Thursday, December 29, 2005

2005: Growth Amid Desolation, Part 3

What I try to teach, in person and in writing, has to do with finding a way to live amid a society defined by violence, inequity, conflict, despair, and perhaps above all, ignorance.

Case in point: the mass media. Take a fast look at this 2005 yearend roundup at ABC News' website, paying particular attention to the "Most Read Stories." Pretty grisly stuff, huh? Jacko, Brad and Jennifer, the American Idol affair, the youth pill...nothing there about Iraq or Darfur (which was probably the most tragic story of the year for the vastness of its injustice, loss, and human suffering) or Plame or Scooter or Katrina or FEMA or the Asian earthquake. It's pretty sad on the face of it: but then, consider the source.

In any event, my work here at Daily Rev, in my books, and in my counseling practice involves being a catalyst for independence. The only way I can see (with my admittedly limited vision) out of the mess we've created of our world today is to help to rebuild a society of freethinking individuals, one person at a time. My main project in this regard is myself: I cannot pretend to have answers, because I find that whenever I think I've gotten hold of an answer, a hundred more questions arise. In the first of my "Life Lessons in a Time of War" I expressed it this way:

Whenever you think you have the Answer, ask another question. When you think you've solved The Big Puzzle, turn within and rearrange the pieces.

Now maybe I shouldn't mention how the "Life Lessons" pieces got started. All right, sometimes I sort of hear this voice on the F train during the commute to work. So call the guys in the white coats or get me a one-way to Gitmo. But it's not really crazy, if you think about it. I have, anyway, and here's what I've heard:

Listen closely for the quietest voice within you. Learn to hear it first and to follow it most. That voice can guide you toward freedom and out of the slavery of conflict.

To hear it, you must be very still, even amid action and tumult--like an athlete who performs at top speed while feeling every moment as if time were the pages of a book.

You must also silence those other, louder voices of broadcast reason, doubt, and defamatory denial. These voices trade in false logic, dogma, belief, and disbelief. They help us keep our blinders tightly strapped; they hold us fast to the treadmill.

Scientists now tell us that stars form in perfect symmetry; that the universe breathes and grows in an orderly, though not rigid, fashion. Yet we are led to believe that our lives are governed by random chance, all the way to the point where the medicine we take, the leaders we choose, and the destiny we achieve, are all the outcome of a probabalistic lottery.

But if you choose to reject the random and affirm the universal order, you will be silenced with labels: new age lunatic, enemy of reason. Please, make your choice: the labels, too, like all slanders, will not stick.

If it is rational to suppose that we are the victims of chaos in a universe defined by order, then I am ready to abandon reason and fulfill the prophecy of the skeptics.

Thankfully, neither of us needs to do that. Reason as we know it is a small piece of the whole; a member of the family of the personality that is led by feeling. The stars that form in perfect order are not fixed in their places. The stars laugh at the Cartesian lie as they dance dressed in their nebula. Nothing is fixed, yet all is in order. This is the great harmonic: everything lives and moves except ego. And even ego can't quite keep its feet in the concrete in the end, though it may die trying.

The harmony of the cosmos is real, and it is within you. But the appearance that was painted over your child's eyes--that is an illusion. Strip it away, a little each day, and shake out the dust of dogma from the eyes of your mind.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

2005: Growth Amid Desolation, Part 2

We left 2005 at roughly the midway point yesterday: it was a time where many of us were spittiing mad at the murderous crimes being perpetrated out of Washington and documented before us in the blogosphere, even as the mass media continued to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to them all. The Downing Street Memo has been the elephant in the network newsroom. I am sensing that 2006 may bring a further connection between the DSM, foreign and domestic spying, and various other criminal activities of this administration in the run-up to the Iraq War, with a possible release of more revealing documentation in this respect. I am not in the habit of making predictions, but I have a strong feeling that we haven't heard the end of the DSM story.

As the truth about his administration's neurotic obsessions was dragged into the light, the President himself seemed unable to find any place to hide in the back half of 2005. He even landed in the first chapter of a "children's" book. For those of you who have not joined the Potter universe, just check out the first page of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince next time you're at a bookshop or library. And for those of you who love the Harry Potter stories as I do, you're no doubt already aware that Mrs. Rowling has announced that she will be writing the last tome of the Potteriad beginning next month. One more prediction, which I have received from our part-time correspondent, Guptilla the Hun: Harry 7 and the hunt for the 7 horcruxes will hit the stores on 7/7/07. If this tantalizing prediction is true, then we have about 18 and a half months to wait. Anyway, for those who may be interested in scratching the surface of the Pottermania a little, check out this selection from my book, Tao of Hogwarts.

I'm hoping that Guptilla's prediction about that date is correct, because 7/7 is obviously a tragic day in the U.K., just as 9/11 is for us here in New York. It was a very bizarre summer for our friends across the pond. A week before the release of the aforementioned Potter tome, and a day after having been awarded the 2012 Olympic games, London was rocked by three bombs. More than 50 people were killed, and sane folks around the world reacted with a mixture of outrage and compassion.

But sanity, in the realm of the mass media, is a very dark horse indeed, as we saw in this post. Note that the dominant voices in those aberrant, truly inhuman responses to a human tragedy are the media mouthpieces of the Christian fundamentalists who purport to represent the new moral majority.

Most of Daily Rev's commentary is devoted to exposing the reality behind fundamentalism of any stripe or brand name: Christian, Muslim, Judaic, political, moralistic, and even scientific fundamentalism. In short, wherever truth is deadened by being made into a rigid monument of doctrine, there is fundamentalism. It brings exploration and inquiry to a screeching, dead halt; and stops up our inner senses. Fundamentalism is therefore a cult of death, as I described in this piece, written near the end of Cindy Sheehan's month-long siege upon the Crawford Coward's desolate summer palace:

The institutions of fundamentalist Christianity provide the same answers as those of fundamentalist Islam: KILL. Kill anyone who can be remotely perceived as an enemy, whether they're from Iraq, Iran, Cuba, or Venezuela. Jesus and his message are no longer viable in today's world: we must retro-write the Bible to give more credibility to the God of Vengeance and Slaughter.

The response of the corporations is similar to these others: send in your underpaid or outsourced labor force after the armies of death; make whatever profits can be collected for as long as the money's there; and then vanish while you reward the executives who direct operations from a cozy boardroom with another bag of millions.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

2005: Growth Amid Desolation

I have to confess that I'm not a fan of yearend roundups (though I do like the one put together by Media Matters), so I have little to offer on behalf of Daily Rev. A few things, however, are worth noting.

At this time last year, I was doing pretty much the same thing as many people in this world: trying desperately to make sense of a natural catastrophe the likes of which no one had ever witnessed. I did what a lot of folks tried to do: help as much and in whatever way we could. I also wrote a piece called "Two Questions for a Time with No Answers", which was an effort to draw some growth-enhancing lesson out of the tsunami tragedy.

But hell, I hadn't even recovered from the election of some 7 weeks before. Still, the tsunami awoke many of us to an even greater threat to humankind than the geopolitical depredations of a petty tyrant from Crawford, TX, or the neocon hegemony that had encrusted over the Constitution and its Congressional stewards. When the Millennial Assessment was published in March, a lot of us (especially those of us raising kids) saw something more disturbing than anything coming out of Iraq, or even Darfur or South Asia: objective evidence, supported by the work of some 2,000 scientists worldwide, of an impending threat to life on Earth—to our planet's life.

Obviously, this was not a surprise; but it was a shock. What was also astonishing was the near-total silence with which this news was met in the mainstream media. Had there been half the attention paid this ominous report as the death of an old relic of a morbid church had received, the Millennial Assessment would have been the top news story of the year—as it probably should have been.

Spring brought with it more dismal and tragic news from Iraq, but something strange happened in May. Some unknown politician from the U.K. arrived in Washington to face charges that he'd soaked profit out of oil deals with Saddam Hussein, and instead of groveling before the mighty neocon Senate, he laid bare every lie about Iraq that had been told and swallowed on this side of the pond. The unflinching performance of Mr. George Galloway before the U.S. Senate was a turning point in the Iraq debate; for it was closely followed by the release of the notorious Downing Street Memo. To this very day, some seven months after its release, the explosive potential of this set of documents remains to be realized.

But once the burgeoning impeachment movement has reached a more critical mass, the full force of the DSM will be unleashed upon Washington. May it be soon in coming.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Grey Monday, or Why America is Hated

So why is America so deeply hated around the world, to a level clearly out of proportion with our overall geopolitical insolence (Iraq notwithstanding)? Are they jealous of our prosperity, or, in the words of Clueless from Crawford himself, do they hate our freedom?

Based on my non-scientific discussions with folks from other cultures and regions of this planet, both of the explanations above entirely miss the mark. What is globally hated about America and American culture is this, another example of our lust for acquisition. It doesn't matter what is acquired, and no one bothers to ask (as I recommended in my Black Friday post) whether they need anything. If it's a day for shopping, then one must shop.

Note the motivation that is revealed in this story, and then observe the objects of that accumulation-lust: "We're looking for anything on sale," said one shopper (who, sadly, had a young child with her, absorbing this cultish mania). She came away with a cocktail dress, no doubt in anticipation of the next visit from the Fairy Godmother of West Virginia. A second shopper came in search of napkin ring holders (read it--I am NOT making this up!). A third scooped up piles of cheap wrapping paper and decorations at Wal-Mart, after confessing to "a wrapping fetish."

