Our banner quote author for this week is no doubt familiar to many of you, whether by experience or reputation. She has been featured in this space before, and perhaps will be again. Her latest book, we learned last week, is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and is the last in that series of epoch-making stories.
Some 16 years ago, J.K. Rowling was visited by a stream of realization that happens every so often with creative artists in particular, and even sometimes to ordinary people like me and you. During a train ride from Manchester to London, which I suppose takes a few hours to complete, the entire universe in which her Harry Potter stories unfolds was revealed to her, and at a time when she didn't have a pen to write it all down with. I think she understood what had happened, and that the sole credit she deserved for having received this visitation of consciousness is that she had made herself ready.
This, indeed, is how all true magic occurs: we prepare ourselves in humility and receptivity, and that draws the creative energy of achievement toward and through us. This is the sum and substance, I think, of the teaching that is delivered through the character of Professor Dumbledore, who is the speaker of the lines in our banner quote (they are, of course, from his closing address to the students in Goblet of Fire, after the murder of Cedric Diggory in the graveyard).
Dumbledore is an iconic figure of sagacity and good humor: he lives in and from the center of his being, and is rarely drawn out of that core. Thus, he is a natural leader. He is also something of a radical, as is revealed in the fifth and sixth books, in which he is increasingly ostracized from the government, the educational system, and finally from society at large. With his death near the end of Book Six, it appears as if Hogwarts and the world at large have been engulfed in darkness; that we are now entering a place of "deathly hallows," where the fundamentalist delusion (represented by Lord Voldemort) has been transmogrified from the dominant into the sacred.
It is very much like what the various doctrines of religion and nationalistic pride have done to our world today. The Voldemort ideology of division and hatred, cloaked in the gleaming shroud of nationalism and piety, has been the signature, the hallmark of the Bush administration and its lapdog neocon Congress. Now this observation has caused a few readers of my own work to suggest that I am against religion. This is not quite true, and in fact derives from the same tendency to see everything in bipolar shades as characterizes fundamentalism itself.
To be against something, after all, is rather a waste of energy. Everyone has a right to his delusion, as long as it is a private one. But once you become a leader, you incur a cosmic responsibility to abandon your delusions, to expose them to the light of common sense. This goes especially for the most pervasive and potentially destructive beliefs, those of religion and patriotism.
As I mention in my discussion of Lord Voldemort in Tao of Hogwarts, there are moments in a person's life where religion might serve a developmental purpose. If being a Christian or a Muslim or a Jew or a Buddhist works for you--if it guides your life forward today--then be grateful for it and remain with it. But also hold the awareness that tomorrow, next week, or next year, there will be something new and fresh to lead you, and the time will come to leave the old belief behind you. Once, however, you concretize the doctrine into an eternal truth which will admit no examination, no questioning, no revision or expansion, then you have strangled the breath out of the belief, and it is now dead--you might say it has become a "deathly hallow."
In the character of Dumbledore, we hear the teaching that destiny is made not by an external God or by powerful armies of occupation, but by individual choice. As you choose, so will you be led. It is therefore no random coincidence that, at a time when our ability to choose is being severely restricted by the Lord Voldemort forces of fundamentalist belief, these stories of wizards and magic have struck such a deeply resonant chord within people all over the world. At the end of a long train ride 16 years ago, Ms. Rowling made that choice, and shared it.
The measure of her success in that decision is not merely that it made her into a billionaire, though that does indeed count for something. Her success may more surely be discovered in what the world gained in understanding and growth from her work.
Growth, after all, is not an automatic process; it is a function of choice. Where the heart sets its aim, the mind will follow. This is not a point of doctrine; it is a principle of self-direction, as intimate and inimitable as each person who makes the choice. This, as Professor Dumbledore teaches, is how true unity is achieved.
Friday, December 29, 2006
Our banner quote author for this week is no doubt familiar to many of you, whether by experience or reputation. She has been featured in this space before, and perhaps will be again. Her latest book, we learned last week, is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and is the last in that series of epoch-making stories.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
One of the things I like about this blog, and which I hope you like too, is that you never quite know what will appear next. What follows is another illustration of this: Terry McKenna on the life and ideas of the late economist Milton Friedman. I think you'll find this one to be a real eye-opener.
Milton Friedman died a few weeks ago. In the immediate aftermath, a colleague suggested that I write about Mr. Friedman in my blog segment, but I needed a few weeks to digest his contribution. Now I’m ready.
At one time, Milton Friedman was my hero. When I was in college in the late 60’s and early 70’s, his words were an antidote to the nonsense spouted by leftist professors who continued to teach the advantages of a planned economy. I studied at the Cooper Union in New York City; at the time, the humanities department was a hotbed of Marxists. One of my profs was even a victim of the McCarthy era blacklist. He lost his gig at Columbia and turned to Cooper as the only place left that would employ him. One of the best teachers was a former employee at the Fed. Even he was a Marxist. He was a compelling lecturer - he made complex concepts clear with lots of visual aids (teachers used the blackboard in that pre-electronic era). He explained exactly why a planned economy should be able to deliver more growth than an unplanned one. It looked great on paper. But it turned out to be unadulterated crap. So, in his day, Milton Friedman’s work was a welcome relief from the bullshit that was paraded as economic truth. But even he was a product of his time. In due course, an economist of a later generation will show us where Friedman went too far in his free market message.*
Friedman’s major contribution was to explain how economic stimulus led to inflation. Before the late 1960’s, it was economic gospel that inflation went along with growth, and deflation with a stagnant economy. To everyone’s surprise, in the late 60’s and early 70’s the US economy somehow managed to include both severe inflation and low growth. By the way, this conundrum wasn’t entirely new. In the early years of the depression there was a similar economic dilemma – low interest rates mixed with almost no business activity. It was just as perplexing to folks in that supposedly simpler era (at the time, the central economic truth that everyone believed was that after a recession, low interest rates would stimulate investment - but in the early 1930’s they didn’t). So the problem of what to do when opposing economic fundamentals exist at the same time was not unprecedented. Still Friedman broke his era’s intellectual logjam and suddenly everyone understood that the money supply was the key to inflation.
The problem with Milton Friedman was that he gave too much credit to free markets. The problem for the rest of us was that we believed him. Conservative Republicans took him entirely to heart and gave up any attempt to craft genuine policy. If you look at any republican or conservative website you’ll see the solution to any problem is just another round of targeted tax incentives designed to encourage the free market to invent solutions. That’s it. Just hope that the unseen hand will guide the market to produce some form of miracle.
But the track record on free market solutions is not good. Yes, the market place sets the best price. But a complete reliance of markets ignores history, most particularly ours. Do you want better public health? A more educated populace? A safe and sound banking system? Or safe drugs? Then you need the knowing hand of government.
What Milton Friedman neglects to do is to make a distinction between capitalism and the free market. There is a difference. Capitalism is private property and the profit motive. The free market is an ideal (and one that is not experienced anywhere). Markets should be as free as we can make them, but as long as investors can make profits, even a controlled market will prosper. I remember a film clip from the early 1980’s in which Friedman is shown commenting on worker protections (as demanded by OSHA). He explained how “we” don’t need to force employers to use safe methods when dealing with environmental hazards (respirators and hazmat suits); that it is enough that job seekers know the risks. They can be relied upon to understand their best interests, and to negotiate for a mix of better wages and job safety that will satisfy their needs. But that’s all nonsense; the ability of workers to negotiate is highly overrated except for very highly skilled specialists. (I suspect Milton Friedman has never loaded a grimy barrel of a strange chemical onto the back of a straight truck - I have, and remember thinking that there was the distinct possibility that whatever was in the barrel could hurt me. I’d keep telling myself that whatever I did, I should not let my hands near my eyes and that I had to wash my hands thoroughly as soon as I could). Even in the US, where OSHA mandates adequate worker protections, there are still low-end employers who try to forego best practices - hence a reason for some of the popularity of illegal immigrant workers. I wonder how many untrained workers have removed an asbestos laden tile floor in the course of a low cost renovation. In the wider world, the most dangerous tasks have been moved to some of the poorest places in the world – just search the internet about how old cruise ships are demolished – it’s an eye opener.
Then we have matters like public education. Friedman was against it, and used as his illustration the comparison of a person who learned French at Berlitz compared to a public school student. His point is that the free market does a better job of teaching. What he failed to mention is that there are NO societies that rely on the market to construct an education system. At least none that actually educates large numbers of citizens. Despite the bad press, the typical US public school system is a success. Our schools deliver workers capable of succeeding in college, and eventually succeeding in the real world. Yes, there are abundant examples of failures in poor and minority schools, but those failures are in line with the rest of life for the poor. For our poorest citizens, crime rates, life expectancy, job success all mirror the poor educational results. Thus the failure of public schools to help the poor must be evaluated along with the rest of impoverished life. On a personal note, my wife and son both attended public schools; I attended Catholic schools. All three of us did well in school. My son and I had full scholarships to college, my wife and I had a free ride to graduate school.
