Saturday, April 29, 2006

Life March

It was beautiful in a way that probably no writer could adequately describe—simply a "you had to be there" kind of moment. It was like being at a massive family picnic...with an attitude.

The event, of course, was Saturday's march here in New York City. Tens of thousands of us were there, but the numbers don't matter (the principal organizer, UFPJ, estimated 300,000; the NYPD said it was less than that but wouldn't guess by how much). It was the energy of this event that made it what it was.

Above all, it was an outlet for the voice of the natural family. Old people, young people, middle aged people, parents pushing strollers and other folks pushing wheelchairs; teens and pre-teens chanting their revulsion at the prospect of a poisoned world at war being handed down to them; veterans and teachers and farmers and revolutionaries and student groups and communists and liberals and Republicans and churches and synagogues and women's groups—they were all there, walking together through lower Manhattan, filling the air with the noise of dissent—the shimmering notes of democracy.

They walked underneath the slogans and advertising marquees of this capital of corporate America—Citibank, McDonalds, Chase Manhattan—with their own slogans, their own signs. Since the mainstream media has utterly failed to adequately present the imagination and diversity of these, I'll offer my own selection.

"I thought the AntiChrist was supposed to be charming and intelligent" (over a pic of Bush in one of his freqent gaping, dumbstruck moments)
"Our tax dollars are not venture capital"
"Regime change begins at home"
"Would someone please give him a blowjob so we can impeach him?"
"Books, not bombs"
"Our blood—his oil"
"Today we march—tomorrow we vote"

I met people from Wisconsin, Ohio, and every state in New England and the Northeast. Obviously, I encountered an infinitesimal fraction of the people and groups involved (to get an idea of the scope of this march, view the list of endorsers). This march was the organizational work of ten major groups, and the timing, order, and flow of this event revealed a marvel of planning that any corporate executive would admire. United For Peace, Rainbow/PUSH, Friends of the Earth, and the other major organizers of this event—take a bow, all of you. You deserve the thanks of every person in this republic who still believes that dissent is, as Howard Zinn once observed, the highest form of patriotism.

But the unity, the deep, univocal consensus that brought these tens of thousands of diverse voices together as one, came not from any organizing body or institutional force. It came from something that we might give one of any number of names, none of which quite encompasses its strength and beauty. It came from a light that we each equally, though uniquely, carry within us—whether we're at the front of the march with the celebs (Jessie Jackson, Susan Sarandon, and Cindy Sheehan were there, or so I heard), or in the back (where I was). It came from that force of cosmic attraction that breaks down nationalistic and political barriers; that crosses party and socioeconomic class lines; that brings us together at the most critical and perilous moments, where unity is not a political slogan but a bodily need, like food or water or sex. As I said, this energy may be known by many different names, one of which may be Love.


Over the course of the week, I'll be posting pictures, videos, and stories from this extraordinary event. There will, of course, be a need for more marches, more protests, more unified demands for change, more calls for the restoration of the leadership of this nation to its people. Here at Daily Rev, we'll be following news of each event as it is planned and scheduled; and we will always post news of events of either local or national significance that you wish to send in. Use the comments section or email us.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Protest Update for Saturday, April 29

If you can come out tomorrow for the march in Manhattan, we start forming up around 10:30 AM Saturday at W. 23rd St. and Broadway (details and map). Just bring yourself and some friends, some bottled water and munchies (granola-bar type stuff would do fine). We'll be marching about a mile down to Foley Square (near City Hall), and there will be a festival for peace there until 6:00 PM. We hope to see you; and you never know, it just might help change the attitudes of some politicians. As we pointed out in today's post (below), it's all about showing leadership during a time when our own leadership in Washington and elsewhere is so pitifully absent or corrupt. In the process, we'll also have some fun and make new friends.

Friday Reflection: Beyond Fundamentalism

(click the graphic to view Johann Rousselot's photographic essay on a bastion of Christian fundamentalism, the New Life Church)

Yesterday, we saw that the self-images of our species and of individuals tend to narrow our field of vision to such an extent that we become psychologically myopic. In one of my books, I coined the term "neuropia" for this malady (it's a composite word, combining "neurosis" and "myopia"). The point is that, under the influence of fundamentalist belief systems, the image (as in the "image of God" from our Biblical scripture yesterday) becomes the reality. The problem is, of course, that the image is merely an infinitesimal fraction of reality. The result is that we miss so much under the delusion of the self-image that we start to destroy ourselves, just as we are doing today, on scales both large and small; both personal and societal.

We also saw (I hope) the connection between the grandiose human self-imagery (God made us exactly like Himself, distant and separate from Nature, which we were commanded to control and subdue) and the practical consequences of these cultural delusions. As Arundhati Roy pointed out in the selection we quoted, once nuclear war is set loose upon the Earth, the planet itself will finally become our physical enemy. Why? Because that is the way we have treated it these past few millennia, and particularly this past half-century, under the influence of the demonic beliefs of fundamentalism.

What we must remember, no matter your individual religious, national, or political affiliation or leaning, is that if we choose to continue making war on the planet, we will lose. There will be no human survivors—none, at any rate, worth saving. This is why I ask that everyone who reads this message takes a little time and effort to turn within, find the self-images that lurk there, and clear them out. There are ways to go about this, some of which I discuss at my other website and in my two books.

It doesn't have to happen all at once, because, for one reason, it probably can't. It is far more crucial to merely loosen one's grip on the images than to dispel them entirely in one fell swoop. I discuss this approach in a reflection on the character of Lord Voldemort of Harry Potter fame, in my Tao of Hogwarts:

What's "Evil" About Religion?

The question has to arise in many readers' minds, "how can one possibly equate such a stereotypically evil character as Lord Voldemort with religion? What right does this author have to thus globally demonize religion and those who practice it in humility, goodwill, and faith?"

This is a fair question, and one that deserves a fair answer. My primary response to the question "what's wrong with religion?" is, "Intrinsically, absolutely nothing." It has been my experience, personally and through interactions with clients, students, colleagues, and friends, that there are "religious moments" in most people's lives. There may be a time when Christianity may help you to live and to grow; there are moments where Buddhism may nourish you; or Judaism, Islam, Wiccan belief, Hinduism, Shintoism, or indeed any belief or practice that might help you connect with your Cosmic Origin. In my own life, as in those of many people I've known, even a period of atheism (or a studied ignorance of religious matters entirely) has been a step on the path of growth and inner development. So once again, the answer to the specific question of what's wrong with religion is, "nothing's wrong." The problem arises in the forced attachment to the ideology.

This is the danger of religion, and indeed, of any orthodoxy. Wherever, through the strangely medieval power of attachment, a religion or other orthodoxy becomes institutionalized, then each individual's growth potential is instantly oppressed, to the extent that each member of the group finds his identity through the ideology...This is what I mean when I speak of "Voldemort-consciousness" in the orthodoxies of our lives, religious and otherwise...

What, then, is the religious person to do? What is he to make of such a perspective? Before you reject it as a slander against whatever faith you may practice, consider this suggestion: remain with your religion and its practices for as long as they help you to grow within, but keep your radar up: remain open to the fact that spiritual life is no different from intellectual or psychological life in its natural need for expansive movement. Just as your body needs room to breathe, and your psyche the freedom to learn, your soul needs the space for growth and transformation. I have not met with the doctrine that can enduringly provide the inner space required for the dance of transformation—the expanding awareness of a life lived fully and deeply through to completion. Therefore, I ask that you simply be open to the possibility that a time may come where your religion or belief no longer suits your inner space—that, like an old garment, it simply "no longer fits."

Paradoxically, such a moment can be detected wherever you hear within yourself the phrase, "This is the Truth, the Truth for all and for all Time." Whenever you feel the merest shadow of such a belief hardening within you, that's the time to firmly and fully rid yourself of it and move on. That sensitivity to the monumental voice of ego is your protection. In the presence of such an open awareness, any religion can be safely, modestly, and constructively practiced, free of the Voldemort-consciousness of institutional ideology. We may leave the question there for now, with the hope that the reader may arrive at his own understanding on the matter. For the moment, it may be helpful to recall an expression I once saw on someone's T-shirt: "Religion is for people afraid of going to Hell/Spirituality is for those who have already been there."

