Friday, June 30, 2006

Friday Reflection: "I'm Sorry You Wasted Our Nation"

So this Nuclear Narcissus of the White House is spouting a vapid haze over the fact that "his" court abandoned him this time on the Gitmo ruling. When you've had the silver spoon in your mouth (and occasionally up your nose) since birth, it's hard to understand, let alone accept, defeat. In fact, he came so thoroughly unglued that he lapsed into more of his trademark word salad:

"It was not always a given that the United States and America would have a close relationship," he said, trying to highlight the remarkable turnaround in relations between the US and Japan - not America - since World War II.

Then, when asked about the SCOTUS ruling, he snarled as follows:

He said he had not had time to take it in, finishing his answer to the second journalist with: "I'm sorry you wasted your question."

Well, I'm sorry you wasted our nation, Mr. President. But that's all croutons on the word salad, as it were: what is especially infuriating about this is the fool's insistence on getting his way and never being wrong in his pursuit of folly. So rather than saying, "the supreme court of our land has spoken—the system of checks and balances instituted by the founders of this nation still works"; he is steeling himself for a battle in Congress to defeat his own appointed Court. When you are driven by a machine, you can only act mechanically.

It is a brutally shameful time to be an American. He and his handlers have disgraced us all before the world. America will become a second-class nation because of the incompetence and depredations of this intellectually and morally impoverished administration.

But that, exactly, is where I find the good news. For there is a change under way, a change such as will restore wisdom, humility, and a deep sense of the common bonds of mankind—better known as Love—among the people and even the political leaders of this nation. The transformation is already occurring, and our children will carry it further forward into a world that lives and acts for itself, the whole, rather than out of the narrow, parochial vision of myopic power merchants and their sycophantic PR machine, who breathe death onto everything that they approach.

How do I know this? The same way you, or anyone else can know: I asked. In my case, it is an old Chinese book of insight that reveals these things. If you think this is too strange, you are welcome to stop here and move on; I wouldn't blame you. If you're at least curious, however, and would like a little background, you can pass by my other website for an introduction to the I Ching.

Here is what I learned. I cast Hexagram 12, "Being Halted" (or, in some translations, "Standstill"). The Judgment of this hexagram reads:

Evil people do not further a person's perseverance. The great departs; the small approaches.

I received these four lines with the hexagram: lines 1, 2, 4, and 6. Here they are:

1. When ribbon grass is pulled up, the sod comes with it. Each according to his kind. Perseverance brings good fortune and success.
2. They bear and endure. Being halted helps a person attain success.
4. He who acts at the command of the highest remains without blame. Those of like mind partake of the blessing.
6. Being halted comes to an end. Good fortune.

There is a weed ("ribbon grass" would translate to "crabgrass" in our vernacular) that must be pulled out to the very root, such that the earth holding it is loosened. We have to keep at it ("perseverance")—Abramoff and Safavian are just a couple of stray plants. All the weeds must be routed from the heart of the nation, and dealt with—"each according to his kind."

During this process of uprooting the invading weeds of our earth, many will need to "bear and endure." Some will have to bear more than others. I am thinking of the innocent people of Iraq; the poor and middle class of the American Gulf Coast and New Orleans; young people whose parents can't afford college because Congress votes itself pay raises rather than attending to the minimum wage or supporting the funding of student loans; workers who are being disenfranchised and outsourced by corporations whose only care is for the top and bottom lines, and to hell with everything and everyone else in between. It is also a time to "bear and endure" the rage that injustice breeds, and that only tends to thicken the darkness of competition and violence. Justice will have its day with the tyrant: so let pure anger, free of toxic rage, guide you.

What unites us is our recognition of both the danger and the opportunity. Truth is not a lockstep, martial march; it is rather a whirling dance of diversity. When we honor our differences, we fulfill our common purpose. This is "to remain without blame" and "partake of the blessing." It doesn't have to be sought outside you, or made manifest through mere conflict. It is already there, within and among us. It is the thread that holds us together, that will guide us out of tyranny.