I omitted the matter of foreign trade, because it’s just too big for a simple essay like this. It’s enough to mention that for 30 years, we’ve been waiting for the new opportunities that would replace the job losses that occurred as we let manufacturing collapse. It turns out they simply haven’t occurred. Yes there are some jobs, but none that will give high school grads the wages they once earned in our unionized factories. There are good reasons to support open US markets, but economists should fess up about who gains and who loses. And of course, despite the WTO, significant overseas markets remain unavailable to US producers. Example: what good are one billion Chinese customers for American films and entertainment, if cheap bootlegs drive our goods off the shelves?
So, when will the Friedman era end? Like the Keynesian era before him, and the era before that, change will only follow a big upheaval. It took the 1930’s to overthrow the bad old days and the stagflation of the 1970’s overthrew Keynes. I shudder to think of the major collapse that will be necessary before we finally put Milton Friedman aside.
* I recommend John Kay’s The Truth About Markets. He challenges the Chicago School with specifics. What his book lacks is more specific US examples - but he’s British, so that’s to be expected.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Santa must be a Republican, because I didn't get a damned thing from him this year. So I decided to take matters into my own hands: on Friday evening after work, I walked over to the Soho Apple store and bought myself a MacBook, the middle-of-the-line model with the white skin, 2.0 GHz Intel Core Duo 2 processor, 80GB 5400 rpm HD, and 1GB of RAM. I had wanted to upgrade the RAM to 2GB, but the helpful salesman there told me not to bother—Apple charges $300 extra for the service, and I could get the chip myself over Crucial's website and install it myself. Now that's a good salesman.
I also received an excellent demonstration in how to run a retail store at holiday time: the place was packed, and there was a long but nicely moving line at the main registers. But my salesman directed me to another counter in the back, where they sold standard-configuration Macs as long as you were paying with a debit or credit card. The sale took me less than five minutes, from the moment I walked into the store to the moment I left. Then I took it home and duly recorded the opening of Steve Job's wonder (click the graphic above to see the show). Now, for the review...
Display: Easily the clearest, most luminous and pleasing display I've ever seen on a laptop. It's not that mushy TFT stuff that makes dimples when you touch it; the surface is a hard, crystalline screen that places nothing between your eye and the image. As you can see, the quality of the image exceeds the beautiful TFT screen on my iMac desktop. I also have an outstanding Trinitron CRT for the Wintel machine, and it actually looks rather faded compared to the MacBook's display. Astonishing.
Keyboard: An ingenious piece of design. Again, I have to resort to superlatives: it's the most natural and comfortable keyboard I've touched on a laptop, and it beats most full-sized ergonomic boards. The spacing, location, and action of the keys has obviously been carefully thought out and rigorously tested. Apple design genius at its very best.
Processor speed: Intel Core Duo 2 heaven. It handles complex OS, graphical, and processing tasks with snappy aplomb. On my iMac PPC machine, just right-clicking a file to bring up a menu, or opening an application like Firefox or Word, would mean waiting through a delay of several seconds while the processor struggled with the request. On this machine, the spinning beach ball, bouncing dock icon, and winding wristwatch are very rare indeed. Some applications (see below) that have not made it into Universal Binary Land will strain the processor a bit, but this is a situation that can only improve with time and future development.
Two-finger scrolling: It's one of those "how-did-they-do-that" moments: you put one finger on the trackpad and the mouse arrow moves around as usual. You put another finger down and slide them left to right or up and down, and you're scrolling whatever window you're in, horizontally or vertically. Put down 3 or more fingers and the scrolling stops again. Very cool, and very useful (see below for my one complaint about the trackpad).
Heat Management: This machine is now my desktop Mac (I gave the iMac to my daughter to use at her Mom's house). So it's on for hours at a time, and it does get warm under the power supply. But I was impressed at how long it stayed cool, and even at maximum heat it still can sit on my lap without causing discomfort (though I don't make a habit of it, nor should you for numerous long-term health reasons). The battery scarcely gets hot at all, even after over two hours. This bodes very well for the endurance of the machine as a whole.
Weight: The MacBook is barely over an inch thick and five pounds light. It's easy to carry around the house or inside a bag (I have a backpack-style bag for it, and recommend this type of sack for any portable).
Photo Booth: My daughter's favorite application. It uses the iChat camera at the top of the display to take and happily distort photographs of self and/or self's cat.
iLife '06: If you've got a PC, then you probably know that Google created a great photo management product in Picasa (for either Windows or Linux). Nevertheless, iPhoto is a step ahead of Picasa for versatility, ease of use, and graphical quality. The rest of the iLife suite stands firmly on its own: Garage Band, iMovie, iDVD, and the new iWeb. My only complaint with them has been their extravagant system demands—they really take a toll on a PPC processor, but run like a breeze on this Intel machine. Here's an example of what I mean (and a demonstration of the might of this little machine): I opened iPhoto to choose, crop, and size the photos for this piece, then started Garage Band to make a brief podcast-style sound demo. Meanwhile, I also opened MS Word, to read from my Tao of Hogwarts book for the demo. Then I realized that I'd need a printout; but I hadn't installed the printer drivers for my Samsung Laser printer yet. So I inserted the driver disk and loaded the files while Word opened my book, a 290 page document with lots of graphics and formatting. I made the recording in GB and then opened iTunes to preview the file there and convert it to AAC format. As this was going on, I opened Transmit, the Mac FTP utility, and uploaded the graphics files. If you click on the picture of Professor Dumbledore, you can hear the result (credit goes to my daughter Maria for the lovely drawing).
Mactel is cutting its teeth: I kept having to remind myself as I set this machine up, that Intel Macs are very new—just short of a year young. So you need some patience, because a lot of the hardware-software interface issues involve a "neither-fish-nor-fowl" dynamic. I noticed that some of Apple's own applications (Mail, most notably) worked better on the PPC machine than on this new Intel beauty. It took some work (and one crash of the app) to get Mail looking and behaving normally on the new machine.
It is also to be noted that third-party software is still transitioning. Freeway, my favorite WYSIWYG web editor that I use for the other site, is an unfortunate case in point. Their version 3.5 wouldn't load on the new Mac, and when I checked with their Support people, I was told that I'd have to upgrade to their version 4, at a cost of $100. Looks like it's time for me to brush up my rusty html skills. Or give iWeb a try—you don't need a .mac account to use it, especially now that there's Scott Finney's EasyiWeb Publisher available.
Neither Adobe (Photoshop) nor Microsoft (Office for Mac) have made their products universal binary-friendly. For me, that means that Photoshop Elements, though it loads and runs just fine, isn't any faster on the Intel Mac than it was on the PPC iMac (though Word and Excel fly along much better than they did on my iMac). You may run up against universal binary issues, and will have to do a little research to bone up: begin with this page at Apple's support site, which is a guide to what applications have made it to UB Land.
The one thing I haven't tried yet is loading Windows onto the Mac. I did it at work, at my last job, on an Intel Mac Mini running Parallels, and everything went fine. But this laptop is my Mac—why would I want to screw it up by loading Windows on it? Maybe someday...
Not Alienware: The video on the MacBook comes from an onboard Intel chip, which borrows RAM from the system memory to deliver graphics and video. It does it very well for ordinary applications like browsers, Quicktime files, Photoshop and iPhoto processing, and the like. But I suspect this is not a gamer's machine. For one thing, after playing a game with rapidly moving parts for a few minutes, the hard drive starts revving like a jet engine, and that's not a sound I prefer to hear coming out of a computer. That means the video chip has exhausted its supply of RAM and is hitting the swap file pretty hard. So if you're a rabid gamer, I have the following advice: (a) get a life; and (b) if (a) is not possible for you yet (I understand, I've been there), then pick up an Alienware box or, if you need a Mac, a MacBook Pro or one of their desktop machines, which have freestanding video cards with 128MB or 256MB of VRAM fueling them. This advice would also apply to video or graphics professionals, but without the "get a life" part, of course.
Everybody's got to have a beef, right? I'm no different. I have two very minor complaints: the setup and file transfer utility, with which you move files and configuration arrangements from one Mac to another, needs a FireWire cable. I didn't have one, but I have a router connected to a cable modem, and lots of Ethernet cable. It all went well in the end, but I had to figure some things out along the way. It would have been easier if Apple had offered the option to transfer files via Ethernet rather than only with a FireWire cable.
Finally, you would think that with all of Apple's design and techno-genius, they'd figure out how to get a right-click mechanism into the trackpad. Thanks to the beautifully designed keyboard, this is less of a beef than it might otherwise have been. I just thought that once they'd gone to the two-button mouse with the "Mighty Mouse," they'd think of adding the same functionality to their laptop trackpads.
