media reaction to the London bombings. First up, and worthy of my 5 vomit bag rating, FOX News, starring Brian Kilmeade and Stuart Varney:
KILMEADE: And he [British Prime Minister Tony Blair] made the statement, clearly shaken, but clearly determined. This is his second address in the last hour. First to the people of London, and now at the G8 summit, where their topic Number 1 --believe it or not-- was global warming, the second was African aid. And that was the first time since 9-11 when they should know, and they do know now, that terrorism should be Number 1. But it's important for them all to be together. I think that works to our advantage, in the Western world's advantage, for people to experience something like this together, just 500 miles from where the attacks have happened.
VARNEY: It puts the Number 1 issue right back on the front burner right at the point where all these world leaders are meeting. It takes global warming off the front burner. It takes African aid off the front burner. It sticks terrorism and the fight on the war on terror, right up front all over again.
Next up, with a 4 v.b. rating, comes the New York Post's editorial page, which actually found cause to criticize President Bush for what it felt was a rather weak response to the latest opening of the "Global War" in "Battleground London":
Yes, it is easy to conflate the War on Terror with Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the related fighting in Afghanistan. But Iraq is simply a theater in a global war — another front of which was opened in London yesterday morning....So President Bush, eloquent in the past, must once again preach the gospel of resistance to global terror to the American people. This will require considerably more than an occasional speech peppered with what are becoming platitudes about staying the course.
Returning to the fair and balanced network, we have Brit Hume's initial reaction to the news of the attacks, which rates at least 4 v.b.'s with a dry heave to boot:
I mean, my first thought when I heard -- just on a personal basis, when I heard there had been this attack and I saw the futures this morning, which were really in the tank, I thought, "Hmmm, time to buy." Others may have thought that as well. But you never know about the markets.
Well, on a more positive note, it would appear that Thomas Friedman of the New York Times is beginning to learn. After writing, in 1998, that "the U.S. has to make clear to Iraq and U.S. allies that America will use force, without negotiation, hesitation, or U.N. approval," today Mr. Friedman is calling on the "Muslim Village" to start policing itself:
Because there is no obvious target to retaliate against, and because there are not enough police to police every opening in an open society, either the Muslim world begins to really restrain, inhibit and denounce its own extremists - if it turns out that they are behind the London bombings - or the West is going to do it for them...And because I think that would be a disaster, it is essential that the Muslim world wake up to the fact that it has a jihadist death cult in its midst...Only the Muslim world can root out that death cult. It takes a village.
And finally at last, a little relief for the nausea: some truly practical advice, which each of us can adapt personally, from Arundhati Roy.
There is...a brighter side to the amount of energy and money that the establishment pours into the business of "managing" public opinion. It suggests a very real fear of public opinion. It suggests a persistent and valid worry that if people were to discover...the real nature of things, they might act upon that knowledge. For this reason, they must be guarded against reality, reared in a controlled climate, in an altered reality, like broiler chickens or pigs in a pen. Those of us who have managed to escape this fate and are scratching about in the backyard, no longer believe everything we read in the papers and watch on TV. We put our ears to the ground and look for other ways of making sense of the world...Perhaps things will get worse and then better. Perhaps there's a small god up in heaven readying herself for us. Another world is not only possible, she's on her way. Maybe many of us won't be here to greet her, but on a quiet day, if I listen very carefully, I can hear her breathing. (from War Talk, South End Press, 2003).
I can't promise or prove to you that opening our inner ears to the voice of the small god will bring peace to the earth; but I can tell you that the principal alternative, which the rulers of nations have relied on for thousands of years now—the cults of violence, death, occupation, slavery, and the monotonic devastation of war—has failed. It has brought us to an age of a spreading pall of terror on one side and organized mass destruction for profit on the other; it has brought our planet to the brink of environmental collapse and our human race to the abyss of inescapable moral and economic poverty.
The choice for change lies before us, within us, in this moment. It begins within the heart of each individual—there is no place else to look for help but within yourself. You are connected to the Source of help that will heal this madness; you can tap the energy of transformation, right now. From the depths of your being, and with all the strength your soul can muster, ask to hear the voice of the small god, breathing Life into the stiffening corpse of a world at war.
Posted by Brian Donohue at 7/08/2005 11:26:00 AM
Thursday, July 7, 2005
Many of the friends, clients, and correspondents of my private practice are from the U.K.; and I doubt that's a random coincidence. I'm an unabashed anglophile myself: from Hamlet to Harry Potter, the literature of England is distinct in its greatness; and when it comes to humor, every nation must sit in laughter at the feet of Brittania.
No one's laughing in England tonight, though: there is just pain and shock. I'm sure you've read or heard about it: across London, four bombs in under three hours, 38 dead, some 700 wounded. For the victims and their families, words will not avail: only the silent heart-energy of Love, sent from wherever you are to wherever they may be, can help. May healing and recovery begin invisibly for you, even amid grief. If you're in London and you feel as if you need help or simply wish to talk, go to my Contact page and then pick up the phone or write an email. There will be no talk of money, but only of your need.