Let me submit that if you have a fetish for wrapping, for Wal-Mart, or for napkin ring holders, you do not need to go shopping--you need to see a therapist. One year ago today, the world was reeling from a loss of human life on a scale matched in recent times only by the various genocides in Eastern Europe and Africa.

The Asian tsunami, of course, was a natural event whose toll in death and suffering was almost certainly exacerbated (as was the case with Katrina here) by institutional ignorance and human greed. Governments were ill-prepared for dealing with the consequences of an oceanic earthquake (and incredibly, they still are), and developers had rushed to destroy natural defenses (see this story for a fairly cut-and-dried analysis of the results of such actions--i.e., lots of people died where the mangrove trees had been cut down, and only a few where the mangroves still stood on the shorelines).

So, as Don Quixote's wise sidekick, Sancho Panza, told us hundreds of years ago, "greed always bursts the bag." The bag may be justice; it may be the life of a nation; or it could be the image of a mighty country and its people in the eyes of a troubled world. The lust for accumulation is not merely immoral or unseemly or impolitic: it is dangerous; it is impractical; it is, in fact, suicidal, both in the inner death it brings to the individual and in the losses it visits upon our species.

Therefore, when you feel that acquisition-compulsion rising up within you on days like this one, I would ask that you question yourself for a moment. See if you can get a clearer perspective on what you want, what you need, and the effect that may come from a shopping spree or of any impulse that is allowed an unreflective action response. Then see what lesson may lie within the impulse itself. You will probably be glad you did. For whenever we pause to ask the bigger questions of ourselves and our world, some hopeful answers begin to form. I had such an experience last year, when, in writing about the tsunami disaster, I found that it led to a clearer perspective on furthering human relationships:

Perhaps there is also an evolutionary lesson contained in these circumstances surrounding the tsunami disaster: we are being called back to a living relationship of equivalence with Nature and her creatures. Evolution is not the linear, survival-of-the-fittest, exclusionary movement from primitive-to-civilized that has often been drilled into us. No: evolution is probably more accurately conceived in that more transformative of geometric shapes, the circle. It winds through overlapping arcs and ripples of growth, none of which can be identified as definitive or superior.

Could it be that we humans are on one such arc of transformation, wherein the limitations of intellect-in-isolation are coming to be generally realized--a period of return to a broader perspective on ourselves and our planetary neighbors? For several millennia, we have pushed our forebrains naked and alone out onto the stage of life, in an ever-increasing isolation of aggrandizement and distortion, only to discover--on a deeply visceral, maybe even a genetic basis--that we can't truly survive or endure this way. Are we in the midst of an evolutionary ripple that is taking us, through the developmental shocks of crisis and tragedy, into a more intimate and equivalent relationship with Nature--with the animals and plants, rocks and soil of our world--that will lead us back from the delusion of the monarchy of intellect, toward the complete and regenerative experience of ourselves as individual threads in the eternal fabric of Being?

I do not know the answers to those questions, yet I feel deeply that if we can recover a sense of our animal nature, of our equal and living relationship with Nature, then we are very likely to find the humility that will lead us toward a renewal in all the other relationships of our lives. Such a movement of "personal evolution" will lead us out of the estrangement and inner divorce that so often poison our relationships with co-workers, spouses, lovers, and perhaps most crucial of them all, our children. I also feel that if only some of us can take that developmental step in the recovery of a feeling-awareness of our animal nature, then it will in turn contribute toward a transformation in our social structures that may help in the preservation of our planetary Home.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Baghdad Bob and Crawford George

And now, from a ranch in Texas, we bring you a statement from Crawford George:

"My fellow Americans, I come to you tonight with wonderful news. As I speak, the infidel is being routed from his insurgent lairs in Iraq. The cities of Baghdad, Fallujah, and Tikrit will be a tomb for the smoking corpses of the insurgent demons and the defilers of American democracy. At this moment, all enemies of the prophet Cheney (peace be upon him!) are lying in a barbecue pit beside Route Irish as our Marines warm their hands at the fire engulfing the roasting stomachs of the infidel. The victory over the godless has been won—praise be to the holy death squads of Jesus! I call on all faithful Americans to prostrate themselves toward Washington and pray that this great and glorious victory be blessed by the Prophet and exalted to God! We have won! God is great! America is greater! Cheney is greatest! Blessed be the prophet, and may our enemies die a thousand fiery, agonizing deaths in the sight of their grieving widows and children! Death to the villains who dare to oppose us—we have welcomed them with cruise missiles and shoes. We are hitting them from the north, east, south and west. We chase them here and they run away there. But at the end we are the people who are laying siege to them. And it is not them who are besieging us. We are in control. We embroil them, confuse them and keep them in the quagmire. They are in a state of hysteria. Losers, they thought that by killing 30,000 civilians and trying to distort the feelings of the people they would win. But they are retreating on all fronts. Their military effort is a subject of laughter throughout the world. We have won, I tell you, we have won the glorious victory over those bastards. We have killed them all...most of them."

(Thanks to for some of the language for Crawford George's speech)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Three Mediators and the Blind Mayor

Tonight, in addition to enjoying a sense of relief, I am hoping that my fellow New Yorkers are asking themselves a lot of questions. There are plenty to be asked.

Who are these three fellows who have succeeded where two of the most powerful and deeply-connected Republican leaders of our nation have failed? How have they brought relative quiet to a storm that has raged this week and cost us everything from mild annoyance to economic disruption to physical and psychological suffering (not to mention hundreds of millions of dollars per day to the general city economy, according to the otherwise clueless Mayor of this town)? Why weren't these three mediators brought in weeks or months ago to forestall this disturbance to our city's life, instead of being hauled in to sort out this mess on Tuesday, after the workers had walked off the job in disgust and desperation?

Those are just a few questions to pose as starting points; I'll bet you can think of lots more that haven't occurred to me. Now all we have for answers so far is that these three gentlemen—Richard Curreri of the State Public Employment Relations Board, and his colleagues Martin F. Scheinman and Alan R. Viani—are old pros at the business of reconciling seemingly irreconcilable parties and their differences. It also appears as if their absence from a scene that desperately called upon their talents was nothing more than the result of a truly malignant indifference on the part of a Governor who is too self-absorbed in his presidential aspirations to be bothered with attending to his current job.

We could have a lively debate about other factors in this entire situation. Many believe that the union was basically intimidated into mediation by the possibility of massive fines and even imprisonment for its leadership. I doubt that this is so: I spent many years working in the construction industry here in New York (I was even a member of a union myself for a few years), and I know that these fellows are not easily intimidated. In fact, attempts at intimidation usually make them more aggressive and intractable. As for fines, a big union like the TWU always has a war chest for such emergencies; such funds are quietly gathered during conflict-free years via membership fees and payroll checkoffs, invested, and then used to defray fines, penalties, lost wages, and other expenses during a strike. Mayor Bloomberg may, in his empty rhetoric, wish to have us believe that we are dealing here with 35,000 mindless, unschooled thugs; but I know better. These people are sharp, organized, better prepared for confrontation than many military forces or advocacy groups, and always very well funded. To attempt to intimidate such people with...well, thuggish talk, legal attacks, and other corporate bullying tactics is the mark of an amateur in the game of labor relations; and Mayor Bloomberg has displayed his rookie-league rawness in this respect time and again over the past few days.

That point made, I would add my personal opinion that the TWU made several critical mistakes throughout this negotiation and during this brief strike. They would have been far better served, I think, by allowing the holiday season to pass without incident, while calling unilaterally for mediation in as public a way as possible. Then, after the first of the year, they could, if necessary, have walked out, in either a full-blown strike such as the one we've seen these past three days or in a targeted partial action affecting key lines and services that would disrupt, but not cripple, the whole. So my quibble with them is more about strategy than with substance: these folks were protecting their income stream, just as Mayor Bloomberg has no doubt done for himself and his many companies over the years during which he amassed his billions of dollars of net worth. For the Mayor to insult and criminalize people who were attempting the same kind of economic self-preservation and advancement as he has modeled himself in his business career is, to put it charitably, disingenuous.

So let us leave them there, as we salute Mssrs. Curreri, Scheinman, and Viani—the three mediators who helped to bring this matter toward a resolution that everyone can live with. Note, by the way, a crucial tactic that these men employed in creating this atmosphere of dialog between the competing parties; for this is an insight that Bloomberg and Pataki entirely missed, in their rhetorical bloodlust for the demonization and criminalization of 35,000 workers. The mediators announced that coming talks would be held in private, with a news blackout—no warring press conferences, no competing statements or press releases. In other words, the mediators are adopting exactly the approach that I recommended the other day for Bloomberg and Pataki—shut the doors, turn off the microphones, and have the meals slid under the door until there is accord, and signatures on an agreement.

One of the marks of a good leader is the ability of self-knowledge: perceiving where you can make a positive difference in the affairs of those you are governing, and even more important, knowing where you lack the necessary skills or influence to affect constructive change. Both Pataki and Bloomberg have shown me that they are terribly weak in this crucial area of self-knowledge. A good leader would have sensed his own incapacity to manage this conflict alone; but he would also have seen the need for avoiding a public brawl of words and legal assault. He would have called on the professionals—the likes of Curreri, Scheinman, and Viani—to help him, long before this disagreement became a standoff; long before anyone would have been tempted to brand 35,000 hard-working people as "thugs" (as the Mayor did) or "rats" (as one local newspaper's headline did).