Well, if that's a deal-killer for you, then good luck with your Dell. But remember what we say, "you buy a Dell, you go to Hell..." Just go over to Buy Blue and compare: Dell, 88% of PAC contributions to the GOP; Apple, 99% to Democrats. Mind you, Apple's got its problems: the stock dating fiasco, one of their two blemishes in 2006 (the other being the odious alliance with the globalist child labor tyrant Nike), is bound to unravel further in 2007. But they invented the PC, and now, in the era of the Intel Mac, they've taken it back. Now, as it is with all of us, the only thing that could defeat Apple is for it to allow ego to take over. If it can avoid corporate complacency and market arrogance, then its future is secure.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
I was walking over the Brooklyn Bridge on Sunday, Christmas Eve, in what felt like 70-degree weather, actually working up a sweat on the long climb to the middle of the bridge. It suddenly occurred to me that this is probably one of the major problems with global warming: it's just too delightful, it feels too good. Now I doubt that anyone with their head screwed on straight will aver that it is remotely natural to have shirtsleeve weather on Xmas Eve, and I'm sure I am not the first person to have noticed this odd feature of global warming as an issue of public debate (and isn't it embarrassing that you still hear the word "debate" used in this sense?). Everyone can agree that things like war, poverty, terrorism, and the like are in no way enjoyable. But global warming is a pretty strange duck: we know it threatens the earth and our very future as a species upon it. Yet right now, on a day like Sunday, it feels great.
All the more reason, then, why we have to ask for more than accountability from our leaders, as a new Congress gets ready to start its 110th session. We must demand vision.
We'll have more to say about that point later, but first, Terry McKenna returns today with the somewhat refreshing thought that maybe the weakening of the Bush administration is a Christmas gift to all of us in this nation. Personally, I like the Wizard of Oz metaphor. I'm betting you can go through every blog on the Net and not see the ISG compared to Dorothy from Kansas. But thanks to Terry, that's exactly what you're about to get...
Is it just me, or does everyone recognize that the Bush presidency has suddenly faded away into irrelevance? It is very much like the demise of the Wicked Witch of the West in the movie version of the Wizard of Oz. You will remember that at the height of her power, the Witch is accidentally splashed with water and she melts away. In our real life drama, the president has been splashed with a little truth (about Iraq) and he too has begun to melt.
It was the Iraq Study Group that did it, and just like with Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, they didn’t mean to harm anyone. And no, it is not as if the Iraq Study Group has the solution to the war – they don’t. But their report broke open the opinion logjam that surrounded the war. And once the jam was cleared, suddenly a flood of ideas burst forth. After 3 years, those on the right are suddenly free to talk about the royal screw up which was our Iraq strategy – a forward assault with no plans for managing the postwar occupation. And those on the left are nearly unanimous in wanting OUT - nearly all of them except Hillary.
It was not the military’s fault that we lost Iraq - and yes, we did lose, it IS over. It is almost unfair to brand this a military loss, so let’s not. Let’s concede a successful short war followed by a failed reconstruction. This is not the first time the US has lost an endeavor after military success. Vietnam, for all of its failure, was fought well. We certainly won all the big engagements (like the Tet offensive). But like with Iraq now, Vietnam failed because we had a lousy local partner.
It turns out our chance to win peace in Iraq depended upon winning the so-called hearts and minds of the people. We had a brief window of opportunity, but now it’s long over. We tossed away the existing Baathist power structure and ended up with nothing.
If George Bush is irrelevant about Iraq, can he retain his relevance on other matters? I looked at the White House’s own press release for clues.
Here is an extract from the December 20th press briefing: “For Immediate Release, Office of the Press Secretary, December 20, 2006 - President Bush Signs the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006”
Bullet points (highly redacted):
• The Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006 will maintain key tax reforms, expand our commitment to renewable energy resources, make it easier for Americans to afford health insurance and open markets overseas for our farmers and small business owners.
• Our economy created 132,000 new jobs in November. We have added more than 7 million new jobs since August of 2003 -- more than Japan and the European Union combined.
• The unemployment rate has remained low at 4.5 percent. The latest figures show that real hourly wages increased 2.3 percent in the last year.
• To keep America competitive in the world economy, we must make sure our people have the skills they need for the jobs of the 21st century. Many of those jobs are going to require college, so we're extending the deductibility of tuition and higher education expenses to help more Americans go to college so we can compete.
• The bill will also extend vital provisions of the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act that I signed last year. The bill will keep in place key tax credits that we passed to help rebuild Gulf Coast communities that were devastated by the hurricanes that hit the region in 2005.
• This bill will help expand and diversify energy supplies. To encourage the development of new sources of energy, the bill will extend tax credits for investment in renewable electricity resources, including wind, solar, biomass and geothermal energy. It will encourage the development of clean coal technology and renewable fuels like ethanol. And it will help promote new energy efficient technologies that will allow us to do more with less. In other words, it encourages conservation.
Five years ago, these might have been enough to start a number of discussions, but now they didn’t even cause a small ripple in the press. It’s all old news. (And it’s stretching the truth to put together even these lame positive bullet points).
Since Bush’s presidency is irrelevant, it’s pointless to go though the bullet points in detail, but I will point out this. Tax deductions for college tuition will not make college affordable for the class of persons who typically DON’T attend college. If the deductions help anyone, they will allow persons to move up the college food chain just a little bit. So a person who commuted may be able to live on campus, or a work-study student may be able to cut back her hours.
Then there is energy. We have tax incentives, but NO POLICY. In Europe, energy savings devices are mandatory. But we continue to build monstrous houses that we heat and cool in the most wasteful manner - sometimes with forced hot air (the least efficient system possible). Then there are our still too large cars and heavy engines. The Europeans and Japanese spent the last 3 decades making more fuel-efficient engines. We instead squandered our creativity to deliver more horsepower.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
In every culture that observes it, the winter solstice--whether the celebration goes under the name of Ramadan, Christmas, Hanukkah, Yalda, or some other--is a time of thanksgiving. You have made it through the time of shortening days and dwindling light. From this point on, the light increases; you have arrived at the dawn of a new year.
So people, and probably even animals in their own way, give thanks at this time to the universe for the gifts of life and nourishment. This, in essence, is what the winter solstice is about, the common thread of meaning that runs through all these disparate religions and cultural observances.
There really is no need for more than this, because Nature and her transformations are quite spectacular and exciting enough on their own, without the need for human-centered myths and fables. Living beings, touching the earth and one another in gratitude and wonder, at a recurring moment of one such transformation.
You can and will, of course, add your own unique perspective and practice to this season, and that will make it your holiday, rather than the property of the Church or some other institution. Just begin with Nature and let nothing in between you and her; the rest will arise effortlessly from that connection between your heart and its source.
The artwork in the little card attached is from my blogging partner, Terry McKenna, who will be back in this space on Tuesday morning. Happy holidays to all.
Friday, December 22, 2006
Hey everybody, want a holiday on which there can be no "war"? Something that everyone—even Bill O'Reilly—can celebrate in their own way, alone or with significant other(s)? Here it is, today: welcome to Global Orgasm Day. Yep, and now you know what G-O-D really means!
Kind of makes you want to ignore the rest of the news. But duty also calls: Remember the Pfizer ad we posted a little while back, here? Well, check out what the geniuses at Pfizer had to choke up for their ex-CEO:
McKinnell's package, which the company disclosed in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission Thursday, totals more than $180 million. It includes an estimated $82.3 million in pension benefits, $77.9 million in deferred compensation, and cash and stock totaling more than $20.7 million.
So make a note of whichever of the big P's products you're buying these days (and that's just the OTC stuff), and see if you can choose something else. I can't imagine trusting the health of my innards to a bunch of morons who would fork over $180M to some smarmy corporate con artist. Meanwhile, somebody get me a soma.
Now, to the really big news of the day. If you want to see the title of Book 7 of the Harry Potter series, click and drag over the white space between the lines below. But if you'd like to find out for yourself, go to Ms. Rowling's site, click the eraser, and start the journey. Hint: you'll know you're almost there when you start feeling like Saddam. I'll give you until after the holiday to check it out, and next week we'll start to consider what it all might mean.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Whenever I begin to suspect that all the truly great writers are all dead, I pick up one of this lady's works. Our banner quote for the week (reproduced below) is from Holy the Firm, a tiny masterpiece (it's all of 76 pages long) from 1977.
The works of God made manifest? Do we really need more victims to remind us that we're all victims? Is this some sort of parade for which a conquering army shines up its terrible guns and rolls them up and down the streets for the people to see? Do we need blind men stumbling about, and little flamefaced children, to remind us what God can—and will—do?
If you have a cell of poetry in your being (you've got plenty more than that, whether you're aware of it or not), this book is worth reading, and then reading again. Many of you probably know Dillard from a truly diamond-like book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. In books like Pilgrim and Holy, you can hear the singing of a unique voice of our time, a voice of whom none less than Eudora Welty wrote, "A reader's heart must go out to a young writer with a sense of wonder so fearless and unbridled..."