When we realize these principles in our words, actions, and feelings, then the standstill comes to an end. The nightmare will end; the dead who have led us all to the brink of international alienation and planetary extinction will be defeated and dispersed; the poisonous breath of geopolitical murderers will be neutralized; the natural society of people in democratic union will arise and take a fresh and restorative form. The Earth will respond with a renewed health; the nation will respond with a teeming, vibrant clarity of purpose and expression.

The I Ching was written at a time when a petty but murderous violence ruled humankind, just as it does today. It was written amid wars, oppression, profit-taking, arrogance and self-indulgence in government, and the despicably transparent duplicity of self-appointed kings. Again, it was a time nearly exactly like our own. This is one reason why I rely on its calm, steady voice of penetrating insight and broad perspective. I have also been taught by my own experience to trust the I Ching.

But your choice of a means to such insight matters less than your openness to a source of wisdom that transcends intellect, even as it includes it. Trust yourself; let your connection with the quantum ineffable guide you, rather than what you read in the newspapers or hear over the TV set. Spend time with the earth, and then return to your moment. Cast out fear—especially the fear that your government and your media attempt to condition into you. The time for fear is over, for, as I have said before, the worst that can happen has already begun. Disown the cult of heroism, and discover your own courage; reject the subjection of your true self to the collective, and feel yourself soar away from the stinking bonds of tyranny and its shrill Medusa stepsister, fear. Recover your individual self, and you will realize your union with the all.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Let Geekdom Ring

One reason I read the geek news regularly is because I find things there that help me feel as if we're not trapped after all in a spiral of corruption and corporate greed. Yesterday, there was just such a story: it was about Craig Newmark, the extraordinary founder of Craigslist. Here's what the head of this mega-million dollar company does at work:

He could be at the helm of the company or sit around as its "glamorous figurehead" (as the self-proclaimed nerd has said jokingly), but instead, he spends his days reading e-mails and answering customer complaints--a practice he says even the most high-powered CEO should partake of from time to time.

And here's his advice on success in life and business. I offer it as my quote of the week, and I'm going to print it out at the office tomorrow and post it in a visible place at my cubicle.

"If you want to be successful try to do the right thing," he said. "In the short term you can succeed by screwing people, but it doesn't work too well long term."

Passing from the sublime to the tyrannical, I found this quote in a story about Arlen Specter's intention to sue Bush for violating the very laws he signs into being:

Bush has issued more signing statements than all previous presidents combined. But he has never vetoed a bill, depriving Congress of any chance to override his judgment.

Good luck, Senator Specter. You'll need it, because it seems we live in a time where the only congress that gets anything done is of the sexual variety. The one in Washington, as we have repeatedly said here to our small audience, and as John Sweeney said today to a much larger one, is a hapless swamp of self-consuming stagnation.

But a great transformation is under way in the field of consciousness. We don't quite see it yet, but it's there. And what, you may ask, makes me so confident? Well, I asked. The I Ching, that is, a 5,000 year old (give or take a few centuries) collection of insight that was created to speak to situations just such as we have now in America. Tomorrow, in the Friday Reflection space, I'll offer as much as I was able to understand of what the old oracle had to say.

Finally, some thoughts on a rather ominous overture from a very promising young politician to some very dangerous religious groups, at my Daily Kos diary. Even if you don't have time to read the piece, check out the comments—they're a riot. Most of them bash the shit out of me (perhaps with good reason), but nevertheless I like that Daily Kos community. I guess it's a relief to see spirited, truly democratic disagreement, rather than that Coulter-esque psychotic ranting that you find at other blogs' comments sections. Sure, they get over-excited, and some reveal a worrisome inability to truly read what they comment about (as in the person who accused me of "atheieistic [sic] hostility to religion"); but at least they're trying to read and understand the issues, rather than vent mindlessly over some new collection of inflammatory videos such as you see at many sites on the web.