Another (and, I think, complementary) perspective is provided by Alan Watts, in his Introduction to Meditation:

What do you mean by the word 'I'? I, myself. Your personality, your ego—what is it? First of all, it is your image of yourself, and it is composed of what people have told you about yourself...But remember, it is an image—just an idea. It is your thoughts about yourself, but in fact you are not this at all...It is simply impossible to cut ourselves off from either our social environment or our natural environment. We are all that, and there is no clear way of drawing the boundary between this organism and everything that surrounds it.

And yet, the image of ourselves that we have does not include all those relationships. Our idea of our personality and of ourselves includes no information whatsoever about the hypothalamus or even the brain stem, the pineal gland, the way we breathe...The information contained in your image of yourself says nothing about any of this.

Therefore it is obviously an extremely inadequate image, but nonetheless we do think that the image of self refers to something because we have the very strong impression that 'I' exist. And we think that this impression isn't just an idea, it is really substantially there, right in the middle of us. And what is it?

...Well, what are we, if we aren't who we think we are? When you take a scientific point of view, your organism is inseparable from its environment, and so you really are the organism/environment. In other words, you are no less than the universe, and each one of you is the universe expressed in the particular place that you feel is here and now. You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at itself and exploring itself.

...We have been bamboozled, however, by religionists, by politicians, by our fathers and mothers, by all sorts of people, who tell us, 'You're not it.' And we believed it.

I think the main point of these reflections—mine on Lord Voldemort and religion, and Watts' on the image of self—tend toward the same realization. It is not merely unnecessary, but actually impractical, to hold tightly to a belief or an image. Thus, I ask that you examine your beliefs regularly, and hold them very lightly, as if you were carrying a small, living bird in your cupped hands. This will make it easier to let a belief go when you no longer need it. Listen to your body-wisdom, the quietest yet clearest voice within yourself, and you will know when it is time to let go.

This is one way clear of fundamentalism; and I think it is a very effective way, though not by any means the only one. The truly spiritual people of our world have taught us the same thing: the real Buddha, the genuine Muhammed, the historical Jesus, would not want us to hold them like a sword or a gun—they would not want to have the breath and the life squeezed out of them in a rigid, clutching grasp of fundamentalist iron. They would want to be held like a newborn kitten, like a baby's hand, like a lover's breath. And like all these, they would also make the same request that every living form of Nature, seen and unseen, makes of each of us: treat me as an equal to yourself—a spark of the same Fire from which you came—and help me to grow, and I will help you in turn. And then let me go.


I think that each of us can become a leader, in his and her unique way, if we can adapt a practice like this unto ourselves. I hope that you have seen that George Bush is not a leader; that Donald Rumsfeld is not a leader; that Osama bin Laden is not a leader. These are, from a psychological standpoint, sick, diseased, functionally dead people; for fundamentalism is the kiss of death. So far from being leaders, these men have proven themselves slaves—servants to an image of humanity and themselves that tells them, "our Truth is exclusive, sacred, and unchangeable; and it must be defended, even if it means that tens of thousands of innocents are murdered for it; even if it means that the world sinks further into the scarlet mud of destruction."

So once again, let us be the leaders that we lack in Washington and the other ideological capitals of this world. Let us start today, and (if you're in or near New York City) tomorrow on the streets. The unity of free and autonomous individuals is something that the political leaders of our world will not understand. But it is also something they will not be able to ignore.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Welcome to the Age of Suicide

We focus here on the topic of fundamentalism because it is...well, fundamental. That is, fundamentalist thoughts, assumptions, and beliefs are the root of so much of the evil we see and feel around us. Evil arises from a distortion of perspective, not from an identity or an essence. In other words, people are not by nature evil—not even a little bit.

So Bush is not evil. Neither is Osama, nor Cheney, nor Rumsfeld. To say that someone is inherently evil, or that we are all born possessed of evil (or inclined toward it) is the same thing as saying that the universe makes evil stars; that Nature makes evil antelopes; that a flower makes an evil scent; that a mother makes an evil baby. It is, in short, an absurd and meaningless statement.

Therefore, when we say, "Bush is evil," we mean, "Bush does terrible, evil, cruel, and despotic things." And we are, of course, right to say that. But where is the evil, if not in him? Where is it, indeed, if it is not in ourselves? I say it is in the beliefs—indeed it is the belief.

To help you see what I mean, let me quote a passage from the Bible. Today's scripture will be from the Book of Genesis, Chapter 1, verses 26 through 28:

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

What if the next words were "The End"? What if the Bible ended right there? Wouldn't it be logical to expect that we would have the universal brotherhood that all these competing, warring ideologies talk about in such saccharine tones on Saturday or Sunday? After all, if we men were all made to look like God (sorry sisters, you're not in this Bible), and we're all given "dominion" and the mandate to "subdue" Nature and all its creations—why it's just like a hunting club. Everyone shares equally in the bounty, because each is a little God in himself. All right, maybe every so often someone would get shot in the face; but it would all be an accident and once God had fixed everything again, we'd all have a beer and some quail leg and laugh about the time that Dick peppered Bob.

But instead, we wound up with fundamentalism. We ended up with what I call "cosmic racism"; which I feel is the source of every form of racism we see on our planet in this our Age of Genocide. Those words from the Bible are seeds of cosmic racism: they tell us that we are so special, so Godly, so supreme that we were given a mandate to lord it over, to dominate every single life form in the universe.

It's a big job, being the Supreme Ruler of Creation; the Image of God on Earth. No wonder everyone's been so stressed out ever since.

So how did we get from the point where every human is God's agent for dominion, to the place where we are today—again, the Age of Genocide? The American Indians, upon whom we committed genocide just two centuries ago, were just as much the image of God as we are. The Africans who we subdued as if they were those "creepy things that creepeth on the earth" were also men and women—living images of God. So also with the Jews slaughtered by HItler, the Russians murdered by Stalin, the Chinese and Tibetans annihilated by Mao, the Bosnians killed by Slobbo, the victims of the Janjaweed, and on and on throughout our species' compulsive affair with the God of ethnic cleansing. Images of God, torturing and murdering other images of God by the hundreds of thousands, by the millions, all in the name of the Lord and the Prophet.

The Age of Genocide has, of course, come to the brink of a new age—the Age of Suicide. This is our current nuclear reality: someone can push a red button in a tunnel or a bunker somewhere, and it will be The End. We've had a few close shaves with it already, and there's no end in sight to the proliferation of both the weaponry and the insanity that controls it.

When you vote for a President, you are voting to give that fellow the power over the red button. If you'd like to ponder that reality a little further, you can't do better than to start with Arundhati Roy's magnificent 1998 essay on the theme. If I had required reading to mandate to every school child in the world, I might pick this. Here's an excerpt:

If only, if only nuclear war was just another kind of war. If only it was about the usual things - nations and territories, gods and histories. If only those of us who dread it are worthless moral cowards who are not prepared to die in defence of our beliefs. If only nuclear war was the kind of war in which countries battle countries, and men battle men.

But it isn't. If there is a nuclear war, our foes will not be China or America or even each other. Our foe will be the earth herself. Our cities and forests, our fields and villages will burn for days. Rivers will turn to poison. The air will become fire. The wind will spread the flames. When everything there is to burn has burned and the fires die, smoke will rise and shut out the sun. The earth will be enveloped in darkness. There will be no day - only interminable night. What shall we do then, those of us who are still alive? Burned and blind and bald and ill, carrying the cancerous carcasses of our children in our arms, where shall we go? What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we breathe?

As even Ms. Roy admits, we can't make the bombs go away, and we can't guarantee that the frail, pathetic people who take power over the nations of this earth won't use them. One thing we can do is to expose and dispel the distortions of consciousness that created the bombs and the madmen who control them. We start from within and among ourselves, with those we can communicate best and most truly with. We start by saying, "No, we are not the exclusive Image of God—certainly no more than a caterpillar, a penguin, a quail, or a cockroach is; no more than a tree or a weed."

Then we discard the notion that we have a right to dominion—over anything. We reject in ourselves the idea that we need to "subdue" anything or anyone—even if it "creepeth over the earth" like an al Qaeda fighter or a Republican lobbyist. Mind you, we can stop them, through the natural force of a unified will and consciousness. But the tools of subjection—war, oppression, violence, racism, ethnic cleansing—these have all been proven as failures, century after century after blood-drenched century.