Let's have another selection from Holy The Firm, in which she comically compresses this Aristotelian notion of a primum materia:
These are only ideas, by the single handful. Lines, lines, and their infinite points! Hold hands and crack the whip, and yank the Absolute out of there and into the light, God pale and astounded, spraying a spiral of salts and earths, God footloose and flung. And cry down the line to his passing white ear, "Old Sir! Do you hold space from buckling by a finger in its hole? O Old! Where is your other hand?" His right hand is clenching, calm, round the exploding left hand of Holy the Firm.
I think it was Joseph Campbell who once said that writers, poets, and artists are the leaders of every age's most transformative cycles, the beacons to every bloodless revolution. I can sense such a voice in Annie Dillard, who teaches us that the artist is simply the medium for something else, whose name is elusive, personal, and infinite:
How can people think that artists seek a name? A name, like a face, is something you have when you're not alone. There is no such thing as an artist: there is only the world, lit or unlit as the light allows. When the candle is burning, who looks at the wick? When the candle is out, who needs it? But the world without light is wasteland and chaos, and a life without sacrifice is abomination.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Here amid the Karl Rove parallel reality, we have been trained to detest truth. Or at least to genetically modify it, which to my mind is saying the same thing. Remember, for example, that ABC "docu-drama" about 9/11? Or any of the swift-boating campaigns against John Kerry, Max Cleland, and various others? Or the Pentagon's docu-drama on the death of Pat Tillman?
Well, John Rolfe of SI, one of those extraordinary sportswriters with a gravel-tipped pen, as it were, has exposed the sports version of this surreal trend in journalism. Rolfe has written a bristling article on a piece of "reality fiction" about Mickey Mantle, which is to be published by none other than Judy Regan of recent FOX / OJ infamy. It gets really fun when Rolfe offers a selection from his own "reality novel" on the late Yankees manager, Billy Martin. This scene is from a conversation the author has with #1 as the latter arrives back from Limbo:
Martin settled into a chair by the window and fished a cigar from his jacket pocket. "Mind if I smoke? I love a good cheroot, but St. Pete won't let you light up unless you go outside. Damned cosmic winds keep blowing your match out. I tried going down to the Other Place and your matches sure stay lit, but you can't hear yourself think from all the hammering and electric saws. Halliburton's building an extension on the place..."
"So why have you've come to tell me all your darkest secrets?"
"Good deed. Earn some brownie points. Figured you could use a hand, put the 'truth' in a novel, make heap big scratch. You got kids. I hear tuition's a killer these days."
"So is the price of a red Ferrari. Fess up."
"My brawlin' tough-guy stuff was just an act. It got out of control after the fight at my birthday party at the Copacabana in 1957. Hank Bauer just had to have that last goody bag and I stuck my nose in to stay tight with the team. After that, I had to keep fighting to save my jobs. Heck, I'm a sensitive guy at heart. I liked poetry, puppies, decorating cookies, barbershop quartets. Sheez. I even cried easy. Managed to keep a lid on it until I broke down in K.C. in '78...."
Read the rest of it here.
I was thinking today about how difficult it is to avoid becoming an asshole when you work in corporate America. You know, when you swim in a toxic pool, the poison inevitably becomes a part of you. I am honestly more afraid of that than I am of losing my job and being materially impoverished. What is there left to lose after you lose your self, after you are assimilated?
Right there, in the Wintergarden of the World Financial Center in New York City, that fear took hold of me. So I did what I often do in such moments: I threw some coins. I used to worry about people watching and what they'd think, but I'm too old to care anymore.
I tossed Hexagram 16, "Enthusiasm" from the I Ching, with the second line changing. It taught me what I needed to know about holding to my true self amid corporate America, and I'm also hoping it may serve to teach all of us what we must do to help our country at a time when it is threatened to the core by a maniacal set of tyrants who are dragging us further into distant wars and global death.
Firm as a rock. Not a whole day. Perseverance brings good fortune.
Here's the commentary to that line, from Carol Anthony and Hanna Moog, in I Ching: The Oracle of the Cosmic Way:
"Firm as a rock" refers to the inner No that needs to be said to displays of ego...This line warns the person who is tempted to tolerate ego-behavior...[that] it is a form of magnificence (a false enthusiasm)..."Not a whole day" refers to saying the inner No at the first sign of ego's appearance. Depending on the circumstances, the No can also be an outer No...It is "No" to the other's transgression against oneself, or to his false expectations...If the person does not say the inner No when ideas are false, they enter the unconscious by default and become part of his inner program.
Perhaps you have occasionally had the feeling that someone is attacking you, though there is no obvious physical or even verbal threat in the vicinity. That's your true self with its radar fully extended, catching poisonous airwaves from someone or something. It happens in our work, family, and personal lives; I suspect it happens in a nation's life, as in right now.
But if you haven't ever experienced such moments, I won't try and convince you that the sensation is both as natural and as genuine as hunger or sexual desire. Nevertheless, I think that six weeks ago, the people of this nation had such a moment, and they are seeing the actualization of the deeply-felt threat that guided them to vote the way they did. "Troop surge" is an attack on every American who voted with his and her heart last month, and chose a candidate who promised an end to troop surges and continued sacrifice and precision bombing campaigns.
Troop surge is a casting of more poison into the pool in which we all swim; sacrifice is a Roveian marketing term for the death by impoverishment of a once-great nation; and there is no such thing as precision bombing. It is all a lie, an oxymoron. You can target a bomb to hit a particular building, perhaps, but you can't tell the bomb, "kill the bad guys inside but spare the lady walking past the building with her young children." Bombs are designed to cause collateral damage; that is their purpose. In other words, they are made to kill indiscriminately, just as Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld have designed themselves to lie indiscriminately.
Now we know—most of us, anyway; and now something can be done. Be firm as a rock: don't let any corporation steal your true being; don't let any government steal your true nation, and sell it into a slavery of death. Be firm as a rock.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Before we get to Geek Wednesday, this has to be mentioned, because we've now reached a primal-scream moment in the history of the Bush Administration's arrogant idiocy. After the American people clearly and abundantly said "No, No, No" to the rule of war and the military state, we are told that it's time for more of the same. Please, join Code Pink in demanding "no troop surge."
Who were the standout geeks of 2006, you ask? Let's have a look...
Crazy like a 'Fox: Firefox released version 2.0 of its Gates-crashing browser, in the same week that MS put another twist onto its ancient turd, IE 7. Firefox is cleaner, more stable, faster, user-friendlier, more loaded with features and cool add-ons, and allaround more fun than IE 7, which is a banal imitation of better products. Opera also released a new version, 9.0, and managed a small coup in winning a spot as the default browser on the new Nintendo machines.
But Firefox is so good that the geeks of the Open Source world have already started re-inventing it again. Version 3.0, code-named "Gran Paradiso" is already in the alpha stage of development. I downloaded it for both the Windows machine and the Mac, and I can say it's very promising. It installs on its own path, rather than overwriting your existing 2.0 version; it grabs your bookmarks, gives you a link to their feedback form for incident reporting, and you're off. 3.0 is apparently a complete revamping of the Gecko engine, so this should be a major release when it's ready, probably late summer of '07. Meanwhile, IE 7 is still hobbling along on the same old tired Trident engine that it had five years ago.
Also on the browser front, though rather more quietly than the others discussed above, the amazing geeks at OmniGroup released a new version of OmniWeb, their outstanding Mac-only browser. It's not free, but it'll be the smartest fifteen bucks you've spent in a while, take my word for it. I also continue to use and wonder at the features and ease of OmniGraffle, their remarkable diagramming software that is head and shoulders above Visio for design, functionality, and overall fun. They've also released a new project management tool, which in combination with their other products gives them a sterling office suite for the Mac.
Google is a category all its own in geekdom. This year, they caused trouble for themselves by going to China without much of a plan, even as their stock price continued to rocket toward the $500 mark. But incidentally, why do they call it an "initial public offering" when a company starts selling stock? Does the public at large really have an interest in such things? Maybe I've got too broad a conception of what "the public" is to understand these points of high economics; but when I think of the public, I think of middle class working stiffs like myself who can barely afford rent, bills, and food every month, and feel lucky just to be able to have that and the ability to go into debt for a computer. I especially think of the people that Bob Herbert wrote about on Monday—folks who were left to die or suffer by a criminally negligent government, and still live in dire privation. The stock market / IPO culture we've built misses those folks, and many of the rest of us, too.
Anyway back to Google. For me, their most significant accomplishment this year was the release of their two-pronged online office suite, which includes their home-brewed Spreadsheet application and the ingenious Writely word processor. Together, they are GoogleDocs, and may be all the productivity application you need.
iWant: But the geeks with the biggest bite (and the largest profits) in 2006 are of the Cupertino variety. At last, after 5+ years of iPods, the world got back the Macintosh. The Intel switch is transforming geekdom, all the way to the point where the geek press is speculating on the possibilities of Apple for the enterprise. Having personally set up one of these machines with Parallels and Windows XP inside Mac OS X, I can say that Mr. Yager ain't nuts at all.