But Bloomberg and Pataki chose the way of power, the way of hatred, the way of inner violence. That was their choice; and now we have to make ours. I would recommend that tomorrow morning, before you step onto that train or bus that will take you to work again, you look the motorman, driver, or conductor in the eye, smile, and say, "it's good to see you again—welcome back." Or would you rather be driven to work by a common criminal, a brutish thug? The choice, once again, is yours to make, in your attitudes and in your actions.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

To Bill O'Reilly (and Everyone Else): A Happy Solstice

Today is the day of the winter solstice, the terrestrial event around which all these early-winter holidays formed like moss and mushrooms on a moist rockface. Hannukah, Kwaanza, Ramadan, and of course Christmas all point around or center upon the solstice; just as Easter, Passover, and the various springtime holidays focus on the period of vernal equinox.

So if you're sick and tired of Shillmas and the psychological waste that poisons this time of year, perhaps it would be a good idea to think about the meaning of the solstice—this point in the cosmic circle of being that is the core of every festival of light and harvest that we know. In the African traditions surrounding Kwaanza, this is all about the storage and equal distribution of the year's agricultural harvest; a time of rest and replenishment. Other cultures observe the solstice through fasting and meditation on the gifts of life and love, along with a quiet celebration of family and the human connection to Nature.

Before all this became papered over with cash, commercialism, and the clutter of display, it was obscured and corrupted by the monumental ideologies of religion. The poison, as with other arenas of life—government, morality, business, and even science—is in the beliefs that are projected like white phosporous onto the living body of Nature and our human place within its vast presence.

The connection with the organic cycle of natural life is emphasized in the ancient Chinese oracle, the I Ching, in its winter solstice hexagram, titled "Return". Here is the poetry of Hexagram 24, followed by the commentary by Richard Wilhelm, from his well-known translation of the I Ching:

RETURN. Success.
Going out and coming in without error.
Friends come without blame.
To and fro goes the way.
On the seventh day comes return.
It furthers one to have somewhere to go.

The time of darkness is past. The winter solstice brings the victory of light. This hexagram is linked with the eleventh month [of the lunar year], the month of the solstice (December-January)...After a time of decay comes the turning point. The light that has been banished returns. There is movement, but it is not brought about by force...the transformation of the old becomes easy. The old is discarded and the new is introduced...The idea of RETURN is based on the course of nature. The movement is cyclic, and the course completes itself. Therefore it is not necessary to hasten anything artificially. Everything comes of itself at the appointed time. This is the meaning of heaven and earth...Movement is just at its beginning; therefore it must be strengthened by rest, so that it will not be dissipated by being used prematurely. This principle, i.e., of allowing energy that is renewing itself to be reinforced by rest, applies to all similar situations. The return of health after illness, the return of understanding after an estrangement; everything must be treated tenderly and with care at the beginning, so that the return may lead to a flowering.
The I Ching, or Book of Changes, tr. Richard Wilhelm (Princeton University Press, 1950), pp. 97-98.

Every literary tradition of psychological depth and spiritual freedom celebrates this solstice consciousness in the movement of human and natural life. The ancient Egyptians observed the entombment of Osiris on December 21; to them, as to the ancient Chinese and the early Christians, it represented a time of simultaneous death and rebirth. The shortest period of daylight in the entire year has been reached, and what follows from this point all the way up to the summer solstice will be an ever increasing light, as the days become longer and the season of planting and growth approaches. Jesus is born "on a cold winter's night that was so deep," to quote the popular carol, amid material poverty and among the creatures of nature with whom he belongs as an equal. Yet the quality and veracity of his "planting season"—the teachings and insights that he will bring to the world—can be recognized even in his incipient moment of winter birth.

For a modern version of a solstice moment that contains several layers of psychological meaning, we need look no further than the massively popular Harry Potter stories of J.K. Rowling. Harry's first solstice encounter arrives in the form of a number of symbolic figures and events that enter his life during his first term at Hogwarts. In my book, The Tao of Hogwarts, I described Harry's experience this way:

Christmas break is approaching at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and Harry Potter is a cauldron of shifting and frequently aggressive emotions. He has just lived the greatest triumph of his young life—the capture of the "golden snitch" in his first competitive Quidditch game—but he is also troubled by his glowering Potions master, Professor Snape, who seems to have carried some sort of personal grudge into his relationship with Harry. There is also the increasingly annoying problem of Draco Malfoy, the school bully who is developing into Harry's personal nemesis among the student body. "I hate them both," Harry says of them, "Malfoy and Snape." Fortunately, Hagrid is there to call him back to the joy that has marked this time of renewal and discovery for Harry, ever since he had been rescued from the torpid superficiality of his oppressive boyhood home to attend this wondrous school where magic is ordinary and where his very name inspires respect.

Yet at this point, he remains trapped in a realm of oppositional thinking, where there are only friends and enemies, for and against, loyalty or hatred. Of course, this is as much as he's been exposed to at the odious home of the Dursleys, with whom he was raised. But he is now not only in the magical world, but in its educational element—he is in an academy of natural magic, where he will learn how to unlearn the ideology of opposition with which he has so far been conditioned. This is the beginning of a transformative path toward self-understanding. The way of this unlearning process will be marked by Harry's discovery of certain means of self-insight, as well as the formation of several interpersonal relationships that will teach him that, no matter what appearances may seem to dictate, evil does not always sit at the same table, conveniently marked with a large green banner decorated with a great silver snake. In the coming years, Harry will further learn that evil is not an inborn or natural trait, of either humans or the Cosmos, but that it is the apparitional mark of error—not the inherent stain left behind by some congenital inner defect. To help him through this process of inner growth, Harry will be given a number of metaphorical gifts—transformative objects, experiences, and messages—that will gradually lead him to the recovery of his original autonomy. In the first book of the Potter series, a number of these gifts will be introduced in the images of the letters from the magical world (and the owls that bring them); the marvelous train ride which becomes a part of every one of the subsequent stories; the grounds, buildings, and atmosphere of Hogwarts; the Sorcerer's (or "Philosopher's") Stone itself; and the two central metaphors of this "solstice phase" of Harry's inner development —the invisibility cloak and the Mirror of Erised.

So, to Bill O'Reilly and the other shrill, decadent ideologues of Christmas present, I would suggest that it may be time for us to think about Christmases past—long past, from before there was ever a Christmas to speak of; before Jesus was ever a gleam in his Big Daddy's eye. I would suggest that we look up to the skies and down to the earth; and finally deep within ourselves and toward one another, for the true meaning of this moment in the great cycle of Nature to dawn, to spread its cool and cleansing light. I wish this recognition for Bill O'Reilly, for George W. Bush, for Dick Cheney, and most emphatically for all who read and think with me here at Daily Revolution. Happy Solstice to you all: may the increasing light to come bring a proportionate dawning of understanding, tolerance, and peace within every single person on this beautiful and delicate planet.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Mayor Bombast Struts Bridge, Flings Feces

I watched about five minutes of Mayor Bloomberg's press conference this afternoon before I began to get faintly nauseous. He openly insulted the union, its leaders and its members; and added a few thinly veiled threats at leaders of other unions who had spoken in support of the TWU. He judged the 35,000 TWU members to be common thugs, and urged the courts to punish them to the full extent of the law.

So the NYC crime rate has gone up in one day: we have about 35,000 more criminals in town than we had yesterday. Now what would you predict might be the effect of the Mayor's vicious language this afternoon? Would those 35,000 criminals hear him, look at one another and say, "you know, he's right, we're a bunch of shameful, malicious crooks who are breaking the laws that our soldiers in Iraq are fighting and dying to defend—let's go back to work now"? (I'm not making this up—Bloomberg actually dared to make this connection: Marines in Fallujah are dying to protect and defend the Taylor Law—it would be hilarious if the mass media weren't lapping it up like warm milk).

Oh, and those journalists: what a crowd. A bunch of kittens, purring in the Mayor's hands. I heard more Jeff Gannon questions in those five minutes than I'd heard in the past six months of White House press briefings. Each of these lapdogs competed with the others in offering Bloomberg a further opportunity to sling shit at the unions and at unionism in general.

Am I alone in thinking that hurling insults at people is not the mark of leadership? Am I somehow aberrant to expect of a leader a more constructive dialog, a less divisive tone, a more active role in negotiations than that of a churlish grandstander in a pinstriped suit? What Bloomberg displayed for us today was exactly the same kind of behavior that we've seen before from the seats at Yankee Stadium whenever Pedro Martinez steps out of the opposition dugout.

If this is the sort of behavior that we expect of those we vote into office, then perhaps we shouldn't be surprised to see bodybags sneaked into this country like contraband; perhaps we shouldn't be shocked that Catholic workers' meetings are being spied upon by the CIA and FBI; perhaps we should just accept war, conflict, and international estrangement as our collective karma; perhaps we should resign ourselves to the reality that our once-independent and vigorous national economy is now the property of the Chinese government.

Mayor Bloomberg has chosen the path of hatred and opposition in dealing with a situation that calls for a leader who can shut the doors, turn off the microphones, and firmly lead two competing parties toward a reasonable consensus. But this morning, I saw clear evidence that the Mayor and his underlings have chosen to spread their hatred as far and wide as possible. Here's what happened: I had been offered a seat in a car pool, but I also had an opportunity to go to the Brooklyn Army Terminal to take the ferry boat to Manhattan. I opted for the latter, thinking it would be a contribution toward easing the congestion on the higways, and that it was actually a more environmentally-conscious choice. But when I got to the Terminal, I saw a mob of over a thousand people milling about in a snakelike, barely organized line, in 6-degree windchill, waiting for one boat that wouldn't hold a tenth part of their number. Police walking the line announced to those arriving that the wait would be around two hours, probably more; one of them joked, "the Mayor is also taking a poll to see how you folks all feel about the TWU this morning."