So instead we take to the airwaves, the Internet, the voting booths, and to the streets, exposing the lies that were written by dead men into an old book that has nothing to do with the living god within us—the lies that still fester in the minds of old white men who, somewhere between the womb and the White House, forgot who they were, where they were, and silently died of a heart attack of the soul. We will tell them—today, tomorrow, Saturday in New York, and every day for as long as it takes—that just because they chose to kill themselves, they will not be allowed to murder us. And we will not allow the Age of Suicide to continue any longer.

Every day we do this, it will be another death-blow to fundamentalism, and another breath of life into the Earth and the cosmic whole.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

What is Fundamentalism?

Sometimes we get so involved in a discussion that we forget what we're talking about, or else we forget that someone new may have just come into the room, who hasn't heard what's gone before or simply has a fresh perspective to bring.

It happened to me tonight. I had sent the link to yesterday's post around to some buddies at work, one of whom walked up beside me as I waited with mounting impatience for a belated PATH train (mind you, the PATH system is so efficient that if you have to wait longer than five minutes at rush hour, it's a problem). We got to talking about the pieces that Terry and I have posted this week on the subject of fundamentalism, and this young man asked me a very incisive question:

"What is Fundamentalism?"

It's the kind of question that should be asked recurrently, honestly, and probingly of every major concept in public debate or private discussion. So I answered him, much as I have answered the question in writing before, but with the added energy that a personal encounter provides. I told him that wherever truth is spelled with a capital T (or god with a capital G); wherever an insight is cemented into doctrine and placed onto a pedestal of untouchable, unchangeable, unquestionable, holy Truth, then there is fundamentalism. It most commonly appears in religious ideology, but is also quite frequently seen in politics, government, ethics, business, law, and even science. Newtonian mechanics was the fundamentalism of physics for some three centuries before anyone dared to question its core assumptions.

Then my friend asked another excellent question which few have the daring to ask: "what does a fundamentalist belief do for someone; what does it provide people that it seems to be so pervasive in our world?"

Now that's a question that could be the subject of an entire book, college course, or doctoral dissertation. It's asking, "what is the psychological payoff for adhering to and defending a fundamentalist belief—why would people be led to sacrifice their freedom and even their lives or their children's lives for the sake of such a belief?"

Since I had only the tail end of a seven minute trip underneath the Hudson River to respond in, I kept it crisp and short: it seems to boil down to security and a false sense of endurance or self-aggrandizement through affiliation. In other words, if I am walled off in my life by an institution or a religion that says it will protect me, preserve me and my family, and even offer me the promise of limitless rewards in a Kingdom-to-come; the sacrifice of personal independence for this safety and security will seem quite rational, even compelling. It may even seem like a minimal sacrifice to make, and therein cooks the great lie; for there is scarcely a greater or more foolish sacrifice of oneself and one's precious life possible.

Fundamentalism may say that Jesus is the Answer; and if you don't get the right Answer, of course, you will suffer eternal damnation. Fundamentalism can tell us that "either you're with us or you're with the terrorists"; and if you fall into the latter camp, you will be hunted down and your home/city/nation destroyed. Fundamentalism is a cubicle with no opening; a house with no doors or windows; an earth with no sky except the painted ceiling, just inches above your bowed head.

What fundamentalism is not is truth. For truth in Nature is alive and continually transforming in both essence and expression. Fundamentalism foreshortens both our feeling for and vision of Nature, including our own nature. It displaces the energy of our bodily currents—hunger, thirst, sexuality, relationship, love, knowledge, and variety in experience—and points them toward a system of belief that is portrayed as final, inflexible, unquestionable, and eternal (in a purely linear sense). Last year, I expressed this as follows:

...[it] is meant to turn you on, and then to turn you away. Away, that is, from yourself—from your body and its inviolable connection with Nature. Thus, in fundamentalism, the eroticism is a passing expedient, meant to arouse energy toward a violent ideology of the Exclusive—a picture of a world in which the adherents of a narrow system of belief and behavior will be rewarded according to the same organic terms that Nature had already placed within them, before the birth of any religious creed.


Here are some links where you may find some starting points in your own journey of separation from fundamentalism, and the recovery of your true self:

Henry David Thoreau There is, to my mind, scarcely a greater American, hardly a more articulate voice for personal freedom and self-discovery than this man. Read him for just 15 minutes a day, and you will soon feel scales dropping away from the eyes of your mind.

Ralph Waldo Emerson Another of the so-called "transcendentalists" (he personally made fun of that term), Emerson presents a distinctly spiritually-grounded vision of the life of independence; of freedom as the freedom to feel, with all one's being, the life of nature and god within oneself.

Lao Tzu The old Chinese philosopher/poet who has been featured prominently in the pages of Daily Rev. His message is one of growth through diminishment: recovering the true self by discarding everything that is not-oneself. The link will take you to my translation, but another and probably better one is that of Stephen Mitchell.

Alan Watts It scarcely matters where you look among this man's work; it is all good, all nourishing. And a lot of it is funny. I would recommend, for beginners, his set of talks under the title Eastern Wisdom and his The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. More than 30 years after his death, Watts' voice is vital, fresh, poignant, funny, and liberating.

Arundhati Roy One of the most beautiful women I have ever seen, in every way imaginable. For pure pleasure, you can begin with her The God of Small Things, and then go on to her brief and illuminating social and political essays, such as War Talk and An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire.

J.K. Rowling Reading Harry Potter might seem a little strange as a practice meant to free oneself from the influence of fundamentalism; but I think it works. If you've read the Potter tales and still think this a bit of a stretch, try this excerpt from my Tao of Hogwarts.

Albert Einstein The scientist who turned our view of the world on its ear, and whose message of truth as self-discovery we are still to fully learn in this world, has plenty to say, both to scientists and normal Joes like us. The World As I See It may be a good place to start.

Chogyam Trungpa For those who wish to get a vision of what a Buddhist experience of freedom from fundamentalism is like, the work of this extraordinary teacher is an excellent resource. I heartily recommend his Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, which is a psycho-spiritual classic.

I Ching: The Oracle of the Cosmic Way This is a book that I've quoted extensively in my own books and at my other website. Carol Anthony and Hanna Moog present a vision of a personal life beyond the grip of what they call "the collective ego", through the living presence of a teaching experience that happens between a sincere seeker, an old book of Chinese insight, and the cosmic voice that arises from each, and connects them in a kind of quantum classroom of the true self.

Mitch Albom: Tuesdays with Morrie The inspiring bestseller that tells the story of a young man's coming to life and his teacher's transformative death. There is no calculating the number of lives that this little book has enriched; the number of living spirits it has revealed. This is inspirational literature as it is meant to be: unsentimental, nonsectarian, thoroughly pragmatic, and searingly beautiful.

Finally, for the politically-minded, there are all the links to the right, in the Blogroll. Eric Alterman is always sharp, penetrating, and absorbing in his personal insights and those he collects for his blog; and his books, starting with What Liberal Media are engaging and well-researched. You can spend a whole day over Daily Kos, Mother Jones, Think Progress, or Free Press and not be finished with all they have to offer.

The point is, however, to spend a little time each day with some of the material mentioned above, or something else that you discover for yourself. There is hardly a more practical, and for our time, a more urgent personal practice to undertake than the path of freedom from fundamentalism and its rigid and truly demonic consciousness.


Geek Wednesday

Last weekend, I picked up a copy of Adobe's Photoshop Elements for the Mac. It's an outstanding product with features that have probably never been seen before in consumer-grade photo editing software; the review at Macworld will give you a good picture of what this product can do, and how easily. I'll be using it to produce some of the illustrations for future Daily Rev posts, and then I'll have a more detailed review of the product to offer here.