But Apple's sights, for now, appear set on the den rather than the boardroom. In about three weeks, MacWorld 2007 should feature the rollout of iTV, something that many Mac users and would-be Mac switchers are yearning for. Consider these observations from our own Nearly Redmond Nick:
How are these guys supposed to own the living room without a TV tuner!? I mean, Microsoft shipped Media Center Edition quite a while back, with full support for a tuner and a DVR. In fact, my brother is running a sub-$1000 Dell with Dual TV tuners, so he can watch a football game while recording Dancing with the Stars. He can also use a nifty little remote to play movies and music, and browse pictures. But for all Apple has done, Front Row has not measured up, and I still need to spend an extra $200 to watch TV on my Mac. Booooo.
Be patient, Nick: your time of 24" iMac, iTV heaven is not far off. Soon after MacWorld, Apple will be releasing the next version of its world-beating OS, Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. They've been kind of secretive about what's in this thing, as if they were worried about someone stealing their ideas. Well, in this video, David Pogue of the New York Times puts the lie to that suspicion.
So my Xmas list has only one item on it: a 2.0 GHz MacBook with an 80GB HD and 2GB of RAM. But Santa may need some help...there's a donation link in the sidebar. If the 100 average daily unique visitors that we get here toss two bucks apiece into the cyber tip jar, I'd be blogging from the road in a week!
Now that you've fed the kitty, here are some holiday season links for Daily Revolutionaries everywhere.
Ideal Bite: A gift and lifestyle site for the planetary-conscious among us. They have a subscription newsletter with some lively ideas on things to buy, eat, and do. Worth a look.
Rieses Pieces: This is our StumbleUpon site of the week, and it makes you wonder what's in the water in the Phillippines, that the kids there are growing up so smart and socially aware. As with the Klassy site that we looked at earlier, there's very good stuff here.
Concert Vault: If you're a music lover, maybe you already know about this site. If you are and don't, well bookmark it immediately. Next month, we'll be dipping into the Vault when we take a look back at Pink Floyd's Animals, which will mark the 30th anniversary of its initial release in January. Meanwhile, have a look and a listen around the Vault, and you'll be taken back in time. And you may not want to come back.
Finally, a look at my votes for best blogs of 2006:
One Good Move: Norm Jenson still runs the most intelligent, entertaining, and robust weblog around. I check it every day, and it's where we find most of the videos we post here at DR. Norm, if OGM comes up in my Webby reviewer's pile on the next round, you're getting a straight 10.
Altercation: Eric Alterman took a fairly punishing professional hit this year, getting booted off MSNBC.com, and he sprang back with agility at Media Matters. His insight on the mass media makes him a leading voice for a return to sanity in this nation; and as I have mentioned before, he wouldn't be a bad choice as Press Secretary after Obama wins in 2008.
Think Progress: These guys don't miss a trick that the Bushies and their cronies in Congress have tried to push past us these past six years. Great stories, well researched.
MoJo Blog: The journalists at Mother Jones can keep you up to date, in case you don't have time to read their excellent magazine (which, at a mere $10 a year, is one of the great bargains of our time).
For more great blogs and sites, check the sidebar. And thanks to all the geeks out there who make it possible, from the inventor himself to all the guys and gals writing code in the Open Source Society, so we can still freely share ideas amid an increasingly oppressive culture of corporate government.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Unless you're Bill O'Reilly, fighting pretend wars, or just tend to be depressed this time of year (quite understandable), the holidays are supposed to feature laughter and jollity. Nobody's better at that than our friends across the pond; so click the graphic and have a Merry Mithras laugh with Stephen Fry (of Harry Potter audiobook fame) and crew.
I can't claim to have known about this study while I was writing "God's Nose" over the weekend, but it's nice to know that my work can be topical, even though by accident.
Today, I happened to have a glance back at the DR archives, just to see what we were up to last year. I had actually forgotten the transit strike here in NYC, but that was the big event here one year ago. I can't recall what made me do the "Baghdad Bob and Crawford George" piece.
It's a holly-jolly season, after all: the roundball thugs are having their usual brawls; the battle over the O.J. / Fox debacle continues apace; and the latest statistics on violence in Iraq are...well...exactly what we all knew they would be.
So let me suggest, Bill-O, that the war is not on Xmas; it's just around it. Why this is so is anyone's guess, but my astrologer friend Eric Francis has a theory:
I recognize that the holidays are a difficult time of year for many, if not most, people -- myself included. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, it's also a somewhat frightening time of year, as the cave-person or primate part of our brains is indeed wondering where the Sun went and whether it will ever come back (note to brainstem, it will).
Perhaps the solstice time is, after all, a moment for giving the forebrain a well-earned rest and affording some primacy instead to nose, brainstem, and heart. This is a theme I found in Harry Potter's first solstice moment:
The cloak is a Christmas gift—one of the first of Harry's life, since he was never given any by the Dursleys—which comes to him from his dead father through his mentor, Dumbledore: the unsigned note which accompanies the cloak only says, "your father left this in my possession before he died. It is time it was returned to you. Use it well." The invisibility cloak is a magical (and therefore metaphorical) object of immense value and beauty: it is "fluid and silvery gray…strange to the touch, like water woven into material." Clearly, Mrs. Rowling is not writing this in a vacuum of invention: this is a metaphor of great historical depth and psychological meaning, particularly within the mythology of England and Ireland:
In the story Tochmarc Etaine (The Courtship of Etain), the god of the Otherworld, Midir, demands in compensation for the loss of an eye in a brawl, a chariot, a cloak, and the most beautiful maiden in Ireland as his bride…This was a cloak of invisibility (like Siegfried's tarnkappe in the Nibelungenlied) and of forgetfulness…The god Lug wore a similar cloak which enabled him to pass through the entire Irish army without being seen when he came to aid his son…To put on the cloak is to show that you have chosen Wisdom (the philosopher's cloak). (Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant, The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, pp. 205-206)
The invisibility cloak is an image of transformation, and not of self-obliteration, depersonalization, or disembodiment. For Harry, his body is still manifestly there—he can feel it, and so can others if they bump into him (indeed, this is part of the challenge in using the cloak). Whenever he wears the cloak over the course of the five stories, Harry's physical and intuitive senses seem to become more acute and penetrating: he becomes more open and alert to experience than when he is visible. The cloak's virtue is to take him to, and through, the experiences that will contribute to his inner growth—indeed, it is an active metaphor of the practices involved in the development of the true self. These include inner movements of one's total being—the intuitive, feeling, and spiritual capacities of our nature, that live and glow in quiescence beneath the often-repressive monarch known as intellect.
Harry discovers this the first time he uses the cloak: he goes to the library, thinking that this is where he "should" go, in order to obtain information. But he quickly discovers that he is being called beyond the realm of "should" and "ought," once he has put on this cloak—that he is being called to penetrate deeper regions of the psyche than he can reach through the symbols and instruments of intellect. This message is brought to him very quickly: the library is said to be "pitch-black and eerie"; the books "didn't tell him much," because they are written in "words in languages Harry couldn't understand." Finally, he comes to a book that screams into the night as soon as he opens it, and that drives him out of there, toward the place where a more potent image of self-discovery lies, which will engage his entire being. In his retreat from the images of intellect and the representatives of Authority (the caretaker Argus Filch and Professor Snape, who come looking for him), Harry encounters exactly what he needs to further his inner learning: the Mirror of Erised.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Happy holidays to all, and a Merry Christmas to you, Bill-O: may your Who-ville moment of enlightenment be not far off.
One of the primary signs of a good blog is not necessarily its content or its writers as much as the quality of the audience it attracts. Daily Kos, Altercation, and the HuffPost (for example) are great blogs mainly because smart and perceptive people read them and post comments. So I'm always grateful when we have comments such as we received from Hugh7 to Thursday's post, where we considered the news of the supposed benefits of circumcision. Hugh7 is another of our readers who questions authority and penetrates appearances, and that's what we're about here at DR.
Now Terry McKenna is taking a well-deserved break from blogging. This week, we'll focus on the holidays and their various symbols and practices—starting with a small essay on God's Nose. First, a few news items from the weekend deserve our attention.
What does it take to make a Bush see the faintest light of reality? How about 35 minutes of torture in what is supposed to be a non-cruel and thoroughly human punishment? I suppose we should give Jeb credit for ordering the practice stopped, at least temporarily. Let's hope he has a talk with bro about the same principle: for now that the casualty count in that cruel and inhuman war for "our" side has reached 25,000 and another half million or so for "them," it would appear as if the moment has long passed to finally do what two-thirds of the American electorate is asking be done.