I watched this scene, incredulous, for a while; and then left. What I had seen was transparent enough: this was a roughly choreographed setup, intended to stir up anger and hatred against the union. And guess what—it worked. Maybe not on me, but on many residents of this city; and certainly on the mass media, who are competing to include as many anti-union man-on-the-street one-liners in their reporting as possible.

It is the consciousness, the attitudes we choose that determine our actions; and as long as we choose hatred, malignity, and the demonization of our fellows, our actions will be arrogant, malevolent, and destructive; our relationships polarized and divisive. The Mayor of a great city has chosen the way of hatred—in his attitude, his language, and his government's actions. If this is the leadership we want, then he is the leader we deserve.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Banquet of Liars (continued)

Tonight, we here in New York are scrambling to plan around a situation that has been created and defined by poor—that is, absent—planning. And once again, G.O.P. political leaders are also absent at a critical time: our Governor, the quintessentially lame George Pataki, ran away to New Hampshire to develop his 2008 presidential bid, as the situation between the MTA and the Transit Workers' Union deteriorated. New York City's Mayor, billionaire and plutocrat Mike Bloomberg—the man who sees more importance in giving away MTA property at firesale prices to his billionaire buddies for the purpose of building football stadiums (yes—football stadiums)—why he's been pitching in adroitly, delivering stern messages to the Union not to strike. Which, of course, has had exactly the effect you would predict of a whiny-mouthed, schoolmarmish order given to an already angry mass.

I always thought the G.O.P. was the party of the strong-armed, back-room-deal type of character; the leader who could step into a fray that had spun out of control and restore order through a combination of threat and emolument. Clearly, Gov. Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg were out sick when that class convened at the G.O.P. schoolhouse. These guys instead resort to blaming everything on the union and then walking away shaking their fingers.

Now I don't see a halo over anybody's head in this scenario, whether it's a union leader or the MTA's drones. These guys have all failed—failed because they ignored their own weaknesses, refused to admit their mistakes (sound familiar, W?), and showed positively zero vision, both for the disaster potential in ideological concretism and for the full range of possible solutions that lay before them. Instead, everything has once again (as in the run-up to the Iraq War) been reduced to an either-or / my-way-or-the-gridlocked-highway dichotomy.

So there will very likely be disaster, just as there was for the G.O.P. in Iraq. Hospitals will be short-staffed and critical services will be compromised or lost; hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and productivity will be sacrificed; and guess what—the potential for an actual terrorist slipping into this sea of chaos and precipitating a truly cataclysmic disaster will be ramped up by an unknown but considerable factor.

But the bottom line for the Republican leaders involved will be the same as it has been for the Bushies re. Iraq: the blame will be properly externalized, spread far from themselves, and appropriately fed to the unions, the liberal media, and the short-sightedness of previous administrations. Because when you're a Republican, it's never your fault.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

America 2005: A Banquet of Liars

Lying has become so comme il faut in our great nation today that those who tell the occasional truth seem rather odd, while those who rigorously seek out and follow the truth appear positively aberrational. For a sample of the dominant trend, we need look no further than CNN president Jon Klein's remarks on the departure of Robert Novak from his stable:

"Through the years, Bob has offered incisive analysis for much of CNN's programming, including Crossfire, The Capital Gang, Inside Politics, Evans and Novak, The Novak Zone, and Novak, Hunt and Shields. Bob has also been a valued contributor to CNN's political coverage."

Can anyone in this society of ours say what is really on his mind at any given moment? Must every announcement, every public statement, be papered in lies like some lame, last-minute Xmas gift for an unloved and distant relative?

So it was with strange relief that I read Michael Moore's piece for Rolling Stone, "The Mavericks of 2005", which included this reflection on truth-telling and the costs of departing from the cult of conformity:

As a rule, we are instructed from childhood that serious consequences shall arise if we dare to rock the boat. We learn instinctually that it is always better to go along so that we get along. To slip off the assembly line of groupthink means to risk ridicule, rejection, banishment. Being alone sucks, but being alone while you are attacked, smeared, and scorned is about the same as picking up a hot poker and jamming it in your eye. Who in their right mind would want to do that? Especially when conformity to the community offers as its reward acceptance, support, love and the chance to be comfortably numb.

I found a similar strain of insight in Lewis Lapham's column for Harper's Magazine in its January 2006 issue:

The capacity to notice the difference and the willingness to act on the observation presuppose the mind and presence of an adult—i.e., an individual whose character and moral sense is formed by his or her own thought and experience. Washington these days doesn't have much use for adults; they can't be trusted to go along with the program, play well with others, believe what they read in the newspapers. What is wanted is a quorum of dutiful children, who know that skepticism is wicked, and credulity a virtue that also stands and serves as job requirement for their successful rising in the ranks of the government and media bureaucracies. Like the anxious courtiers in feathered hats who once decorated the throne rooms of old Europe, they fit their convictions to the circumstances, borrow their sense and sensibility from the consensus present in the school dormitory or the Senate conference committee, in this year's color scheme or last week's opinion poll. If from time to time the consensus changes (the war in Iraq is good, the war in Iraq is bad), staff officers as well trained as Colonel Wilkerson in the art of devising exit strategies and politicians as willing as Senator John Kerry to change trains know that the American public would rather comfort a child than pardon a criminal or forgive a fool.

The message that Moore and Lapham are bringing inspires self-examination: they are saying that conformity is something that is drilled into us from a very early age, and that the game of compliance is played and continuously refined, virtually from our first years on the stage of reason and relationship. The belief system underlying conformity persists and reinforces itself, installing its code base of group adherence like a malignant software program on a computer's hard drive. As Lapham suggests, even in seeming dissent we are thus hard-coded into a system of programmed loyalty and group affiliation. Yet as Moore reminds us, there has been, and can be, no advancement in a society until enough people who have dispersed that program from within themselves appear and become active.

My private counseling practice is centered primarily upon allowing adults the opportunity of following the path of individualism, discovering the way clear of group adherence and the fear and guilt that it breeds within the psyche. To my mind, there is scarcely a more crucial practice of consciousness to be undertaken in this time and culture. It is the only way that we can fully return to our natural selves as individuals; it is the only way back to America—the nation that bred Jefferson, Paine, Thoreau, Anthony, Whitman, Stanton, King, and Emerson.

Just so it has a home in my mind, I call this path the way of "neo-transcendentalism." Over the coming weeks in the blog, I'll be spending some time on this motif, developing it and allowing it some room for self-expression. Drawing upon the insights of Moore and Lapham, I would start by suggesting that the neotranscendentalist spirit does not arise in society from being well-connected, publicly visible, or even artistically endowed. True dissent, the kind that moves the human race forward in understanding and freedom, arises out of a psychological tipping point of individual creativity—the sort of moment that Yeats would have called an "epiphany." Dissent that does not derive from such a source—that does not arise out of a clear center of mindfulness—is the kind of dissent that quickly spirals downward into the smoke and chaos of conflict, violence, and anarchy.

Dissent that furthers liberation and peace is the expression of one who has thoroughly and enduringly killed, within himself, the demons of war; of one who has learned in the crucible of lived experience that war is the scaly, fire-breathing beast whose black heart is conformity.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Local 404 iBOG (International Brotherhood of Geeksters)

New Yorkers, have you had enough of hearing about the impending transit strike? Well, my two cents is that there are certain people who I really want to be happy while they're doing their jobs. Airplane pilots, cab drivers, urologists, and the motorman on my subway train. If the guy driving that train I'm on needs an extra 8% in his paycheck starting next week, then I'm fine with that: after all, he's worth a lot more to me than Bloomberg.

A similar argument can also be made in the corporate realm for one's web developer, systems administrator, or QA Manager. Therefore, as an Epilogue of sorts to Geek Week at Daily Rev, we welcome our newest contributor, Nicky the Geek, who offers a modest proposal to Information Technology workers everywhere: ORGANIZE!!!

I hereby announce my candidacy for President of the United IT Workers Union. Yes, in honor of my brothers' struggle at the MTA, I have decided to unionize those who have struggled so long for their rights on their own. For all those who have worked late nights, nourished only by the Flatlanders Diet. For those whose summer tans come from fluorescent lighting. For those who have never said no to a business demand. It is for all of you that I form the Global Empire of Employed Knowledge - known informally as the Geeksters or Local 404.

As my first order of business, I will draw up a list of our demands. Should these demands not be met, we will most likely continue being the yes-men (this is politically correct, since there are no women in IT) we always have been. But we ask kindly that you meet our demands:

1. All workplaces should contain refrigerators stocked with Jolt Cola and Red Bull. This is really in your best interest, as it will help us stay awake after long nights of playing XBox and blogging.

2. All workplaces should also contain buckets of M&Ms. We need something to wash down with that Jolt. And yes, we mean buckets.

3. All workers should be equipped with the latest cellular phone, Palm Pilot, BlackBerry or Treo of their choosing. While we realize that this will allow you to contact us at any time of the night to restart the server or code a quick fix for your website, it is far outweighed by the benefit of having a cool electronic gadget to impress all the ladies.