Meanwhile, we're expecting a contribution from Nearly Redmond Nick for this space, which may arrive later on Wednesday. We'll squeeze it in as soon as it arrives. Meanwhile, the geek universe is humming with activity, much of it political in nature. Last week, we presented an introduction to the crucial challenge being presented to web freedom from the fundamentalist forces of corporate greed, who are trying to tip the scales of equality to web access in favor of multibillion dollar multinationals. This is a grave threat to virtually all Americans, and I don't think I'm overstating it in the least. If you'd like to learn more about it, take a look here, and then take action. It's that important. (Update: The Dems appear to be showing some rare backbone in resisting the restrictions being built into the COPE legislation. Now if a bunch of Dems in Washington can actually show signs of consciousness, we sure as hell can).

There is also more skullduggery afoot in Congress, pushed by the fundamentalist Christian right, to tighten the noose of "decency" around the neck of cable and Internet programs and providers. It's worth looking into before it's too late.

This, unfortunately, is just the visible tip of an iceberg of restrictive legislation and moralistic bombast that the neocon right is setting up so as to splinter the Internet just as it has broken up the other elements of our economic society into parts labeled "for us/the haves" and "for them/the have-nots". Guess who will be getting the longer half of this wishbone?

MS, god love them, continues to challenge both patience and intuition, as it continues to beat our language to death with neo-malapropisms:

Finally, if you're not in the Macintosh realm yet, this may be the time to join in and see what I've been crowing about to the Windows crowd these past couple of years. Retailers are starting to sell Mac machines equipped with XP and Mac OS X together; and Apple has come out with another jaw-dropping laptop, the 17" MacBook Pro. Ah, damn it, for the lack of $2,800...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Stiff Prick of a Troll

Fundamentalism is the stiff prick of a troll. It always seeks to be stroked or swallowed, and it hoards blood that would otherwise be nourishing the monster's small but occasionally useful brain.

Guys like Jefferson and Adams saw this clearly enough, so they did what they could in the culture that they were given—they wrote a manual for a government in which church and state were institutionally separated.

We have to go farther, in the direction that Emerson and Thoreau were pointing some 70 years after the formation of our nation. We may need to do a Lorena Bobbitt intervention on our troll. For it is not enough, it seems, to separate church from state; we need to separate from them both.

Perhaps we need a new Walden, a movement of sorts, led by each individual who opens the way to it, that I call "neo-transcendentalism." I'm working on a book about that now; but its formative spirit may lie in some ideas I expressed in a book I wrote last year. Here's an excerpt, which is offered as a starting point. The place where it leads is as yet unknown, because you're the one who will take us there. True unity arises not from blindly following behind a president or a priest into the nuclear smoke of death; but from the leadership of your true self and its guiding voice.

In case you’re already wondering, this is not to be another “society is the culprit” literary rant. We’ve all heard enough of that stuff, and it doesn’t seem to resolve many problems, does it? Instead, it saddles us with one enormous, overarching problem that seems to defy any attempt at resolution, because it is so damned big.

So for us to simply declare, “It’s all Society’s fault” (or God’s, Satan’s, or Human Nature’s fault) leads us nowhere but into a bog of despair, sloth, and the mindless self-indulgence that infects us whenever we quit on our true selves. Sure, we will have to clearly perceive the significant contribution that our societal institutions have made to the current global mess: this is the critical difference in speaking of responsibility but not fault. To acknowledge responsibility is to awaken our sense of humility: this is the way of Healing. But fault sticks to us like motor oil on a white dress. Thus, Freedom is simply the ability to transcend fault through the feeling-perception of our responsibility—to Nature and our selves.

In this moment of history, it would seem as if the human race, having been given the gift of an unutterably beautiful planet to dwell upon, has made an unspeakably brutal and horrible world of it. Therefore, our focus in this book will be on what all that means to you—how you can understand, adapt, and live beyond the errors that have been programmed into us by our culture and its authorities. To say, then, that society must bear some responsibility for the suffering we all feel in this time and culture, is simply to say that we need to make some corrections within ourselves, as individuals. For how can society be improved, except through the change that each of us creates within ourselves?

So we have to begin, it seems, by understanding clearly the extent of the damage that has been done—socially but also psychologically and spiritually, within us. We will have to understand the stakes of this dark yet glimmering moment in human history: the breadth of the continuing destruction of our planet’s physical resources and our own inner resources; and then form our goals from that foundation of insight. It is possible that the best that can be done by this generation of adults is to slow the march of destruction and hatred; to throw a monkey wrench into the gears of the ideological machine that is grinding our planet and our human race into the Abyss. It will be for our children to take this suspension of ego, this quiet moment in the storm, this clearing amid the darkness that we have created for them, and carry it forward to a safer place. But the denial that is born of Despair is not an option now: your life, your children’s lives, and the life of the Earth, hang in the balance.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Monday with McKenna: Unmerciful Heavens

The fundamentalist credo: change is good only when it's happening to someone else; only when it is imposed upon a competing ideology. If it's someone else's temple that is being razed; another sect's nation that is being occupied; another group's children who are dying, starving, and orphaned, then change is very good indeed.

But otherwise, change sucks. Change, for a fundamentalist, is to be treated like sex—something that should be accomplished in the dark, behind the scenes, quickly and in utter secrecy. And, usually, with a certain sense of guilt or regret.

Try and talk of change out in the open, where the public and the media can hear and respond, and you are immediately ostracized to the legions of Satan. Talk of changing one line of my group's sacred text, question one belief carved into the stone tablets of Truth, or kick a single tire on the cloud-banked contraption of my organization's hierarchy—and you have blasphemed; you have committed a crime for which there is no mercy or forgiveness; you are one with the Demon.

I have written about this in many places here and elsewhere; now it is time for a fresh voice—if only so that you can see that a fellow who sits toward the right-hand side of the political sofa can see the same decadence that I see in fundamentalism everywhere—whether its voice comes out of a cave in Pakistan or a palace in the Vatican. Mr. McKenna, it's your turn.

Brian and I are seekers after truth. To seek is to keep looking. Not satisfied. Thus the opposite of faith. In the present day US, our predominant faith is Christianity. But for those who trumpet faith, Christ’s message is mixed. Yes, “believe in me” … but love the poor and be merciful. And the faithful are expected to demonstrate their faith by good works. So if you profess a belief in Christ’s message of mercy, it should show in your behavior.

I am constantly flabbergasted with our president’s trumpeting his faith. I wonder about a faith that seems unmoved by the cries for mercy that surround him. It is well known that when George Bush was governor of Texas, he routinely denied requests for stays of execution (surely cries for mercy). Contrast that with Lincoln, who was constantly presented with requests for clemency (usually from a deserter about to be executed). He routinely approved pardons - so much so that his refusal to grant clemency to a slave trader stood out as exceptional. It is interesting to note that Lincoln was most probably an unbeliever. Yet, if we compare Bush and Lincoln, who really shared Christ’s belief in mercy?

Faith is a trap. For most of us, we save our faith for Sunday mornings. The media do pretty much the same thing. But each year at Easter time, Jesus returns to center stage. A well-known example from fifty years ago was The Day Christ Died by Jim Bishop. This best selling work accepted the New Testament account of the crucifixion at face value. What was new was the use of medical science to explain how crucifixion actually worked – and thus how Christ actually died. The crucifixion story shifts from the last words of Christ to where the nails would likely have been placed (in the wrists, not the palms) and in the mechanism of death - by suffocation and shock.

In our own day, we benefit from several decades of modern biblical scholarship. Thus, we know that the Gospels were written maybe 40 or 50 years after Jesus’ death (also by anonymous writers, not the Apostles that tradition has assigned to them). If you go a bit deeper into recent works, you’ll find that the historical Jesus was likely a displaced and illiterate peasant from the bottom rung of a turbulent Palestine. The Holy Thursday story is likely fiction. And the elaborate crucifixion/Easter myth did not appear in the earliest extant writings, but only much later when the canonical “gospels” emerged.

Still, orthodox churchmen are not worried about scholarship that few read. What troubles them is when the news reaches the average person. Thus, while serious scholarship is ignored, works like The Last Temptation of Christ and The Da Vinci Code are swiftly condemned.

The Churches are worried that those who put money in the basket will get wise and stop coming (and paying).