BBC is doing a special report on an issue that our mass media wouldn't dare touch, because it would adversely impact a cornerstone of the Washington economy, especially when Congress is in session. It's about prostitution, and is told from the perspective of the ladies themselves, and it is compelling reading. Check it out, and by all means pass the link around.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, God knows all (mind, intellect); sees all (the omni-eye); and hears all (the cosmic NSA wiretapper). But He doesn't smell a thing; and this, I submit, is a problem, a failing of God.
The Greeks and other ancient cultures knew better. They understood that man was not created in God's image, but that it was really quite the other way around. Therefore, they gave God a very sharp sense of smell. This sense is a part of the many stories (usually of the big guy, Zeus), that involve attraction, deception, and even seduction. Read the tales of Homer, Ovid, or Pindar: if you wanted to get a god's attention in those days, you laid out a feast that would usually feature a juicy, burning, smoking sacrificial barbecue. The fumes from the roast would waft toward Olympus and next thing you know you'd have a god at the picnic table.
The only remnant of such stories in the Judeo-Christian Bible that I could find is Gen. 8:21, where Noah, having survived the famous flood, has smoked some sacrificial animals in the BBQ pit and the smell attracts God, who as a result swears never to destroy the Earth again. Otherwise, in both the Old and New Testaments, God's nose has been removed.
Maybe the authors of these texts wanted us to believe that God couldn't possibly be an animal like us, so they made a point of taking away or at least minimizing the most primordially animal sense—smell—from the attributes of God. Once again, in these texts God knows, sees, hears, and certainly acts a lot; but he rarely smells (though he often stinks).
The problem with a God who can't smell is that this deficiency severely weakens the teaching potential of the myth; it saps the metaphor of a crucial strain of pragmatism, since God is suddenly so fundamentally unlike us that His experience is no guide for our lived experience.
And if you think the sense of smell is overrated, check out the animal kingdom: what do two dogs do when they first meet? How do animals in the wild detect enemies or food? Then consider your own experience, and think of how often you've relied on your sense of smell to choose the right food, the best living space, even the right mate. For us, smell means so much that it has become embodied in our language as a symbolic or inner sense that's applied to situations metaphorically: we smell a rat, we sniff for meaning, we smell trouble, we will even say that we can smell a lie (and, in fact, we can).
So how can a God of the Universe teach us anything meaningful about ourselves—our lives, our bodies, our relationships—if He has been effectively deprived of the most basic and essential of our animal senses? For when we make God insensate to odor, then we in turn become the same, and we build a culture of sanitized, genetically modified foods that neither nourish nor entice us with a delightful odor. We also spew poisons into the air and can pretend they're not there, because we have denied, through our Creator stories, our own sense of smell.
This seems to be a problem we need to work on. My first suggestion would be that we simply drop God altogether—flush Him out of our consciousness, individually and culturally. This, however, may meet with a certain resistance in most parts of the world; so my second-best alternative is this: let's give God back His sense of smell. Give Him back his nose.
Friday, December 15, 2006
Before we get to our usual Friday fare, a brief update on the outcome of the effort to ban the Harry Potter literature in Georgia schools. Fortunately, the Georgia Board of Education has ruled out such a ban. That is, the books are staying in the school's library. There's an interesting footnote to that story:
J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, published by London-based Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, have been challenged 115 times since 2000, making them the most challenged texts of the 21st Century, according to the American Library Association.
Now this is the kind of ass-backwards, topsy-turvy morality that we live amid in the 21st century. Too often, it seems as if all that's light is made darkness; all that's right is made wrong. It is what very commonly happens with morality: when we carve the rules of belief and behavior into stone, then anything different or difficult to fit into the iron frame of morality must be deemed the work of the Demon. Fundamentalism operates on a false principle of division; its morality actually tends to bury our natural moral senses under a shroud of belief.
This, in fact, is one of the salient messages of our banner quote author for this week: she is a teacher of the I Ching, who (like J.K. Rowling) has written a series of books that contain a wealth of insight. Her name is Carol Anthony, and the quote in the banner comes from her first book, A Guide to the I Ching.
Anthony is one of my own teachers; much of what I write down in this space is drawn from my experiences in her workshops, seminars, and publications. In the same section of the Guide's text where our quote may be found, the following observations appear—think of the "Mission Accomplished" moment of the Bush presidency:
Good luck is the result of a humble and unassuming attitude toward the Unknown. The minute we congratulate ourselves on having good luck, it disappears. We may not presume on God, so to speak...When we depend on a situation in a presuming way, we may expect it to fail.
Anthony's work is loaded to the brim with acumen of this sort; my own copies of her works are scrawled throughout with underlining, notes, and exclamations. Her work will be found valuable to anyone with an interest in self-growth and the development of a lively inner life—no experience or even any particular interest in the I Ching or Taoist philosophy is required. Here's a list of her titles, all of which may be found here:
A Guide to the I Ching
Philosophy of the I Ching
Love, An Inner Connection
I Ching: The Oracle of the Cosmic Way (with Hanna Moog)
One of Anthony's most helpful teachings can also be found in the Guide, where she discusses the psychological basis of successful relationships of any kind. Here is an excerpt:
Conflict with others can generally be avoided at the beginning if we carefully determine fair and just terms. In business relationships the written contract serves this purpose, but contracts are reliable only if they correspond with what everyone, in his heart, would consider to be just.
As just contracts prove helpful in business relationships, thus do they also in marriage. To put that relationship on a firm footing one must take the time to allow an understanding of fair and just principles to develop. However, before we can successfully marry another, we must first marry ourself, for being true to ourself is the only basis for loyalty to others. Marrying oneself does not mean we rigidly hold to dogma or to belief systems; it means that it is our responsibility to be true to our inner feelings, and to our personal experiences of truth.
It is true love which gives space, which waits patiently, which perseveres without regard to self and reward, and which has nothing to do with surface manifestations, displays of affection, statements of love, or possession. Selfless love invisibly sustains another and pulls him toward the good within himself. It is a love whose only reward is privately to oneself; in maintaining it, we are at peace.
Carol Anthony and her teaching partner, Hanna Moog, still give regular seminars and workshops in the I Ching; if you're in New England or can travel to the Boston area anytime during the year, you may wish to see their teaching schedule for 2007—just visit their website. Their new book Healing Yourself the Cosmic Way is to be released next month.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Today's graphic is something I found all by itself on an Internet page. I think it's great, so if anyone knows the source that I can credit for it, let me know.
Anyway, it's a timely picture to show today, now that Dennis Kucinich has tossed his hat into the ring again. Could he beat Hillary? Like a rented mule. But Obama? Doesn't look like it. Doesn't matter: Kucinich's voice is one we need to hear plenty of in the 2008 campaign. Click that link and watch how he handles the Wolf-man, and I think you'll agree.
Medicine and politics 1: Funny, I never read any headlines about power-shifts when Dick Cheney's doctors were wondering whether the man's ticker would withstand the VP-stress. But today, power-shifting is all the rage in the media, because a Senator from South Dakota suffered a stroke. This is what happens when your media are themselves infected with that solipsistic corporate frigidity: the impulse becomes the product. Pretty sad stuff.
Medicine and politics 2: If I wrote a blog that somehow caused people to want to kill themselves, do you think I'd get off with putting a warning label in the header? (don't laugh—a guy named Goethe wrote a book called "Sorrows of Young Werther" that reportedly incited a wave of youthful suicides in the Europe of its day). Well, the drug companies are being told to put a warning label on certain anti-depressants that have a similar effect. The problem is that some docs are siding with the pharma companies on this one. This, by the way, is another demonstration of the urgent need for experts in the research methodology known as "naturalistic observation", which has been somewhat demonized in modern science as too New-Agey. Guess what—you can't design a double-blind, laboratory-style, randomized control study on this sort of thing. Not unless you don't mind much of your control group winding up dead, that is.
To my mind, this situation represents another call for a fresh look in this society at how we use medicines. I've written some thoughts on that point, with a focus on anti-depressants, here.
Medicine and politics 3: Circumcision is a good thing. It's front-page, headline news today, and until I've read the studies, I have only one comment. This doesn't change my view on the practice of slicing a newborn boy's Mr. Happy—it is one of the truly decadent and primitive practices left over from our evolutionary past that's still commonly done today. If the findings of this study are validated and circumcision is found to be a small component in preventing the spread of AIDS, then maybe it would help to educate young men on it and offer the option in the context of a voluntary program of adult circumcision, perhaps supported by government funding and with some sort of carrot tied to the scalpel (a tax break or even a small payment for young men submitting to it). The message could be, "hey tough guy, you handled getting that tongue-ring like a real trooper; now go get this done." But I'm still uncomfortable with even that: there are alternatives to managing the spread of AIDS that do not involve surgery, and I feel strongly that we have to get beyond this societal obsession with solving all problems with a knife, a pill, or a bomb.
But let me repeat one basic point about which there should be no debate: to do this to newborns does damage that we can't even measure yet. But I'm reminded of a story that Robert Bly told in Iron John: he said that during one of his men's seminars, he had passed around a sword through the group, and found that many of the men in the group cringed even at holding it. Well, I'd like to know how many of those guys had been circumcised long before they had any choice in the matter. If your dick had been sliced up when you were small and helpless, but acutely aware, wouldn't it be natural for you to cringe from knives for the rest of your life?