Times like these are for private connections between those who suffer and those who can help. Political grandstanding and militaristic rant are not appropriate to these moments. That kind of crap only lends power to the people who have wreaked this carnage on a great city.
But apparently, the mighty and the powerful in the world today choose to ignore that reality. Calls for revenge (let's call it what it is—when these people cry for "justice" they are asking for revenge; it's pure bloodsport to the Bushes of this world) have issued from the G8 conference site, and on this side of the pond it's even worse. Here's something from John McCain, who as a former soldier really ought to know better:
"We understand again the nature of this cruel and despicable enemy and we have to fight and we have to win...This is an enemy that we must destroy in battlefields all over the world." (full text here).
Where are these battlefields, Senator? What uniforms are the enemy wearing? What flag do they carry onto the battlefield? Haven't we been fighting on these battlefields for nearly four years now? What progress has been made over that time, or have we rather regressed? Is it not true that, thanks to the war in Iraq, our enemy is stronger, more numerous, and possessed of a more fanatical following, than he was four years ago?
Senator McCain, why don't you just shut up? Is it too much to ask that the ordinary people of this earth, who must endure the bombings and the crime and the poverty that your illegal wars create for them, be allowed a single day's silence for picking up the pieces and the sharing of grief—without a fat politician blowing hot wind for revenge from the safety of a heavily guarded television studio?
The Brits know how to handle this kind of thing, Senator McCain—almost certainly better than we Americans do. They have the people, the resources, and the historical experience to get to the bottom of what happened and deal with it. But right now, they don't need to be distracted by the noise of inner death—the cries of war-dogs like you, baying from the security of your front-porch view.
In fact, at this point, the kind of message they need to hear is already being shared among them, with no help from the great and mighty America. The following is a simple note from the website of Jonathan Cainer, a popular British astrologer:
Anger begets anger. When Jesus said, 'Love thine enemy', that's precisely what he meant. If we want to stop a cycle of violence and evil, we have to step outside it, no matter how shocked we may feel or how much harm it has done to us. We have to be guided by hope and inspiration, not fear or fury. We don't have to forget. We don't even have to forgive. But we do have to keep walking away from the darkness of hatred and towards the light of love.
The rhetoric of battle and all the military bluster of the right wing is entirely inappropriate to this moment. And if my own private impression of the British people is correct, the shrill Medusa-noise of revenge that is coming from the Bushies and their following will be grimly but firmly turned away by a wise and gentle people as they work to heal and protect themselves. They will not respond to the John McCain call for ratcheting up the volume of violence in a world that is already choking with death and fear.
Those who wrought this slaughter will pay a toll beyond the reckoning of kings and senators. But more din of war will make only more mounds of dead, until the only survivors will be the stiffly moving corpses of state power, alone in their sanitary palaces of vapid, alabaster wealth.
Peace and healing to my friends in England.
Posted by Brian Donohue at 7/07/2005 05:51:00 PM
Wednesday, July 6, 2005
If you wanted to hear about it in the American mass media, you would have had to look long and hard to find the story. The suspense over who was going to get the Olympics in 2012 was just too much the human-interest story of the day, it seems.
But Tenzin Gyatso, better known as the 14th Dalai Lama, turned 70 yesterday. This is a man of extraordinary insight, strength, and intellect—but more than anything a man of great heart. He is, of course, the political and spiritual leader in exile of the Tibetan people, who have suffered such torture, deprivation, murder, and miscellaneous cruelty at the hands of the Chinese government as to make Abu Ghraib look like a frat party (to use Rush Limbaugh's expression) by comparison.
Tenzin Gyatso is also a very funny man—I guess you'd better be when you've lived a life so full of heartache, danger, and personal suffering as his. He has been an inspiration to roughly one-fifth of the people on this planet; won the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize (and actually deserved it, too); and he inspired a 1997 film starring Brad Pitt (which is based on one of the truly marvelous biographical books of our era, Heinrich Harrer's Seven Years in Tibet).
But this man's true value is in his personality and his message. To me, he's the kind of guy I'd like to spend an afternoon with, maybe with a six pack of beer between us. I've never met him of course, but he seems like that sort of fellow—a man you could relax with as he told his store of jokes and tales. This man can talk science, politics, philosophy, business, psychology, and of course spirituality with you, at any level you would care to try with him. But he always seems to prefer the simplest exchanges, since they are likely to be the kind you remember and cherish.
Incredibly, this gentle, modest, laughing Phil Silvers lookalike is demonized and slandered by Chinese government dweebs, virtually wherever he goes. Check out what they had to say about him as they warned the Swedish government against allowing him to visit their country last month: "We stated that the Dalai Lama is not merely a religious figure, but he is a political exile disguised in religious dress that has engaged in activities aimed at splitting the Tibet region from the motherland."
For those of us who happen to find the greatest social and cosmic value in a life of non-violent action in response to the oppression and aggression of institutional Power, Tenzin Gyatso is the last living member of a triumvirate that also includes Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.