4. All workers should be given two (2), fifteen (15) minute breaks per day - one to be taken in the morning (10AM - 2PM) and one to be taken in the afternoon (2PM - 7PM). Workers are free to use this time for any of the following preapproved activites:

Checking the news at SlashDot
Reading our friends' blogs
Browsing CNET for the latest reviews on cool electronics
Looking up secret codes for Quake 4 or Call of Duty 2
Reading Dilbert comics

Well, that's about it. We really don't want too much. We don't even demand respect. How could we? After all, we aren't that imposing with our pencil necks and pale skin. We'll just kindly imply that you should treat us nicely. We won't even threaten you with a strike. We don't really need to, since 75% of our day is already spent surfing the Web. But don't be surprised if pennies start disappearing from your financial transactions, a la Office Space. Or if your browsing habits are mysteriously posted to public forums. Or if the keywords "Spectacular Failure" cause Google to point to your resume. We have ways!

—Nicky the Geek

So, would you like to be a geek? The route to geekdom is the same as that to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice. Some of us (like me) would rather use things invented by geeks for the benefit of non-geeks as a halfway measure. But that's also why I'll always be handing over my paychecks to my landlady, with virtually nothing to spare. So if you'd like to avoid a life on my kind of treadmill, take a tip from Nicky the Geek and start working on your geek skills. Here are a few sites to visit, which come with NTG's personal recommendation.

Web Monkey This site features a number of html tutorials ranging in scope from raw beginner to advanced web gorilla geek. The site also includes a javascript library, stylesheet guides, unix lessons, design tips, and more. Spend an hour or so with Web Monkey every so often, and you'll soon be prowling the html jungle with the fluorescent sunburn crowd.
Slashdot This is the news and information site for geeks: if you want to be in the know among those with caffeinated hemoglobin, you want to make a habit out of hitting slashdot regularly. You'll know you've begun to arrive in geekdom when you can step up to a colleague at the Jolt concession and say, "didja read in slashdot about that new Firefox config trick?"
C-Net This site has a little of everything for geeks. It's one reason why geeks of today are so socially aware, far beyond the range of the stereotypes that still surround them. C-Net has the best and most informed reviews of gear, hardware, software, and gameware; tech news and insight from every possible arena of geekdom; it also has plenty of how-to, including "weekend projects" and free tutorials on everything from Dreamweaver to Wireless networking. Even if you're not a geek and do not aspire to geekdom, making an occasional visit to C-Net isn't a bad habit to get into. For a sample of exactly how topical and incisive C-Net's editors and writers can be, check out this recent piece on the Patriot Act from Declan McCullagh.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A Farewell to Geeks

Before we get to our last column on "Geek Week", I thought one point worth observing, particularly since Daily Rev has been prominently carrying the Progress Center's banner on the McCain anti-torture legislation. Now I know that many progressives are celebrating today because the Bush administration has appeared to concede the point on the McCain bill; and I would love to be able to join in the celebration.

But experience has taught me that things are often the least completed when they appear to be finished. In this culture, we seem to have a predilection for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Perhaps it will help you to know that at least we are not unique in that respect: some two and a half millennia past, Lao Tzu wrote of people who "seem to collapse in failure / At the very threshold of success." Thus, he urged equal caution and effort "at the end as at the beginning." We would do well to remember his warning.

How many times have we all heard the Bushies proclaim, "we believe in x" and then go on to act along the course of not-x (or anti-x)? Is there a single major arena of domestic or foreign policy, political and judicial appointment, or international relations where Bush and his handlers have not indulged in this compulsion of falsehood? All right, then, let's put down the party streamers and set the corks back in the champagne bottles. We must now follow the process through very closely, making sure that Congress is abiding by the original terms of the McCain legislation; that the Bushies are following up on their consent; and that there are appropriate measures and controls built into this amendment to ensure that its underlying principles are understood, followed, and where necessary, enforced. Once that is done, I'll be ready to party.


Geek Week has been a sort of a private celebration in its own way for me: I've had a longstanding love affair with technology, even though (like many lovers) it has frequently disappointed or even crushed me. I recall thinking when email became popular: "wow, this is revolutionary—it's going to revive the lost art of letter writing; people will learn to write clearly, to love the written word once more, and it will open a fresh vein of communication among the human race."

Boy, was I wrong about that: today, we live in a world of smiley-cons and asinine acronymic expressions TNCFFO (that nobody can fucking figure out). In corporate America, I can report from the trenches of lived experience that email is used as a weapon, as CYA material, and as the replacement for real human contact or a truly professional spirit of negotiation and interaction.

I had the same hope for other developments in technology over the years—for everything from word processing to grammar-checking software to the Gutenberg Project to the world wide web itself, and finally, of course, to the blogosphere. The promise of these inventions has been largely diluted by hacks and opportunists who saw in them profit or fame, but not the potential for human development.

But that potential cannot be throughly repressed, and it will never be destroyed. People and organizations like have made email into a community experience that helps further progress; the blogosphere has fostered creative spirits and given them a forum for free expression; and the Open Source software model contains the promise of rejuvenating, through technology, the spirit of democracy. What if we all had the chance to truly contribute to the formation of new legislation or the selection of political candidates, in the same way that we can help build a knowledge base in Wikipedia or a template library in OpenOffice? What if law were as accessible and as free as Linux and Firefox?

The fact is that it is not. As a friend of mine said to someone who asked him what he had learned in law school, "the law is closed to all but insiders—it is a club—exclusive, insular, and secret." To that I would add, "expensive": the law is for the rich; only they can afford its surest protection, its nearest access, its best advantages. To any who doubt this, I would recommend taking a walk along any death row in any American prison. Come back and tell me who you find there, and who you do not.

My personal romance with tech derives in part from the profession that I have fallen into, which is in the IT arena. I am not a geek, but rather a sort of assistant to geeks: I help to plan the course of their projects, check their code, and point out the errors that need correcting as the successive phases of development run their course. I also try to support and encourage them: developing application code and implementing it into a functional product that end-users can work with (and sometimes even enjoy) is far from an effortless or stress-free process. It is also, in this country, rarely a secure profession: geeks are the nomads of corporate America. Most of them are consultants, and many do not last a year in any single assignment, with any particular employer.

Still more of them are those political hot potatoes of our national debate: the agents of outsourcing. I work with the people of India every day; I have met many of them through an exchange program of sorts that my employer has, through which our Indian colleagues spend three or six month rotations "onshore" with us. I have the greatest respect and affection for virtually all of those whom I have met and collaborated with professionally. They are tireless workers, devoted students of their profession, good-humored companions, intelligent and skillful geeks, and loyal friends. They do not adhere to the culture of conflict, opportunism, and inner violence that characterizes the backstabbing, ladder-climbing, competitive corporate culture of America. Yet they quietly endure it all, and modestly laugh at our mud-slinging, position-taking, credit-grabbing behavior. And I laugh with them, because, as we know, the only alternative is to scream.

On this point, I admit to a certain ambivalence: I wish, work, and vote for the improvement of working opportunities and conditions for all Americans, and I mourn the fact that we as a culture have sacrificed our unique national genius for invention and progress to other cultures for whom our economic model does not truly work. And still, I admire the land of Ganesh and Gandhi (though I have never been there); and I love its gentle and intelligent people.

Technology has taught me that it is not our invention or our machines that have caused us to separate from our natural humanity; it is rather our institutions that throw us backward into a regressive medievalism. The individual is the true gateway to the universal; but somewhere along the way, people began to imagine that it was the other way around—that an individual can only find meaning amid the absorption of a collective. This is one thing I feel we have to correct in our culture.

Technology is more about relationships than you might suspect; in fact, it is primarily about relationships. As I sometimes remind the geeks I work with, this goes way beyond what I call the binary treadmill: anyone who tells a geek that their work is all about zeroes and ones and nothing besides must be thrown out the window of the psyche. The voice that says that technology is all about the manipulation of machines must be firmly silenced.

For what is the purpose of zero without one (and what else may lie beyond their boundaries, still unperceived by consciousness and science)? What is the point of hardware without software? Can your heart beat with only one ventricle? Can you breathe deeply and fully with only one lung? Is the left side of your brain more important than the right?

Thus, these things are not opposites, but complements. Opposition is a delusion—the fable of psychotic old men in musty covered books with sawdust pages. Opposition is a lie; and too often, technology is used as the unwilling mouthpiece to that lie. Therefore, we will close Geek Week with a parable on this very topic, which was passed to me at the office today by one of my geek pals.

Once upon a time there was a shepherd looking after his sheep on the side of a deserted road. Suddenly a brand new Porsche screeches to a halt.

The driver, a man dressed in an Armani suit, Ray-Ban sunglasses, TAG-Heuer wrist-watch, and a Pierre Cardin tie, gets out and asks the Shepherd: "If I can tell you how many sheep you have, will you give me one of them?"

The shepherd looks at the young man, and then looks at the large flock of grazing sheep and replies: "Okay."

The young man parks the car, connects his laptop to the mobile-fax, scans the ground using his GPS, opens a database and 20 Excel tables filled with logarithms and pivot tables, then prints out a 50 page report on his high-tech mini-printer. He turns to the shepherd and says, "You have exactly 1,586 sheep here."

The shepherd cheers," That's correct, you can have your sheep."

The young man makes his pick and puts it in the back of his Porsche.