I thought I'd continue with my ruminations on the intersection of corporations and government, in light of the news that Bush is putting his finger far enough up his ass to check his own prostate, re. movement on a decision for the future in Iraq. Hmmm...I wonder if that's even possible...it would certainly be preferable to having it done to you. If any of our readers are urologists, let me know what you think.
So the Chimpster from Crawford, the Great Decider, can't make a decision, even though hundreds will likely die horrible deaths while he sits on the can over the holidays trying to figure out how to achieve "peace with honor," to use an old Nixonian bromide.
Well, if you work in corporate America, are you surprised? There's a TV commercial that I laugh at every time I hear its slogan: "moving at the speed of business." In corporate America, there is indeed a lot of busy-ness: people rushing around, clacking away at keyboards, buzzing impolitely on the telephone or the wireless set, scanning the Blackberry, oblivious of their surroundings. But how quickly do things really get done; how fast does accomplishment of the remotest stripe really happen in corporate America?
In my book, The Tao of Hogwarts, I discuss the true workings of the corporate body in the context of Ms. Rowling's metaphor of "the troll in the dungeon."
What’s big, ugly, smells really foul to anyone in their right senses, and can’t seem to move without stumbling or locking up in confusion? Well, if you work for a big corporation, you might have answered, “my department” or “the company I work for.” And you might be right.
In fact, you could take your pick: the mountain troll that corners Harry, Ron, and Hermione in a girls’ bathroom in Sorcerer’s Stone could be a metaphor on the monster of the modern corporation or the government. Since the government comes in for enough rough treatment from Mrs. Rowling in “The Ministry of Magic” (see Chapter 9), I prefer to think of the mountain troll as a massive corporation whose various parts can’t communicate or coordinate with one another. It stinks horribly, meaning that it’s offensive to people’s most basic and feeling-oriented senses: every time I read about another company downsizing (that is, ruining the lives of) its workers, I sense that same repulsive odor that Rowling’s children smell as they encounter the troll. The corporate troll solves every problem by trying to stomp it into oblivion or by trying to eat what’s in the way of its lumbering, juggernaut movement. But for all its vast physical size and the ungainly length of its various parts, it is only part-being: its intelligence is blunted by its massive, organizational-chart body, and therefore it can act only through domination—swinging the dull club of Power onto anything and anyone that comes within its myopic visual scope.
Finally, as in the story, the corporate troll is inevitably knocked out by the wooden immensity of its own size and force: how often do we see the company that yesterday was bludgeoning other smaller firms into bankruptcy or submission suddenly subjected to the same treatment by another, larger “troll”? Or worse still, consider the fate of some of the ugliest of corporate behemoths—those that fell under the weight of greed as well as incompetence. The trolls known as Enron, Worldcom, and their like, collapsed amid their corruption, poisoning an entire nation with the foul stench of their depravity, while leaving investors and customers robbed, broken, and destitute. Ron, Harry, and Hermione were lucky to escape the mountain troll with only a brief scare and the vague breath of its odor in their memories; the investors of the corporate trolls of Greed and Excess are often left with ruined lives and uncertain futures.
So as it is with our personal lives and relationships, seeing clearly the reality of the Bush administration and corporate America is all about looking beyond appearances. We have to stare past the superficial hubbub of activity and rhetoric and ask, "what's really being done?" The answer, for a culture so obsessed with action, will only be surprising for a moment: very little, if anything, gets done—and what does get done happens with a positively reptilian sloth. That goes back to the nature of the beast, the troll: its movement is all veneer, so when you seek substance or real accomplishment, there's nothing there. For all their jerky, compulsive activity, government and the corporate body are dead from the neck when it comes to results. That's because all that action lacks the guidance of the clarity born of reflection. Our banner quote author has plenty to say about that, and we will meet her tomorrow.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
So Rummy went to Iraq one last time to meet with the troops. What did he say—"thanks for dying for me, and if you somehow survive, don't forget to check out my book tour"? Rummy also bravely faced the free press. You got it—Hannity. NewsHounds has the story and the capsule summary of the moment: "The state of American journalism may have reached a new low last night with Sean Hannity's softball interviews with Donald Rumsfeld recorded during their junket to Iraq."
Now over to the so-called left-wing media. I've weighed in with some opinion about gossip, here; and today in the Times, Richard Conniff gives a different opinion: gossip is natural and adaptive. Now you know why the mass media seems to be always striving for new lows of anti-journalism—why, it's natural and adaptive.
So maybe the guy's definition of gossip is different from mine; he appears to classify two people talking about a mutual friend's illness as gossip. I don't. But he's in the New York Times, and I'm in a dank corner of the blogosphere; case closed.
You youngs ones, are you looking for a great getaway destination for when you retire? Try Santa's place (for those of you without Times Select, it's also in the Nat-Geo for free): scientists predict it'll be all beaches and sea by 2040. According to the Times, this change is "partly" the result of global warming from greeenhouse gas emissions. Partly: let it not be said that the paper of record doesn't sweat the details. I wonder if Mr. Conniff would classify that as gossip.
C-Net, still reeling from the tragic death of senior editor James Kim, has come out with a comprehensive review of the 109th Congress's tech legislation record, and it's not a fawning report by any stretch. Even in mourning, the geek press beats the MSM like a rented mule. What a bunch of pros these people at C-Net are. If you've never read it, check it out.
I've completed my first batch of reviews for the Webby Awards (in case you're wondering, this blog is not entered, because it costs $125 to throw one's hat into this ring). The best site I've seen so far is the United Nations Population Fund site, which features an excellent research tool on population trends and issues. This is worth noting, because population is or will be one of the two greatest issues and challenges to our survival as a species over the next century. Another good site I encountered in the Webby pile is Workplace Fairness's The Good, the Bad, the Wal-Mart, a truly balanced study of big box retail's underbelly.
Another great site I discovered today is the Digital Mozart Edition of the complete works. I also noted with some satisfaction that the site's host was groaning under the weight of the traffic raining down on it. 250 years old, and he still gets people excited...
For those of you who follow Geek Wednesday, you may know I've been having some serious trouble with Blogger Beta. Well, the geeks at Google appear to have been working on it; I've had no problems since the weekend. Give the boys from Stanford time, and they get it right. As for Microsoft, they had six friggin' years to upgrade their browser and I've been noticing that the popup blocker in IE 7 has been failing miserably. Yep, I checked the settings and everything—it's just failing, that's all. They can't even get a popup blocker on a browser to work, and they're asking me to put their new OS on my hard drive? Fugggedabbutit.
Meanwhile, for those of you who need some good bargain gear for the holidays, check out Powermax. You can get a refurb Intel MacBook for under $900. The Powermax refurbs come with the same warranty as Apple offers for new products, and with AppleCare (extended warranty) available as an upgrade. If you want a second Mac to haul around and don't care about having an Intel processor in it, you'll be able to get an iBook for less than $400 from these guys. Not bad.
I've also been looking at bargain notebook PCs lately, and haven't been able to pull the trigger. Here's what happened: my new company is so locked up in a bureaucratic paralysis of ineptitude when it comes to wiring new hires, that I've gone nearly two weeks without 9 to 5 connectivity (geeks, you have to empathize with this). That's right, no PC yet, and no access to a public or loaner machine either: it's hurry up and wait. So I figured I'd snap up a cheap Wintel laptop and at least have some appearance of computing normalcy on the job, even if I can't connect to their LAN. It's kind of difficult to work productively in IT without gear, you know.
So I looked at a sleek Gateway machine that was only $800 for an AMD Turion processor with 512MB of RAM. But then I checked my bank balance and asked myself why I'd buy a machine just to look like I belonged at a place that wasn't ready for me.
Well, then, you can imagine what happened: I turned the entire thing into an exercise in mindfulness. George Weinberg, the outstanding psychotherapist-writer, referred to this process as "the hunger ilusion." Even a temporary interruption of a longstanding habit can inspire growth, even transformation. So I had to begin by resisting the compulsion to hoist up my hard-earned for a second-string laptop: to do that, I finally realized, would be like the alcoholic who swears off Wild Turkey and then goes into the bathroom to drink the mouthwash. It was time to find out where the hunger illusion was leading me.
So I started off by spending some time in listening to others around me as they worked. After all, it's not as if I have any work to do there yet. The tapping of the keyboard—sometimes steady and smooth, sometimes disrupted by a silent pause or a sigh, followed by a frenetic clicking, crunching blur of activity—it was like listening to a mouth chewing something moist but hard. Close your eyes at your desk sometime, and just listen for a minute, and see what you make of it.
It reminded me that in the corporate setting, productivity is very much a solipsistic endeavor. It is as much impulse as it is awareness; consumption as it is delivery.