This year, we had 2 newsworthy publications. The first was a translation of a newly available text, the Gospel of Judas. From the snippets available in the press, it’s clear that this gospel is just a crazy rant that will not sway anyone. Much more threatening is the second work, James Tabor’s “The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity.” In this work, Mr. Tabor presents a rational (though imaginative) account of how the Christ narrative might really have happened. It made Cardinal Egan (from New York) so mad that he made it the subject of a rant delivered from the pulpit at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Fundamentalists were also upset. (Albert Mohler is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary).

And what of behavior? The biggest issue among Catholics has been the behavior of supposedly celibate priests. In diocese after diocese, it has turned out that priests were molesting teenage and pre-teen boys. And in diocese after diocese, the offenders were protected, while the victims were bullied.

Cardinal Egan has been a priest since 1957 and part of “management” since the late 1960’s. I would not be surprised if it turns out that he knew a few child molesters. I also have little doubt that as a manager, he was aware of how brutally the victims were shamed and hushed up.

In the aftermath of the scandal, the Church has pretended to reform. US bishops assembled a group of prominent lay Catholics to study the problem and to make recommendations. But as the group began to exert power, the bishops bristled. Cardinal Egan, for his own part spurned the members (and remember, these were prominent Catholics). To be sure, the scandal has perhaps been contained; thus the Church will not be able to let priests get away with it anymore.

I have less experience or knowledge of the world of fundamentalists. But it seems that they too have lusts, and angers (and are associated with recent murders). It is also ironic that the world of right wing Christianity wraps the US in Jesus and the flag, and seems strangely supportive of defense spending and war.

If there is any moral here, it is that the world of faith becomes a world of official truth and party line. So if you are looking for meaning, by all means read the sacred and ancient texts, but please avoid the official spokesmen.

—T. McKenna

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Backward, Christian Soldiers

Fundamentalist religion, fresh from its latest slide into death and destruction (the Muslim riots over those cartoons), is now steeling itself for new battles. These men of God are never happy, it seems, unless they're at war with someone or something—even if it hasn't turned up yet.

Case in point: the Catholics are already raising their ideological ramparts against a movie that's yet to be released, based on a novel that has clearly raised a stench of fear among the Dies Irae crowd.

Some of the other maniacs in the fundamentalist media gang are also making noise. Here's the story of another remarkable claim in that peculiarly religious victimization strain that we've almost gotten used to hearing.

You see, before you can be a warrior for Muhammed or Christ or Yahweh or even Zeus or Zoroaster; you have to paint yourself with the blood of victimhood. Somebody's dissed you or your God, and it's time for you to fight back. It's a monotonic old theme that goes back at least 3,000 years, probably longer.

So this week at Daily Rev, we'll be spending some time and spilling some ink over it all, to see what it's about and where an alternative to this tired old drone of holy battle might lie. The bottom line, perhaps, is that these fundamentalists wouldn't know spirituality if it jumped up and bit them in the ass. The truly spiritual people of this world have all been agents of change, and change is anathema to the fundamentalist mindset. Thus, they are led into perversion.

I have written about this before (just click on the Dali graphic above for an example). An institution like Catholicism is less likely to settle into community than it is to stagnate amid delusion, and finally collapse into corruption. Tomorrow, we'll be looking more deeply into this problem; but my primary and most urgent message for the moment to the Pope, Cardinal Egan and their "flocks" of priests, bishops, and cardinals would be this: if you (or many of you) practice homosexuality, either among yourselves or with other consenting adult men, then come out, for god's sake. It will only deepen your spirituality and restore the respect that people once had for you, but instead now direct, quite correctly, in my view, toward the likes of Dan Brown and J.K. Rowling. But if you are committing perversions against the bodies and souls of children, then I say that even Gitmo ain't a dark enough place to put you all. In that case, you are a beam in the eye of god; a plague let loose upon the Earth; a sickness for which there is no cure, for you are the agents of the only death worth fearing—the death of true spirit.

I look and listen for the truly spiritual voices of our time in the so-called ordinary people of our world, like a young lady named Marybeth Sullivan, who had the following comment on Cardinal Egan's stone-voiced fundamentalist rant against certain contemporary historical studies of Jesus and his world:

"They denied the Gospel of Mary and now they're trying to debunk the Gospel of Judas," said Sullivan. "Every time current events gives [the church] a chance to reflect and move forward, they've made the wrong decision."

So it is with fundamentalists everywhere, Ms. Sullivan—in government, in religion, sometimes even in science and business. Wherever we find them, we will have to calmly and clearly expose them for what they are—the ideological agents of death, violence, and oppression. That, you might say, is sort of our mission here at Daily Revolution. Tomorrow, we'll start it all again.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Earth Day and Professor Dumbledore's Warning

I wrote the following paragraphs last month in my "Notes to My Daughter" series at my other website, and it seems an appropriate message for Earth Day. Based on the evidence that I've seen, it is fast becoming clear that there is no more urgent a message for our times: the planet is under attack; the insurgency is US; and there is no escape except through the unity of peoples in a global affirmation of Life. I have written about this before at some length, and the message is quite simple, really: our Earth is already choking on the poisons that humans have dumped upon it. There is no longer anything to fear, for the worst that can be imagined has already begun. Could there be any greater inspiration to courage? All we need remind ourselves, each of us, is that transformation begins within the individual and his/her unique, conscious effort. Unity then arises spontaneously, from the quantum realm of the formless.

Therefore, my message to each reader here is uncomplicated: tend to the work of self-discovery, and let the Great Movement be led by Nature, and not by an institution. Wherever there is a connection of free and autonomous individuals, there will be transformation within the whole.

Dear Maria:

Can you recall the night we watched the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire movie together, and how I mentioned that those stories aren't the simple fantasies that people take them for?

Professor Dumbledore said that "dark and difficult times lie ahead...when we must make the choice between what is right, and what is easy." As I mentioned to you that evening, that time is here, right now. The water, air, and earth of our planet are quickly being turned into a gray sludge—like the snow in city sidewalk gutters after a day of traffic, plowing, shoveling, and smog—a semi-liquid mixture of Nature's living substance, defiled by poison, garbage, and human manipulation.

The darkness is so close upon us and our world that, by the time you reach my age, the planet you live on may be largely uninhabitable.

The danger is so great, strange to say, that there is no room left for fear. Why be afraid when the worst that can happen has already begun? So there is no better time than now for that boldness of spirit that cannot stop for fear. The peril is too great and immediate; its urgency too near to overwhelming for fear to have any place to plant its icy heels of stone, as it has done so painfully to my generation.

You and your friends will need to call upon this natural sense of resolution from within and among yourselves. Some call this resolution, this fearless energy of purpose, courage. It is the same quality that is discussed in the old Chinese book that I'm always reading, the I Ching. Here is what it says in Hexagram 43:

Breakthrough / Resolution

One must resolutely make the matter known
At the court of the king.
It must be announced truthfully. Danger.
It is necessary to notify one's own city.
It does not further to resort to arms.
It furthers one to undertake something.

Your courage will lead you to the court of the king. Your fearlessness will guide you in the unflinching recognition of danger, and the clear expression of truth to the powerful. The light of your generation will reveal the opening of the path to safety, and the recovery of humility, free of the obsessive and mindless tyranny of violence. You who are young now will show us the way back to our original maturity; our primordial modesty; our inviolate connection with Earth; the vibrant peace of dancing Nature, ebullient in her Wholeness.

Love always,



For more on Earth Day and the urgency of the healing of our planet, see the following links:

Earth Day Network
Grist Mag: The Environmental Majority
Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the U.S.
Al Gore: For People and Planet
Environmental Statement of the Millennial Assessment (pdf)*
The Last Days of the Ocean
As the World Burns

*requires Adobe Reader

Personal note: To my good friend and occasional contributor here, Guptilla the Hun, my deep gratitude for your professionalism and friendship. May vast good fortune lie ahead for you; and may Dumbledore come "back to life" on 7/7/07.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Who is the Child?

I have a small personal story to tell tonight, which I hope will lead to a larger point. My 12 year old daughter called from a friend's house, where she's having an overnight visit with some of her pals. It seems they'd gone out for dinner (with her friend's Dad in tow, mind you), and somewhere along the way she lost her cell phone. She was letting me know about it to prevent any confusion arising in case I tried to call her.