The shepherd looks at him and asks: "If I guess your profession, will you return my animal to me?"

The young man answers, "Yes, why not". The shepherd says, "You are an IT consultant ".

"How did you know?" asks the young man.

"Very simple," answers the shepherd. "First, you came here without being called. Second, you charged me a fee to tell me something which I already knew, and third, you don't understand anything about my business... Now can I have my dog back?"

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Bliss and Pain in CEO Land: the $100 Laptop

Well, the economic news is ambivalent: the trade deficit has hit an all-time record (as we sort of predicted it would here, last week); but CEOs are "upbeat for 2006."

Damn, I'd be upbeat too if I was making a few million a year already and saw nothing but roses ahead of me, whether my work booms or busts. You see, in corporate America today, success and failure are not very crucial factors anymore—perhaps this is one reason why our economy is basically owned by the Chinese. Indeed, if you're a CEO of a big or even mid-sized corporation, your fortune is assured, no matter how badly you fuck things up, and no matter how many people suffer from your incompetence, arrogance, laziness, complacency, and depredation. If the company fails—and even if you should be found to be in violation of certain laws—the golden parachute is there, waiting to be strapped on and the rip cord pulled to ensure a gentle, lucrative descent. And we haven't even gotten to the part about the book deal, post-retirement consulting, government work, and the lecture circuit. Most of these guys make more in a couple of meet-and-greet roasts or golf club appearances than the rest of us can earn in a full year of 50 hour workweeks.

So things are looking up for the CEOs, thank God. Sure, there are people in New Orleans sleeping on the street now, who had houses to live in this past August; maybe there's 50,000 or so auto workers being put out of work this month; and the residents of the greatest city on the planet are facing a cold and painful walk to work this Friday, all because a union of transit workers is being denied a 6 per cent pay raise. But goddam, things sure are looking pretty cool if you're a CEO. In fact, the horizon couldn't possibly be brighter: Congress has just passed yet another tax cut for the mega-wealthy; the new Defense bill is being loaded with a fresh cut of corpo-friendly pork; annoying environmental protections are continuing to be trashed by the neocon swindlers; and, as every CEO knows, you can fail and still be rewarded in this great land of ours. In fact, the more you fail, the more you are rewarded! God Bless America.

But, sadly, there is some cause for concern—a wrinkle on the otherwise smooth and glowing corporate brow. It has to do with another of those annoying intrusions of corporate bliss from those damned geeks. These technology people just don't understand wealth, and so they constantly screw things up with their head-in-the-sky ideas about making the world a better place for everyone.

This time it's the $100 PC that you may have heard or read about recently. It was developed by MIT with sponsorship from AMD, Google, and a few other tech firms, and its goal is to give kids from all cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds a chance at experiencing the learning, fun, and growth potential in technology. But the execs at Quanta Corp., which "won" the bidding for manufacturing these machines, are strangely out of sorts over their new contract.

Well, it seems as if what's causing all the discomfort is the rather thin profit margins involved. CEOs like fat profit margins, you see. Their needs are pretty simple, bless their hearts: let me have all the money and make my own overhead razor-thin. Oh, and the less work I have to do for it, the better. I call this the Jack Abramoff Principle, though Jack is hardly its originator (he's more like its prime contemporary spokesperson). So when they're called on to sacrifice some of their preferred monetary fat for the sake of social equity and the betterment of children, why suddenly they become worried and tentative. What will the stockholders think? How will this look in the media? Will my bonus or my stock options be affected? Can the foreign labor force take yet another pay cut, say from fifty cents an hour to thirty?

So why, you may ask, did Quanta bid for this project? Ah, there's the rub, the complexity that causes modern CEOs to frown: taking on such work calls for the least-favored quality in a CEO of today. It is known as vision—the capacity to accept a temporary shortfall for the sake of future gain. This virtue is not very well tolerated by shareholders and Sunday morning financial analysts on the big media networks: Brit Hume is not a proponent of corporate vision.

So give Quanta the credit it's due: as the FT article reveals, "privately executives say as a contract manufacturer, Quanta has to make sure it is “in the loop” in case the commercial version is indeed launched in the future."

In other words, "we or someone else might be making some real money on these babies someday, so we'd better be in it now, when everyone else is taking a step back." Still, vision is not a warm and fuzzy sensation for most CEOs today. I wish I could say I feel sorry for them, the poor dears. Somehow, I wager, they will survive.

Incidentally, I would encourage you to read the MIT description of the purpose and technology behind the $100 laptop, if you haven't already clicked on the link above. I especially liked the comparison between the $100 laptop project and existing commercial laptops, under the heading, "How is it possible to get the cost so low?"

∆ First, by dramatically lowering the cost of the display. The first-generation machine will have a novel, dual-mode display that represents improvements to the LCD displays commonly found in inexpensive DVD players. These displays can be used in high-resolution black and white in bright sunlight—all at a cost of approximately $35.
∆ Second, we will get the fat out of the systems. Today's laptops have become obese. Two-thirds of their software is used to manage the other third, which mostly does the same functions nine different ways.
∆ Third, we will market the laptops in very large numbers (millions), directly to ministries of education, which can distribute them like textbooks.

"Two-thirds of the software is used to manage the other third": now, what software would they possibly have had in mind there? Hint: the $100 laptop is Linux-based.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Gear for Non-Geeks (Like Me)

I'll be having a tech review column appearing in the online version of Rise! Magazine, here, starting in January. The editor tells me that Rise is a mag designed for the college audience, so there's a premium on the practical, the entertaining, and most of all, the cheap in toys, technology, and party links. So I gave them a piece on getting the most of the gadgetry that's out there without spending megabucks. I focused on things like wi-fi connectivity, which is the next big wave in the online universe: Google's giving it away in San Francisco, and the city government is doing the same in Philly. Wi-fi will do to dialup what the cell phone did to the public telephone booth. On my wintel box, I have an external wifi modem connected via a plain old USB port: plug it in, load the drivers, then just move it around like a pair of rabbit ears on a TV set until you've caught a hotspot. I get consistent 48 to 54 mbps (DSL speed) connections with no ISP, no hassle, and most important, no cost!

Mind you, even if wi-fi makes dialup obsolete, it won't do the same to cable. My iMac is connected to a cable modem, and that's where I do my high-power online stuff such as site uploads and application/multimedia downloads. For college kids, wifi will be the connectivity of choice on campus, while cable will always be there at Mom and/or Dad's place during vacations.

We're calling this week's set of posts "Geek Week," but let's face it: geeks are, of course, a relative minority in our culture. I'm talking about the pros, guys who write code and configure complex server/client structures that require some major cranial muscle to manage. The rest of us, young and otherwise, get by with what tech knowledge we soak up via necessity (struggling through Windows "ignorance bases" as I call them, and fighting OS crashes and hardware device conflicts) or by the magnetism of interest (many folks learn their way around a computing environment simply through gaming). For many more of us, computers are a part of our work: the better we understand them, the easier it is to find and keep a job.

What I have learned about technology derives from what I have learned about nature, animals, and relationships with people: you tend to get back from them what you put in. I try and develop a relationship with my tech gear, because I know that these things are not mere passive, dead recipients of human projections, but active forms of consciousness. Now before you brand me a nut case and walk away, think for a moment about how you've felt about a car, a house, a favorite dress; or how sailors will relate to a floating hunk of metal and give it a female identity, even a name. Treat the objects of your life with respect, and you will find yourself fighting far less often with "blue screens of death" and other nightmares of mechanical life.

If you still think I'm some tree-hugging lunatic for thinking this way, test it for yourself before you close the matter within yourself. Spend a day treating your computer like a dead piece of plastic and silicon—even curse it out or slap it around if you want. Then go to it another day (or more) and treat it like a sailor treats his ship: clean it and give it a name of honor; then communicate with it (no, you don't have to talk to it, just silently ask it to help you with your work, your writing, your web browsing, whatever..., and then thank it once in a while for helping you out). See if you notice a difference in how the machine responds. If you do, now imagine that if it works for a computer, how about doing the same thing in your human relationships at home, at work, and even at the bar on Saturday night? There is nothing that advances the cause of humanity like a little humility; nothing that furthers the progress of your life's course like an omnidirectional attitude of respect for people, things, nature, and the earth.

Every so often, I'll hear someone at work say that IT is all about zeroes and ones, on and off—that there's nothing more to it all than that. My answer is that yes, the rules that the technology contains (which we humans wrote) are limited to that at this point in history (keep in mind that the computer is only about a half century old); but the flow of consciousness between brain and machine is rather more diverse and multi-faceted than that "zero and one" dichotomy.

My experience in working professionally with geeks is that the most successful ones understand and respect this principle. The guys in the trenches, who work on a daily basis with the hardware and software, will most readily respond to these kinds of observations; while the managers and other bosses tend to view technology as a collection of dumb, mute, slave-objects that must be beaten and trained into submission through the force of corporate manipulation. Funny thing: that's exactly how they tend to treat people, too.