I also listened to how they spoke, these productive people in the office around me. Most of these folks are young, assertive, confident, and rapid in speech and manner. Many of them, to judge by their position, language, and demeanor, are most likely MBA's, or the equivalent. I heard the word "value" a lot, in terms like "value proposition" and "value exchange." I wondered whether these folks had really thought about value—what it is, or that there may be more to value than goods, services, or profit derived therefrom.
But corporations cannot learn this, for in spite of what the law may say, they are not people. But the real, individual people who work for the corporations and use their products and services, we can learn it and in turn teach it to the corporate person. We can show them what a person truly is, and what it is that a person values.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
What's the worst thing about corporate America? What does corporate America have most in common with our current government?
Got it in one: falsehood. Lies. Deceit. Both are fed by a culture of deceit, and both are ultimately false to themselves. In fact, throw in the mass media and you've got a holy trinity of deception.
We've tapped away at this theme in a variety of ways here at the blog, and tonight I'd like to offer an object example of the kind of Rovespeak you find in both government and corporations. It's a single word: team.
Athletic metaphor is, of course, inordinately popular in government, the military, and corporate America. If you're a corporate worker, think back over the past year and see if you can recall how many times you've seen or heard the word "team"—on cubicle walls, on promotional or motivational posters, or from the lips of CEOs and their ilk. To what extent do you think you are part of a corporate team?
The "team" metaphor is certainly ubiquitous in Washington: check out the results from a search I did at whitehouse.gov.
Let's examine the metaphor, back in its natural place. Does the shortstop pull rank on the catcher, or the linebacker on the safety? Does the center demand mute obedience from the point guard? Are World Series won and lost by Chief Executive 2nd basemen or presidential left fielders?
So there are coaches or managers on the bench, in the dugout, or on the sidelines, directing things, giving orders, and changing players. But are these "chiefs" in a corporate sense? Their authority is delimited; they cannot go onto the field except when play has stopped. Their pay sure is plenty less than that of nearly everyone out there on the field of play: in big league baseball, an old, steroid-drunk outfielder and an old, once-great pitcher can still draw $16M a year while their managers will be lucky to pull down a tenth of that—exactly the opposite of the corporate model, where the CEO makes about 300 times more than the working stiffs on his "team."
Try this experiment, sports fans: see if you can make a corporate-style org chart out of your favorite team. I'm betting you won't get very far. That's because when a team is out there on the field, there is no room for the rigid and punitive corporate structure that many of us are familiar with from our own jobs. The hierarchy is absent, and it must be, since any fixation over who's in charge or whose power is paramount on the field would instantly lose the game.
So examine now the old bromide that "there is no 'I' in 'team'." I would disagree: there are plenty of 'I's' in team; it's just that they point in the same direction, they flow toward similar goals. But a corporation is different: it tries to put a 'C' in team, as in Chief (Executive Officer, Information Officer, Operating Officer, etc.). I've written about that aspect of it elsewhere; the point here is that this obsession with position spills downward through the ranks, until you see the familiar battles, struggles, and competitions all the way down to the mail room.
The attempt to put a 'C' in team turns it into a tribe, a cult.
There's another point to this, which brings us back to our government. Putting the 'C' into team led to the Katrina debacle, the continuing morass in Iraq, and the swindling of the American middle class. Putting the 'C' into team led to the laughably ambivalent and ineffectual performance that the Iraq Study Group gave us (as Jon Stewart remarked in the video above, it's too late for a study group now—the test was three years ago). Frank Rich made this point with his usual eloquence on Sunday.
On a truly functional team, there is no "decider," only decisions. The fact that I called you off that fly ball on the last play doesn't mean you can't do the same on the next. There has been some tortuous effort in the MSM over the past month to single out a "decider" in the outcome of the recent elections: it was the "Clintonistas"; it was Howard Dean; it was the Democractic machine.
I would suggest that it was simply millions of "I's", lined up at polling places in states both red and blue; and that together, they made a team.
Site Note: Sometime last week, we uploaded our 400th post here. Not bad for a couple of working stiff Irishmen with nothing to motivate them except white-hot anger and a steadily increasing community (or team) of visitors. My thanks go out to my partner Terry McKenna, all our occasional contributors, and most of all, to every person who stops by to read our content. I hope it's made a small difference for you, and we'll keep trying.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Another week, another Terry McKenna post to start it off. Today, my co-blogger is taking up the "War on Xmas" debate. Personally, I don't have any particular problem with having Christ in Christmas; it's the "Mass" that I'd like to see cleared away. If your heart tells you to honor Christ, do it every goddamned day; just don't make a ritualized gnarl of dogma out of it (that's the "mass" part). Barbara Ehrenreich has more on this over at Alternet.
The Xmas season is, of course, make-or-break time for the retail section of our economy (or so we're told by the pundits). In the coming days and weeks leading up to the opening of the 110th Congress, we'll have some thoughts on the world economy and its three principal demons: corporate globalization, the credit culture, and big box retail stores. To get us started, a few key links:
Paul Krugman in Rolling Stone on how the wealthy are screwing the world, aided and abetted by the Bush tax cuts. A must-read if there ever was one. We'll be quoting from this one as the week progresses.
Globalization: The MoJo page The indefatigable research of the Mother Jones staff unveils the dirty truth of globalization.
Impeach Wal-Mart: A book excerpt from Stacy Mitchell's plan to end the "big-box swindle."
Debtor's Prison: the statistics on credit in America. But the pundits still assure us that "we're really frugal"; that there's nothing to worry about—for God's sake, keep digging that hole deeper. And so, led by the media and corporate advertising, we do; and are globally hated for it.
But after all, it's Christmas, and Jesus wants us to spend ourselves into poverty, right? Mr. Mckenna, to the pulpit, please...
Yes Virginia, there is a war on Christmas. But you’ve come a bit late. It’s just about over and the secular holiday has won. But don’t worry, because the Christmas holiday was always more pagan than pious; it’s a hybrid of ancient elements from all over Europe grafted upon a Christian narrative. And it’s not just Christmas. Most of our holidays have changed over the years. Think of Memorial Day. Once a day for picnicking in a memorial park (a cemetery) and decorating the grave of a deceased family member (originally a civil war casualty), the holiday has morphed into the opening weekend of an annual summer of fun. Halloween is another example of a changed and hybridized holiday. Originally a Celtic Fire Feast, the Medieval Catholic Church turned it into the Feast of All Saints (All Hallows Eve – Halloween). Modern America has saved a few of the Celtic elements, but turned the event into a day when our kids go from house to house begging for treats. My father’s generation celebrated a different begging feast – ragamuffin day; he and his friends did their begging on the day before Thanksgiving Day – his childhood occurred before WW1.
Christmas was originally a pagan (Roman) holiday celebrating the rebirth of the unconquered sun at the Winter Solstice. Its popularity made it an ideal platform upon which to graft the birth of Christ – the Son of God. (And no, the Latinate words for son and sun were not homonyms). The modern Christmas celebration includes myriad pagan elements – mistletoe, holly, the tree, strong drink, gift giving, even the wild abandon that we see at New Years (in the middle ages and renaissance periods, the poor might go so far as to invade the homes of the rich and demand strong drink and something to eat. A few of the older holiday songs contain hints of the older practice. Lords (or Abbots) of misrule were selected and whole towns would erupt into wild partying. Here's a song lyric that hints at the old ways.
Our founding fathers did not celebrate Christmas in the way that we do now. For sure, the wealthy would enjoy rounds of Christmas and New Year’s dinners featuring strong drink, dance and song. But for our more pious citizens (think of our hardy New Englanders) – their brand of Protestantism was of the sort that eschewed pagan celebration. In any case, Christmas was NOT a public holiday.
The Victorian era brought Christmas back from the shadows. And as industrialism and technology changed our ways, Christmas became modern too. The Victorians gave us Xmas trees and cards. Edison gave us modern street lighting; from this we got safe electric tree lights, and the modern well-lit downtown. By the 30’s and 40’s, Christmas took on a modern sparkle.
When the American experiment began, we were primarily Northern Europeans Protestants. An Italian would have been exotic. So too a Jew (though Jews came here pretty early on in our history). But think of us now—Catholics are prominent in life and government. So too are Jews. Asians are abundant in sciences and technology. I work with a number of guys named Mohammed – all great guys, good at their jobs, and middle class Americans. So, despite the fantasies of our right wing Christians, we are a different America from that of the forefathers. And as the old saw goes, you can’t go home again. We can no more return to the America of “It’s a Wonderful Life” than we can return to an era when married women stayed at home and high school graduates could go out into the world prepared for a good job.
And as for Christmas, it has become a worldwide and non-religious holiday. In Asian cities, Christmas trees and outdoor decorations have become popular. In Japan, parents now give their children gifts in the same way the Americans do – from Santa Claus. Of course, none of this represents the religious myth, but as we should know now, Christmas was rarely ever about the Christ story anyway.