So, parents, how would you react to such a scenario? With anger over the kid's carelessness and the loss of a fairly expensive piece of high-tech gear? I bet you wouldn't—not, in any event, if you knew this kid. I, personally, was delighted: she had shown me the courage and honesty to admit a mistake rather than try to cover it up or put off the moment of reckoning. She showed me a strength of character, a self-confidence, and a pragmatism that I very rarely see in the grownups I deal with every day at work and elsewhere—and which I have never seen in the last five years of neocon hegemony on Capitol Hill and in the White House.

So now, let's read a little from Tom Delay's farewell address to his constituency, and see how he compares with my girl:

When I started in politics, I was inspired by the optimism and conservative principles embodied by one of our greatest presidents, Ronald Reagan.

Since I first asked for your votes for Congress back in 1984, America has moved closer to, not further from, the "shining city on a hill" that he so magnificently described.

She has risen from malaise, won a cold war and a few hot ones, and liberated hundreds of millions across Europe and tens of millions of Afghans and Iraqis.

At home, we moved from policies that had long empowered government to finally empowering citizens, taxpayers and communities...initiating sweeping and positive change across all facets of American society...We adopted year after year of tax relief, which led to growth so strong it has not only propelled our economy, but has spurred economic growth across the globe.

Here's a fellow that's not merely denying reality, but using every schoolboy trick in the book to evade accountability (the election fraud law only became official a few months after Tom had already violated it, so no foul there).

OK, let's throw the man a bone the size of the federal deficit or Jack Abramoff's rap sheet, and say he's innocent of all criminal charges, in the technical sense of the term. Now let's look again at those claims, made in his own words, and see what's left standing.

"Sweeping and positive change" across America: Poverty rate's up again; New Orleans remains decimated; oil's comfortably over the $70 mark; the middle class as we once knew it is gone, replaced by a new class of working poor who can't afford to get medicine, send their kids to school, or get out of debt; and inflation's coming back.

"She has risen from malaise": Clinton left behind a budget surplus; the neocon hegemony will leave behind something on the order of a half-trillion dollar deficit.

"liberated hundreds of millions across Europe": What? Tom, World War II ended 60 years ago.

"liberated tens of millions of Afghans and Iraqis": A report released this month says different. In fact, the chaos in Afghanistan could scarcely be worse; though the economy is recovering, thanks to the rebound of the opium trade. Heckuva job, Tommy. As for Iraq, you're right, Tom: there ain't nothin' but sunshine in the graveyards and desolation in the streets. A grateful nation salutes you.

"moved from policies that had empowered government": Partially true, Tom: the government these past five years has been morally, intellectually, and ethically smaller—near to invisibility, in fact. As for practical realities, however, we have never in our history had a more massive, expensive, intrusive, incompetent, or tyrannical government than the one you and your colleagues in the neocon court have blessed us with.

So there you stand, Tom, amid the ruin you have helped to bring about; the moment of accountability finally closing in upon you; and you still cannot admit a single error, the faintest sign of imperfection. You stand there in the public square, shaking the dried blood of thousands from your death-dipped fingers, and you say you are proud; you say that you have nothing to regret.

But my daughter came clean, without being prodded, investigated, questioned, or indicted. She freely admitted her mistake, knowing that there might be unpleasant consequences. You, Tom, had repeated opportunities to follow her lead: you could have, at any point over the past five years, said, "no, we made a mistake with this nation-building, this pre-emptive war, this ballooning deficit, this managerial incompetence, this rapacious program of handouts to the mega-wealthy coupled with cuts to the most needy. We have to stop now, because this doesn't represent true conservatism; it isn't what the GOP is really about."

But you failed, Tom, and that will be your legacy in the grimy footnotes of history. You will be known as an incompetent failure, a petty criminal, a toady and a self-indulgent wastrel. So now I ask you, between yourself and my daughter this evening, who is the child, and who the adult?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Geek Wednesday: President Hu Comes to Redmond

President Hu of China has come to America. To meet with his counterpart at the White House, you think? Well, maybe later. First, he had to meet with the President of the techno-universe to discuss a critical matter of state. Perhaps the recent allegations regarding the sale of prisoners' body organs by the state? (Does that kidney come with chicken-fried rice?) Maybe to explain why he's put a massive statue of Chairman Mao in Tibet—bigger than any Buddha you'll ever find, not to mention more deadly by a factor of a few million? Or perhaps to discuss his government's primary stake in the United States' economy, as a George Steinbrenner-type of "principal owner"? Or maybe to talk about human rights in China, one of those nagging issues that keeps coming up at these high-power meetings, somewhere between the frisson and the latte?

Nope, the big ticket item piracy. Yep, that's for real, I'm not making it up. It seems poor Uncle Bill is getting ripped off, worth only $50B and always having his $300 OS stolen from under his nose. Maybe the message for President Hu is: start cracking down on all those software thieves in your country, and guess what—you'll wind up with lots more body organs to sell! It's win-win for everybody, baby!


I have a couple of worthwhile reads to mention: the first is David Remnick's piece on Bush, Big Oil, and the attempt to silence the voice of science (and thereby more speedily kill the planet). The article is part film review, of Al Gore's documentary.

And next, how about a book review? I have one (Word doc, 44 kb), of Barbara Ehrenreich's newest book about her experiment in job-seeking among America's white-collar elite, Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream. Once you've had a look at that, it's on to...

Geek Wednesday

If anyone else out there in IT land is looking for work or to change jobs, this might be the time. Just be careful: nothing is as rosy as the government or a bunch of fat corpo-execs would like you to believe. My advice: if you've got a gig that's paying the rent and not causing you an anxiety disorder (or worse), by all means keep your resume fresh and your options open, but don't leap at anything that comes around just because it's different or pays a few extra bucks. Let the market work to your benefit, rather than the other way around.

And now it's time to introduce a topic we'll be watching regularly in GW from this point forward: net neutrality. It's a big deal—for anyone and everyone who uses a computer and cares about stopping the corporate takeover of our society, our privacy, and our economy. Josh Silver of explains why:

Here’s why net neutrality matters:

In a few years, your computer will be the same device as your TV, and nearly all video, audio, web and phone service will be delivered via broadband. This represents a revolutionary opportunity to get independent, critical journalism and other content into every home because the Internet can deliver thousands of video channels, not just the ones the cable companies choose for us. (Nearly 60% of Americans get their primary news from TV, and over 70% of TV viewers use cable.)

As a result of a disastrous FCC ruling in 2005, the law no longer requires the Internet to be open and nondiscriminatory, the foundational principle that has catalyzed the Internet boom. Today, broadband providers (cable and telephone companies) are making plans to discriminate. They’ll do this by creating a “tiered” Internet. Major content providers who cut a pay-for-play deal with the network owners will enjoy super-fast downloads, high quality of service, and the lion’s share of the audience. Everyone else will be in the slow lane. Say goodbye to online equality; say hello to Internet gatekeepers.

The largest media companies are using this policy to position themselves as the lords of tomorrow’s digital media networks. Much like current cable TV companies: they would decide what channels and websites are available at high quality. They will create a cartel of Internet giants and relegate much of today’s rich cyber-culture to second class citizenship. This maintains the conglomerates current stranglehold over media access and distribution.

If we win on network neutrality and restore the foundation of the Internet, tomorrow’s digital media platforms will remain nondiscriminatory. There will literally be infinite numbers of digital channels available, and anyone with a server can create and distribute content.

Finally today, check out the new entry on the Daily Rev blogroll, Empires Fall.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Be Scared—But Never Fear

I've heard once or twice that I may get a little over the top in this space—after all, it's only politics, money, and the ever-tightening knot between the two. Sometimes I wonder myself if I don't sometimes become a little too rabid over fundamentalism in particular; maybe it's just some pet peeve of mine that's really not so dangerous as I make it out to be, after all.

Well, all right, here's a welcome to reality moment for both of us, then: see if this doesn't get your attention (I found the link at Altercation, which led me to the Alternet piece):

"The women are the problem in history," he said in 2004. "Women who don't want to have children should cut away their breasts, bottoms and love organ because the purpose for those was first for the children. If they don't fulfill that purpose, then they are not needed."

"Woman's sexual organ is like the open mouth of a snake filled with poison," he said in 1996. Men don't get off any easier. Keep pliers in your pocket, he says, "and when you go to the bathroom, once a day, pinch your love organ. Cut the skin a little bit as a warning."