Of course, when it comes to technology, part of nurturing that attitude of respect and cooperation between man and machine is to accommodate the gear you have to the person that you are. That involves self-knowledge and also some savvy in navigating the technology marketplace. Let's say you're not the computer hobbyist type, and you're certainly not a geek, or even a geek-wannabee. Let's say you just need a basic technology setup to help manage your life and keep you modestly entertained once in a while. Here are a few recommendations on gear for the non-geek:

-A Mac is better than Win-Dell. You want your computer to be something you turn on and perform basic functions for you: email, Internet browsing, household accounting, gaming, simple multimedia entertainment. You don't want to be solving puzzles involving drivers, configuration settings, and registry entries. If that's you, then spend a little extra on a Mac. Even if you lay out more cash than you would on a $200 Wal-Mart wintel box, you'll profit in the long run. Isn't your time worth anything? Of course it is. Well, if you've ever spent most of a weekend fighting to get a wintel box back in order after a spyware attack or a system meltdown, just count the hours and multiply by your hourly rate at work. Add that to the original cost of the computer, and then you'll begin to see why I recommend the Mac and its no-hassle, low-maintenance profile of reliability and performance.
-Get out of the dialup world. Go cable, DSL, or wi-fi, and you'll never regret dropping out of dialup. The savings in time, frustration, and money cannot be overestimated, especially if you like to download games and view multimedia online. This is now a no-brainer, given the low cost and ease of use of wi-fi and DSL.
-Don't try to learn HTML in a weekend. Too many people delve into the technical minutiae of geekdom without any idea of what they're getting into—I see this at work all the time. If you want to build a website for yourself, there are options beyond trying to write HTML cold out of a book or spending $400 on Dreamweaver and getting lost in its labyrinthine layers of features. If you have a Mac, the choice is simple: Freeway, a graphical html editor from Softpress is a marvelous program for the non-geek who would like to build a website without geekery. For a sample of Freeway's prowess and potential, see my I Ching Counseling website, which I built entirely within Freeway. Another Mac option is a .mac account, which costs about $100 a year and provides email, a personal website with templates, 1GB of storage, and bundled backup and antivirus software. For the Wintel crowd, there are even more options, ranging from Netscape's venerable Composer, to lots of simple, cheap web editors, to the "EasyWeb" applications built into many website hosting plans. Even geeks are often daunted by the proliferation and complexity of today's online languages and scripts; most confine themselves to a particular area of specialization, such as html, javascript, or xml. The rest of us should seek out options that complement our abilities and experience (or lack thereof). I'm not discouraging anyone from trying to learn some markup or programming; but just do it in a relaxed and orderly fashion—don't attempt to master this kind of stuff while you're trying to post the family scrapbook over a few web pages.
Use external hardware when possible. Going into the guts of a PC can be like trying to fix a car's engine: it can make more of a mess than it's worth, and you often wind up with a machine that won't take you anywhere, except to an ayslum. And it voids the warranty, which is never a good thing. If you need a new hard drive, get an external device that simply plugs into a USB or Firewire port on your PC and sets itself up without your having to mess around with jumper settings and partitions. Sweat the details at work; otherwise, let it be plug 'n' play.
-When you're online, use common sense. I'm no fan of Microsoft (I think I've made that clear by now), but the fact is that poor old $50 billion Bill gets blamed for somewhat more than he deserves. He can't keep you from going onto those websites that send spyware onto your hard drive; he can't keep you from hitting the links or opening the email attachments that contain virus code; and he can't force you to read the dialog box pop-up windows with their warnings and other information (which most people simply click OK to without glancing at a single word on them). So go to sites that you know are solid, and remember one rule, which I call the Whorehouse Principle: if it flashes or talks seductively to you, it probably is luring you someplace you won't want to be.
-Blog responsibly. This is a related point to the above: if you would like to have a blog, you must first have a message, or at least an idea of what you'd like to post. Start simple, and don't load yourself down with useless software. Use, livejournal, or one of the other popular and safe blogging interfaces online. Don't try to replicate Daily Kos in your early efforts.
-Keep your gear simple, organized, and neat. Most of us can get along just fine with a computer, a wifi or cable modem, a printer or all-in-one device, maybe a backup external drive, basic software for productivity, gaming, and learning, and the necessary peripherals (keyboard, mouse, display). Maybe you'll want a digital camera or videocam and an ipod, and perhaps an adapter cable for your cellphone or Blackberry. The advertisers will want you to think about adding all kinds of toys and gear to "make your life simpler"—but the effect of over-technifying your life tends to be just the opposite of simplicity. When you bury yourself under an avalanche of tech gear, you become like the old lady with the tiny garden filled with decorations, fountains, sculptures, and god knows what other repulsive junk. All that stuff does is prevent you from enjoying the plants and flowers that are supposed to be what a garden is about, after all. A profusion of gear becomes just such a jumble. Remember the etymology of "technology" that we discussed yesterday: it's about techne, the skill, art, or craft that is put to practical use. Good art is simple and well-ordered; its elegance is usually related to its directness and unforced, natural organization. The same principle applies to your tech life. You'll get a lot more enjoyment out of a few things that work well and easily together than from a profusion of expensive junk that eats up system resources and demands constant, high maintenance.
-And remember, always keep a place in your computing environment for your pet.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Panther on a PC? The Time May Arrive

When I originally thought of having a "Geek Week" feature at Daily Rev, I figured it would be a nice break from the grind of the news and the painful throb of political corruption. Was I ever wrong.

Technology is all over the news, especially at this time of year. It's very prominent in the business section; gets plenty of press in the political arena; and there is even the occasional scandal involving tech.

Like today, the day after I had written a panegyric on the open source software model, noting Wikipedia as a prime example of the promise that open sourcing holds for government and society as a whole, as well as technology. It appears some nebish (who probably knows nothing about technology or open source software) has broken the honor code of Wikipedia and written some slander into an online article at Wiki about the Kennedy assassination. He's been exposed and, to his minimal credit, has apologized for his act ( many so-called journalists in the mainstream media might take a cue from that?).

So, in spite of the fact that the air is full of noise today about killing Wikipedia, I find myself more in its court than ever. I will not, of course, defend the moron that wrote lies into a Wiki article, anymore than I'd defend Judith Miller for re-hashing the Bushies' lies about Iraq in the New York Times.

But the question that occurred to me is not, "how was this allowed to happen?" but rather, "isn't it amazing that this is the first documented instance of such an egregious error in an open source encyclopedia, when there is the most wretched falsehood and the most devious spin published in the most celebrated newspapers and magazines of our culture every single day?"

I consult Wikipedia quite regularly, often on things that I know a fair bit about myself, and I'm often astonished at the accuracy, depth, and articulation of the work there. So before you join in on the feeding frenzy of umbrage currently raging among the pundits of the mainstream media over Wikipedia's bad apple, I'd suggest that you recall the words of the guy who looks like Mel Gibson, even at the age of 2005: "let him who is without sin cast the first stone."

(End of editorial--we now return you to your regularly scheduled Geek Week feature)

Technology: the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes. The definition often gets lost amid the culture that surrounds it, and the gear, toys, and aura that have become associated with technology. The word itself is of ancient Greek origin, from the word "techne," meaning, "skill, art, craft." Aristotle first used the compound term in his Rhetorics: technologia, to him, was a systematization of rules and formulae to assist in the articulation of thought and argument.

So a technology is a system, an interactive and synergistic ordering of parts whose collective relationships add up to a whole greater than their sum. Such a system is meant to serve practical purposes that help people think, act, organize, communicate, and record information. These purposes, when properly fulfilled, tend to move the human race forward. So why do we see hackers, virus writers, spyware geeks, and zombie gamers appearing to dominate the landscape of technology?

Perhaps the first point to be made in this respect is that hackers are present and probably more ubiquitous in other fields of endeavor beyond technology. The government of the United States of America is currently run by a band of the most reckless and avaricious political hackers imaginable. There are religious virus writers in abundance today, led by the scheming, predatory toad in the pointed hat in the Vatican, appropriately named Mr. Ratsinger (closely followed by Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and a host of other demons in purple robes). And spyware is nothing new to this culture of ours—technology has simply given it a name and a unique forum in which to operate. If you want to see the original spyware/adware/malware in action, just turn on your TV set and watch a few of the commercials: that's been going on for over half a century. Returning to government, if Karl Rove is not the king of malware, then I'm ready to listen to anyone else's nomination.

So technology did not invent corruption; it simply gave it a new and popular place to fester. Fortunately, the PC and the web are still very young—I am always amused to hear people talk about Windows 3.1 as if it were something out of an ancient history tome, whereas it was released barely 20 years ago! And as we pointed out yesterday, there is still a vast potential of youthful enthusiasm and invention in technology that is largely absent in politics, spirituality, and other, more wrinkled arenas of our culture. Thus, it is the web and the blogosphere that have helped to keep what remains of democratic debate in our society alive.

The point is that a system is only as good as its components and their mutual relationships. Here in my apartment, I have two computers: an "old" Apple iMac (the beautiful dome-shaped iMac that preceded the current sleek models which house computer and display in one slim unit), and a Gateway machine with a P4 processor running Windows XP. Both are solid, well-constructed machines in terms of pure hardware; but they vary considerably when it comes to how they work. Software is the functional heart of a computer (or, for that matter, any system, including the human brain); so when it comes to the kind of synergistic relationship that we look for among the components of a good system, I find that the Apple machine wins hands down.

Why? Well, Apple has a distinct advantage: they make both the hardware and the core software of every machine they sell. A Wintel box might be made by any of a hundred or more different manufacturers, while the heart of its software, of course, comes from Redmond, Washington, home of Microsoft.

When I come home from work each night, I turn them both on and let them warm up. The iMac boots, loads my email client, opens a couple of other programs I use frequently, and fetches the day's mail, all in about two minutes. The Gateway boots and comes to a sign-on screen, in about the same time. Once it's logged in, it usually has to download some patches and security updates before it will allow me to move on and start working.