I just can't see him as a God-King or some sort of holy saint—that, it seems, would rob him of his most precious asset, which is his deep and pervasive humanity. Here's the kind of thing I'm talking about, from his new book, How To Expand Love:
"When I speak about love and compassion, I do not do so as a Buddhist, nor as a Tibetan, nor as the Dalai Lama. I do so as one human being speaking with another....This is my simple religion. No need for temples. No need for complicated philosophy. Your own mind, your own heart, is the temple; your philosophy is simple kindness."
Happy Birthday, Mr. Tenzin Gyatso. May that dream you have cherished for your people, for so long, spring to the most vibrant and enduring life, in the very next moment from Now. For those of you who might like to help him toward that moment, one place to begin is here.
Posted by Brian Donohue at 7/06/2005 05:56:00 PM
Tuesday, July 5, 2005
I've got another piece from Terry McKenna today, below; you'll see it's as topical as you can get. The M-80's and other noisemakers that hit the streets last night are as nothing compared to the effect that one woman's retirement is having on this nation, and indeed around the world.
Just google the phrase "Supreme Court" and you'll see links to news flashes that include words like "shock," "fury," "battleground," "fight," and "showdown." Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the ordure has struck the oscillating blades, and the mass media mob is obsessing once again. Who needs to think about the body count from Iraq or the Downing Street Memo when there's a high-noon hootinanny about to happen over a court vacancy?
I've always been uncomfortable with the Supreme Court...it's a language thing. The executive branch of our government is presided over (by a President); the legislative body is a Congress; but the cheese of the judiciary is Supreme. I find that disturbing; and if you think the thrill-seeking mass media aren't affected by that word, then keep your eye and ear on the news stream for the next few weeks (if you can stomach it), and you'll see what I mean.
Why are these folks the only major non-military government officials that wear uniforms? Are these nine people part of a secular court of law, or are they the faculty of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry? How did they get all this power? A pack of octogenarians in altar boy outfits, and they are the final court of appeal on everything from the Grokster to abortion rights. Very frightening indeed—especially if the neocon whackos are allowed free reign on this and future appointments.
All right, let's hear an intelligent discussion of this issue now: the blog is yours, Mr. McKenna.
With the retirement of Sandra Day O'Connor, everyone is talking about the Supreme Court. Conservatives want George Bush to replace O'Connor with someone who will interpret the constitution strictly as written. Liberals want Bush to appoint a moderate. Genuine moderates are being ignored.
But since I have this space (through the intercession of Mr. Donohue) I'll spout the moderate view. And no, I am not trained in the law, but maybe that allows me some freedom.
Conservatives used to talk about the importance of a strict construction of the constitution; in recent decades they've substituted the phrase originalism for strict constructionism. This presumably removes any need to determine the context or even the intent behind paragraphs written two centuries ago - you more or less interpret the constitution as written.
But there is a problem with reading the constitution without the full context of both the framer's intent and the succeeding history. For example, Andrew Jackson was a strict constructionist and thought the constitution did not allow a national bank. Eighty years after he let it dissolve, it was re-established. Does it really matter now whether a scholar can show that Jackson was right? Would it be good to dissolve the Fed? No. But looking to the framers for that answer is to miss the point. The American constitutional democracy was an experiment. The constitution that was drafted was a compromise intended to win support for a stronger federal government - ONE THAT WAS NEEDED TO PUT AN END TO THE CHAOS ENSUING FROM THE ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION. My point is that we are here now, we have a strong national bank, civil rights, social security etc. We can't put the genie back into the bottle.
The left also needs to remember how we got here. The Warren Court had to realize that it was taking the country down a left turn when it ruled as it did in a number of famous cases in the '50s and '60s. The two most famous decisions concerned school segregation and school prayer. Although reasonable, the Brown decision was extrapolated to force school busing as a tool of desegregation, and via a new concept “de facto” segregation, school districts were re-engineered to force whites and blacks to mix. A noble idea, but it created the white flight that eventually stripped white working class students from most city schools - so in some ways “Brown” has been a hollow victory. And the school prayer decision created a permanent subclass of white Christians who oppose public schools - this is the group who most favor vouchers and home schooling.
They are a block that is easily manipulated by the right to form useful voting majorities. In other less political rulings: the court and its successors overruled state residency requirements for welfare; censorship; and created a right to abortion. (Can we lay the blame on the courts for the current sad state of many cities - to the end of residency requirements? Hmmm...good question - but what about the interstate highway system?)
Sadly, the net result of the court's rulings was to expose a divide that continues to this day and will not be resolved even if the next two justices are in the mold of Scalia and Thomas. But, if the right gets its way, it's likely that for at least a generation, issues like gay marriage and abortion will be returned to the states.
As a closing note, let me weigh in as being more in sympathy with the activist courts than with the conservatives. For me the tie breaker is “Brown.” In an America ruled in its social norms by “Jim Crow” it is clear that something had to be done. The Warren Court did it. We may not be faced with issues as large as those that faced the Warren Court, but if we are, I'm not sure that a more conservative court would serve us well.
Posted by Brian Donohue at 7/05/2005 06:03:00 PM