Moon has even a darker vision for gay men. Moon told an audience he'd like to see them removed in a "purge on God's orders.... Gays will be eliminated, the three Israels will unite. If not, then they will be burned.

The speaker is one of the leading controllers of our mass media today—he owns the Washington Times and has a sizable chunk of United Press International. In 2004, he gave Dubya a quarter million in campaign donations. And what you just read is the tame part of his schtick—please, read the whole thing now and you'll see sex education as you've never imagined it before.

Now, ask yourself: have you heard or read of this anywhere in the mainstream media? Have you seen it on CNN, or read about it in the newspaper, or heard the story on the radio? Hmm, I didn't think so. Welcome to the blogosphere, gentle reader.

Or, come to think of it, have you heard any Congressman, Senator, or other politician mention that this may be a less than salubrious public stance to take on such matters? Hmm, I didn't think so. And why not, do you imagine? Could it

Ding! Got it in one—ten points to Gryffindor! The man is worth $10B...yep, that's ten billion dollars.

Now I'm waiting for him to open a university so John McCain can come and give a little speech to the students...

Monday, April 17, 2006

Monday with McKenna: Strangling the Golden Goose

In Barbara Ehrenreich's new book, Bait and Switch: The Futile Pursuit of the American Dream, one of the author's correspondents makes this comment about how a corporate culture blackens the human heart: "They think you can be evil all day and then go home and live the American dream."

Later this week, I'll be presenting a review of this book. I have made the same complaint before about those who are infected by the myopia of the corporate mindset that currently prevails in our nation—once in the context of wondering how an axe-swinging CEO must face his own family after a day of ruining the lives of other families.

Today, in Monday with McKenna, my blogging partner Terry McKenna presents a different perspective on this trend of economic murder that is occurring in our Marie Antoinette society—he shows us how strangling the golden goose is truly and inevitably an act of cultural suicide.

I thought I’d follow up last week’s critique of supply side economics with some thoughts about the moneyed classes. For however much we’d like a return to progressive taxes and mandated benefits, our wish will remain just that unless we can demonstrate that it is better for all of us.

But are progressive tax rates, mandatory benefits, and the social safety net better for the rich? One thing's for sure: if we continue on our current course of supply side tax cuts, the middle and working classes will gradually be impoverished. We are killing the golden goose that made us a wealthy nation, and the fallout will eventually kill all of us—including the rich. We'll come back to this point in a bit.

Let me start by mentioning the multiplier effect. It is a simple idea, so simple that I first read about it in a children’s encyclopedia some 45 years ago. It is the missing part of the progressive argument. What the multiplier effect explains is how every single dollar that goes into the economy as spending is spent again and again. As it works its way through the local economy, the result is a multiplier (in some cases as high as 3X) to each spent dollar. Of course, not all dollars are multiplied – thus, if you send $25 to buy a CD from a seller in Great Britain, none of that money is likely to be re-spent in the US. Savings are also multiplied, but the multiples are different (since banks lend savings out, the value is still increased).

What progressives need to explain to the American people is that our vigorous economy has grown because of spending, not investment. And, if the current tax cuts produce a cut in Social Security benefits (as is expected in the next decade) the spending shrinkage will ripple through the American economy like a tsunami. The ripple effect will hit all of us, rich and poor. Of course, the higher taxes needed to sustain Social Security will have an impact, but if the taxes are made more progressive they will be steered to those with disposable incomes, thus the consequences for the economy will be minimized.

Once again, the bottom line: if we continue on our current course of supply side tax cuts, the middle and working classes of all ages will gradually be impoverished. The resulting economic collapse will hurt the rich in three areas: wealth generation, quality of life and public safety.

Wealth Creation

The wealthy live off investments, not wages. But returns come from consumer spending – not primarily businesses (B2B). Let’s look to the top Fortune 500 companies. Among the first 30, 15 are businesses that have large direct to consumer sales. Others, like Hewlett Packard sell to a mix of consumers and to businesses. Likewise with enterprises like Citigroup and Bank of America. Even when we consider non-consumer businesses like Berkshire Hathaway, most own direct retail businesses.

To repeat the mantra, prosperity is the consequence of demand, not supply. Even now, with an enhanced and internationalized flow of capital, demand drives the economic engine. Thus the economic winners have pent up demand (not pent up savings). And sure, you can imagine a world where growth is hemmed in because of the inability to obtain capital, but you don’t see it in the so-called “First World.”

So... if the right gets its wish for a downsized government – starting with Social Security – instead of gaining from reduced taxes, our economy will lose the benefit of the multiplier effect on the billions of dollars formerly spent by retirees and others sustained by government benefits.

Quality of Life

In 20th century Western Europe and North America, our cities morphed from being crowded, polluted and sometimes dangerous, to being hospitable Disneylands for the well-to-do. Thus in present day New York City (and not just in the fashionable districts) you are as likely to see shops selling artisan bread or latte as to run into what once were called “greasy spoons.” Several factors led to this, among them the decline of manufacturing and the move from coal to oil and gas. But for the abundant latte shops and bookstores to survive, the economy needs a thriving middle class shopping for leisure goods. As we impoverish ourselves, let’s not be surprised as Starbucks are replaced by the old style coffee shops, where the patrons sat on bar stools at a counter nursing their coffee (in white china cups) eating a doughnut or wolfing a burger that cockroaches might have been dining on a few minutes before.

Public Safety

As with quality of life, in much of the west, urban uprisings are a thing of the past. Yes, we’ve just seen a large protest over immigration in a number of US cities, and the French just went through a general strike over labor laws; but by and large, riots have been confined to areas where the poor live. This has not always been so. The draft riots in 1863 in New York City touched everyone – except for those wealthy who fled. Riots and strikes were endemic to late 19th and early 20th century America – and to Europe as well. But the post WW2 spread of prosperity gave most of us a stake in the economy – and thus one more reason not to throw that rock at a policeman or through a shop window. As with quality of life, there is no reason to expect the American people to remain civil as they go down.

The Moral

In a recent article for Tom Paine, economist Max Sawicky made a few of the same points being raised here. But what he didn't tell us is how we can make the wealthy and the upper middle classes care. The answer is self-interest—if not one's own, then one's children's. History is very clear on this point: inequity will inevitably out, and there is always a day of painful reckoning for the well-to-do, whenever they stop caring about the health and prosperity of all. So my message for the wealthy would be: Be wary of getting what you wish: this goes for both the privileged idle class and the comfortable-but-working upper middle class. I count myself in the latter, for if I continue to work at my present job, and if the company keeps its pension plan intact; then the combination of pension and my 401k could isolate me from the most ruinous part of the impending collapse. The point is, without a vision for what is to come, even people like me may start believing that the Bush agenda works for them. That would be a perilous delusion indeed.

As the old saw goes, you get what you pay—and vote—for.

—T. McKenna

(thanks to the Daly Joe for providing today's pic)

Happy Eostre, everyone

Friday, April 14, 2006

Friday Reflection: The Passing of a Leader, and Listening

One of the things I advocate for fairly rigorously is a practice that I call "proligion." Proligion is spirituality that is off its knees, with its head in the air and eyes looking forward. It departs from belief, asks questions of everything it comes into contact with (especially authority), and seeks understanding through the union of heart and mind, sense and reason. In other words, if you will pardon the seemingly paradoxical label, it is a scientific spirituality.

Religion, by contrast, binds in belief (which is its Latin etymology, by the way), by looking back to the stories of a past that no longer has meaning for today. Proligion links to the present and forward, through each moment. It is not a group system of belief, but a personal experience, unique to each who follows it. Thus, proligion does a better job of connecting with the universal.

I'm currently working on something that will give further depth and dimension to all this, but the point tonight has to do with a man who I think embodied the principles of proligion. His name was Reverend William Sloane Coffin, Jr., and he died yesterday. His passing has not generated a great deal of media coverage—in fact, practically none—but believe me, the world has lost a lot today. But the universe has gained.