The iMac, it must be admitted, is not much of a tinkerer's delight: even if I wanted to add components or futz around with the software guts of the thing, it's kind of hard to turn a dome-shaped machine upside down and tinker; and unless you're a UNIX geek, playing around with the software can be downright dangerous. But fortunately, it never needs tweaking or fixing: at two and a half years old, it is just as snappy and responsive as it was at two weeks. It's been through every version and upgrade of Mac OS X to date: Jaguar, Panther, and now Tiger. I have never had a problem with updates. The virus software (yes, I have it) is the Maytag repairman of the techno-world: it never has anything to do.

The Gateway, on the other hand, requires constant maintenance and support. I remember that I once wrote a blog entry titled "What if Elevators Worked Like Windows XP?", which got quite a response from the geeks I know at work. Well, the fact is that if the world was so organized, people would either be very healthy or else there would be no skyscrapers left in our cities. The common wintel box is constantly bumping up against hardware conflicts, device failures (usually due to software drivers), viruses, spyware, and an assortment of other unexplainable maladies. Keep in mind that Microsoft has, to my knowledge, never made a computer in its history; while Apple has made them—along with the operating systems that run on them—for 25 years running.

So, if you're looking for a computer this Christmas (20 more FOX-O'Reilly points for me—no "happy holidays" here), you need to first decide what you like to do with such a machine. Would you like to put a foot on the path of geek-dom and learn about device driver settings, registry entries, BIOS conflicts, and configuration settings? Then go and get a Dell or any of the other popular wintel machines; and I hope you have plenty of time on your hands. Would you like a machine that is reliable, elegant, versatile, compatible (in terms of file sharing, especially with the advent of windows-friendly Tiger) with most other platforms and software while also impervious to the viruses and malware of its competitors—something you can turn on and get to work or play without having to download patches and updates first? Then Apple's your choice.

With that selection made, you may be wondering, "desktop or laptop?" My advice: unless you're looking for a loaded machine with the power to serve as a media center, gaming station, video, music, or photography studio, or web server, look to a laptop. There's nothing like being able to take it with you, wherever you go. If you're leaning that way, the choice of brands is fairly simple: Toshiba or the Thinkpad for the wintel crowd; the iBook or Powerbook for the Mac-o-philes. In either case, go for as many features as your wallet can stand. The most important are a solid processor (Intel or AMD for wintel—avoid budget "Celeron" type processors if possible; the clock speed is less important than the total hardware environment the processor is running within, but 1GHz or better, P4 wintel or G4 Mac is a good minimum standard); RAM (512MB minimum; 1GB preferred); both CD-RW and DVD-RW drives (the ability to read and write to both CDs and DVDs—the Apple machines come with the "Superdrive" which does it all); lots of storage on a fast, 5400 or 7200 rpm hard disk (60GB minimum for laptops; 100GB for desktops—the more the merrier); a snappy video card with at least 64MB of VRAM; a good sound card or chipset is important, especially in the iTunes/iPod era; and a display that's both appealing and functional for screen size and weight (I still have a CRT—the old tube-type displays—connected to my Gateway, but obviously a plasma/LCD display is preferable unless, like me, your cat needs a warm place to lie down).

If you go with a wintel box, I can't stress enough the importance of a top-flight security software suite. I recommend Trend Micro's PC-Cillin, which I use on the Gateway. Don't even think of connecting a wintel box to the web before you have fully installed a working version of security/anit-virus software. Mac users, for now you can just plug in the machine and go; but don't imagine that your bliss will be long lasting, for with the arrival of Apple's Intel-laden machines next year (maybe as early as January '06), hackers and virus writers will be busy coding bugs and worms for the Mac universe, especially if Apple takes a solid bite out of the Win-Dell market hegemony.

Tomorrow, we'll consider trends in the online universe, and later this week we'll have a visit from a real geek to talk about what's coming (and not) in 2006.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Introduction to Geek Week: Through the Security Gates

Technology is, and has long been, a fundamentally grassroots phenomenon. Wozniak and Jobs, Dell, and many of the other characters who brought us the machines and software that we work and play on every day, began this transformation of society not in corporate boardrooms but in college dormitories or backyard garages. Ebay—that online auction house where you can sell an old grilled cheese sandwich for 60 grand—is still, for all its wealth, merely an online version of an old-fashioned swap meet.

So perhaps this story should come as no surprise. I needed an operating system for an old wintel box that I'd gotten from my buddy and co-worker Nick the Geek, and so I went to ebay to find a way to avoid paying the $200 retail price of MS XP. I found what I was looking for: a number of vendors were selling it for under $80 (including shipping)—less than half of retail! So I ordered a copy, and the photo above shows exactly what I got.

Well, I spent quite a while puzzling over what the hell the wire was for. It looked like a power cord to an internal cd or floppy disk drive—what in the name of the Redmond Devil did I want that for, when all I had bought was a copy of XP? I finally had a look back at the ebay listing, to see whether I'd missed something meaningful there. Here's what I found (just click the graphic to enlarge):

Well, that explained everything (in case you can't read it off the graphic, the message reads "The software is new sealed OEM bundled with "AS-IS" non-peripheral hardware to comply with Microsoft and eBay OEM regulations."). Now I believe "OEM" stands for "Original Equipment Manufacturer"; and thus, OEM software is supposed to be sold in or with original equipment—i.e., hardware. You know, a computer or other device that runs or contains software.

So this is how you keep Bill Gates' lawyers at bay so you can sell his software on ebay: tape a piece of "non-peripheral hardware" to the disk so you can say that you sold it with "original equipment." This also explains, incidentally, why Gates is worth $50 billion—these folks on ebay are cutting a profit too, selling his software at 60% off retail. The robbery performed by Microsoft is the same as that favored by the pharmaceutical companies: mark up the retail price on your hottest selling item by a factor of a hundred over cost, and then claim that you're spending the mutant profits on "research." If I followed the same principle, my $12 book would be going for $700 a copy so I'd have funds to "research" my next one.

I found this experience to be a kind of living parable on the type of culture that underlies the PC, the world wide web, the blogosphere, and all the grassroots e-commerce that computers and the Internet have engendered, from amazon to ebay to Froogle to the slimy underbelly of the web that's known as spam, spyware, adware, and a number of other terms that we shouldn't repeat in polite blog-ciety.

Another feature of this grassroots culture is what I call the Open Source Society, and, as I have written elsewhere, it is a model that we would do well to follow in our corporations and governmental institutions. The salient representatives of this open source model are Mozilla, whose Firefox web browser has eaten up nearly a fifth of Microsoft's market share in that arena in a little over a year; WordPress, the vibrant open-source blogging software/community; Mambo, a content management system that beats the pinstriped slacks off many corporate CMS applications; Wikipedia, the online, self-correcting encyclopedia written over an open forum; and the various flavors of the Linux operating system for PCs—most notably, Ubuntu.

The open source model has become so successful that it's drawn the attention of the biggest and baddest giants of the corporate realm. A few weeks ago, Sun and Google announced a partnership that many have concluded will lead to a Google-sponsored development of Sun's OpenOffice application, an open source office suite. If this does indeed happen and it's half as successful as Google's other inventions, purchases, and collaborations, then MS Office will finally have some serious competition.

So geeks and geekdom are no longer the sun-starved, weedy, four-eyed insects that popular culture has imagined them to be. The word itself, at least among IT cognoscenti, is now an honorific: you become a geek by knowing at least one or two computer languages or by showing the ability to construct an actual working piece of OEM hardware out of a vast collection of the kinds of parts that shipped with my XP disk.

Now I am very fortunate to work among geeks, though I do not rate inclusion in their fraternity (unfortunately, most of them, in this country, at least, are men—this is something we need to correct in the next generation). My experience has been that they are an extraorinarily sophisticated, intelligent, and generous people. If they weren't, this blog would probably not be where it is now—I get help from them continually in fixing problems, navigating technical arcana such as configuration settings, and learning about the shape of the technology horizon.

This week, we'll focus on that last area—the layout of the dizzingly ephemeral landscape of technological change and development, in both hardware and software; amid the realms of toys, gear, games, productivity enhancers (and inhibitors), and plain old cool stuff. We'll also have occasion to consider the personal and cultural meaning of the information age—both the delights and the challenges that arise from all the things that geeks have brought us, and continue to bring into the world. We will look back at the past year of the blogging explosion, the further expansion of wireless networks and devices, the entrance of dual core processors onto the silicon stage, and the omnipresence of those white earbuds in heads all around the world.

So if you're trying to decide whether to buy an iMac now or wait till Apple lets loose its first Intel-equipped machines; if you're curious about what Vista and IE 7 will look and work like; if you're burning to know how to get your website rocketed to the first page of Google search results; or if you need to know how to squeeze every episode of The Sopranos onto a video iPod; then perhaps you may not find all your answers here (though we will have quite a few). But if you suspect that we as a people are more connected but less in communication than ever before in the history of mankind; if you're a parent who fears that we're about to be overrun by a new generation of xbox-PS2-gameboy zomboids; if you're a corporate worker who takes his Blackberry to the toilet with him; if you fear the zotob worm more than the bird flu—and you want to try and make some sense out of it all—then perhaps you may benefit from reading along with us this week, and adding your comments and suggestions. Let Geek Week begin...