To learn more about Rev. Coffin and why we should remember his work, you can watch the video that Norm Jenson has posted; or read Vanden Heuvel at HuffPost. There are also his books, and this, which he wrote after the untimely death of his son:

For some reason, nothing so infuriates me as the incapacity of seemingly intelligent people to get it through their heads that God doesn't go around this world with his fingers on triggers, his fists around knives, his hands on steering wheels. God is dead set against all unnatural deaths...The one thing that should never be said when someone dies is "It is the will of God." Never do we know enough to say that. My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God's heart was the first of all our hearts to break.


Today, I'm offering a piece called "Notes for a Course in Listening". Warning: it may strike you as a bunch of New Age fluff; but let me submit that if our leadership in Washington had gotten a little of this fluff into their brains about three and a half years ago, tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis and more than 2,300 of our own might still be alive today; and there might also be enough money in the Treasury to rebuild New Orleans properly, give sick people in our nation access to the medical help they need, and give kids from low income families a chance at a college education, among other things.

All they had to learn to do was to listen to the information that was already at hand. They did not, and the result has been what could eventually be recorded as the greatest disaster of our nation's history.

Notes for a Course in Listening

When was the last time you felt as if you were listened to? Before you answer, go over the last few conversations you’ve had with people—whether at work, home, or anywhere else. Just review them in your mind and decide whether you came away thinking not just that you’d been heard, but that someone was listening. Then ask the same question the other way around, in the same way: how often do you really listen?

We live in a culture where listening is discouraged or overlooked; where obedience, instead, is paramount. Pay attention, for example, to what goes on between adults and children—for it is in childhood that we learn either to listen or merely to feign it.

In a typical encounter between an adult and a child, the grownup will demand of the child that he “just listen”; meaning, of course, “just obey.” The kid’s response will generally range from a passive-aggressive compliance to mute ignorance to outright rebellion.

But what else would you expect? The child, most likely, has not been taught to listen; because the adult has probably never learned to do it herself.

This, in social microcosm, is your culture in a nutshell: everyone fills the air with sound, demanding either obedience or payment, but few are truly listening. The consequences of this solipsistic self-utterance amid a vacuum of attention are severe. In fact, when you stop to consider the effects of our attention deficit pandemic—in government, education, professional and personal relationships—the fallout could scarcely be more dire.

We do not question what we hear from authority, advertising, pedagogical or religious indoctrination, because we rarely listen truly to any of it. So it would appear as if a course in listening, if you will, might be one healing approach toward resuscitating our culture of malignant interpersonal laze. In short, such a course, if prepared and presented correctly, could help us a lot, both personally and socially.

One point that I think must be emphasized is that there is nothing really to learn, in the sense of accumulating knowledge that is external to you. Naturally, we all know how to listen: we merely have to unlearn the habits of non-listening that have been ingrained within us through cultural conditioning and the mad pace of modern life. I have a few tentative ideas, some formative suggestions, on how such a class in listening could be structured; and as always, I would welcome your ideas.

Begin with a simple practice in listening to Nature. Even if you live in a city, you can go outside or into a park and listen to the songs of birds, the flow of water, the voice of the wind, the rustle of leaves, the voices of animals, or the sound of your footsteps upon the earth. Spend a little time at this, perhaps once a week or so: you don’t have to take notes or follow a script about it. Just listen for the sounds and voices of Nature for a few minutes at a time, with all your conscious attention, and see whether you feel differently afterwards.

In between (or even during) those sessions, you can practice listening to your own body. Kids are very good at this, and they like to talk about it, too. Our bodies are continually making sounds that we can hear, whenever we attend to them (and sometimes when we do not). Grumblings in the belly; saliva pooling in the mouth and being swallowed; the cracking of moving joints; the heartbeat; the sound of the breath; farts and sneezes and clearings of the throat; the interactive movement of the body’s parts. It can be quite fascinating, listening to your own body; maybe that’s why children do it so well and often.

Next, perhaps, we could direct our attention to the silent self-talk that goes on within the mind. This is what is often referred to as a meditative or self-insight practice, though in our culture, of course, it is usually pursued in a distracted or half-hearted fashion. But good meditation teachers like to focus on this aspect of inner listening, because they know that it can often produce some strikingly moving moments of insight and truth. Most would encourage us to listen to our inner dialogues as if we were watching clouds scudding across the sky on a windblown day, or as if we had just caught a snippet of a conversation in a nearby room that seemed to carry a vague, impersonal resonance with us, even as we were occupied with something entirely distinct. Such listening can bring us to a plane of objectivity that we rarely reach amid the common discourse of life. It is only a seeming irony that this sort of objectivity may often awaken the most unsettling and emotion-laden memories or feelings within us. When the voice of truth within us is left clear to touch us without the interposition of obstructive interpretations or repressive self-spin, then the brain and the heart work in concert to produce realization.

After a period of practicing these other meditations in listening; we could take up the matter of listening to others. One effect that the preparatory exercises in nurturing attention would create is what might be termed “total engagement.” By this I mean the involvement of the whole being in the act of listening: senses and body-centers that we do not normally associate with listening would be awakened and invited into the dance of attention. Curiously, it is people with so-called disabilities that understand this principle more easily than the rest of us: a deaf person, for example, learns to listen with his eyes, with his senses of motion and smell, with bodily functions that are often overlooked in listening, such as the heart. So perhaps you could try this, with a friend or family member who is joining you for this exercise: listen to one another with an awareness for the sound beyond mere sound. Experiment with different tones, subjects of conversation, or mannerisms; try turning off selected senses or using different ambient sounds around your conversation. Sometimes, in a meeting at work, I will close my eyes and listen for the sounds that are being made below or beyond the range of the verbal communication. I frequently learn a lot about the motivations, the emotional states, the direction of the feeling-energy in the room and among the people in it, by doing this for just a few seconds at a time.

As you go through these various practices, see if your sensitivity and understanding of the verbal encounters and the listening moments of your everyday life change or grow. The whole point of insight practice is not to escape from reality, but to be more present to it, and thereby to enhance the inner clarity of mind that supports successful action. When we learn to listen truly and fully, we experience more; and thus we further life—the life within and all around us.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

My Date with Dowd

Maureen Dowd is, of course, the entertaining and frequently incisive op-ed writer for the New York Times, and it seems she and I have been getting together lately. Purely on the inner plane of op-ed consciousness, mind you—I am sure that the lady wouldn't give me the proverbial time of day if she ever met me.

However, we are connecting: on Friday night, I posted a piece called "All Ways Are My Way", which included a simple point about the "reclassification of leaks" trick that the Bushies have resorted to lately. I featured a little Carrollian metaphor and an Alice image to illustrate the point (I always write and post the previous evening for the following day's work—for example, this is being written on Wednesday night). On Saturday, Dowd appeared with a Lewis Carroll analogy to make the same point (though I liked her phrase "Immaculate Declassification" even more).

Then Wednesday I find out that she's also taking a page out of my Tao of Hogwarts book: she referred to Rumsfeld as "He-Who-Should-Be-Fired." It's so nice to know that someone else thinks of world events in Harry Potter terms—I was beginning to think I was being rather childish.

So Ms. Dowd, since we've struck such a harmonious chord between us this week, you are the recipient of the Daily Rev Quote of the Week award, for this remark, which was shot directly at the Tyrannical Triumvirate:

To paraphrase Raymond Chandler, if brains were elastic, these guys wouldn't have enough to make suspenders for a parakeet.

Oh, and Ms. Dowd, you can find my phone number here.


Geek Wednesday Follow-up

After I'd posted yesterday's piece about running Windows XP on the new Mac Intel-equipped machines, I encountered this report at Ars Technica. It raises a couple of points about the prospect of getting these strange operating system bedfellows together under the same hood, which some of you might want to be aware of. Note that the author points out that the standard file system for XP installations—NTFS—can't be written to on the Mac machines; which means that FAT32 is your only route. Also see the difficulty described having to do with running this installation on a MacBook laptop: even though the Mac desktops now come with a two-button mouse, their laptops still rely on the old Control-click dance well known to users of the erstwhile one-button Apple mouse. Well, there's a compatibility problem there, though it appears that some ingenious developer has come up with some software to work around it. The closing verdict seems to be that while it is indeed generally easy and straightforward to do this, it is not a ripple-free pool still at this point. But that's Boot Camp for you...