Anyway, here's a brief selection from the Kos diary piece:

God is no more to be found in the church than the nation is to be found in the State. So, to my mind, the challenge for a society that wishes to truly grow is not merely to separate church from state (though that's a good first step); but rather to separate from them both.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Flag as Mask (and Geek Wednesday)

...And in other news, Satan is turning down the furnace in Hell by a few degrees, to help with global warming. I found this link in the "Good News" section of the Center for American Progress' e-newsletter: "Bolton Drops Campaign to Withhold U.N. Funding". It's a sign of how low we have sunk as a nation with this administration: whenever they don't do something stupid, arrogant, vindictive, or impulsive, it's a cause for celebration.

But we're still the kings of rah-rah, nationalistic pride... Some survey nerds in Chicago who had an idle afternoon to spend one day decided to poll citizens of 34 nations on their levels of nationalistic testosterone. Guess who came out #1? Just a whisker ahead of Venezuela...but don't worry, if Pat Robertson gets his way, that will most certainly change...

This, again, is generally considered cause for celebration, so I suppose I should keep quiet about my own feelings. Let me then merely suggest that you try a different perspective, if only for a minute or two, on pride. That's how long it will take you to read this. Then decide for yourself if it's time to try a different view of pride. In any event, we're going to have to reach the point, fairly quickly, where the planet takes precedence over the nation, if humanity is to survive as a species. It's that simple.

Now, on to Geek Wednesday...

I have a 2 dollar reward for anyone who can explain what Web 2.0 really is—any takers? Note: "It's a folksonomy for flickrs, wikis, and blogs, oh my!" is not an acceptable response.

Philanthropy, Inc.: I have written a diary entry at Daily Kos that discusses the largesse of Mr. Gates and his partner in saintly charity, Mr. Buffett. Far be it from me to disdain good works; I am merely saying that if this philanthropy actually and substantively improves the state of humankind or the health of the Earth, then I will meekly sing hosannahs every time XP crashes on me or a long Word document dissolves into electromagnetic ether. I will re-name that indigo benefaction "the blue screen of Life."

Meow, Uncle Bill: Apple's next upgrade to the Mac OS X operating system, Leopard, will receive its first public demo at the WWDC in August. The rumor mill has it that it will include everything from a total integration of iCal/Mail/Address Book (something already being undertaken by the Mozilla folks with their Lightning project) to universal brotherhood that sings in streaming video from inside a Nike sneaker. I have no forecast to make on features except that they'll beat the stuffing out of whatever Vista has for you prisoners of Windows; but I do have one prediction: if only to tweak Bill's nose once more, Steve will whip his team to deliver Leopard at or ahead of schedule (remember how those Intel machines came out six months ahead of time?). Expect to see a production release of OS 10.5 Leopard well before the end of 2006.

Office 2007: Your Turn: Back to MS, you can now safely try out Office 07 on the web, without risking a fall into download hell. If you'd like to have a look at what you'll be encountering, see our three previous Geek Wednesday posts.

Automating the Starry Skies: Yesterday we linked to the wonderful APOD site, the link to which is near the top of my blogroll. If you're a Mac user running OS X (Tiger), you can use the Automator tool to let an Applescript capture images from APOD for you. Check it out, here.

Tiger 10.4.7: Also for Mac users, the long-awaited update to Tiger is now out and available via Software Update. It was nearly a month ago that ThinkSecret first reported that this update was imminent; but Apple has a way of being rather careful about these releases, especially now, with the new combination of security issues and Intel compatibility facing them. As regular readers here know, I'm never hesitant about criticizing Apple when I think they deserve it, but I've been through Jaguar, Panther, and Tiger in all their various updates, and have never had a problem. The patch-weary Windows users among us may find it hard to believe, but that's just another great reason for adding a Mac to your computing lifestyle. And as my Mom used to say when she had drawn the line on fixing my favorite pair of jeans, "when you're all patches, you're no more pants." Mom knew a thing or two about technology.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

After the Rain, A Snow Job

The operations of Nature may be mysterious to many of us, even "cruel and indifferent" (Bush's excuse for Katrina). That may be merely a part of our human lot here on Earth (or it could be a function of our choice to fund space exploration by a factor of 2 to 1 over the scientific study of our own planet). But sometimes Nature hits such a perfect note that you have to wonder whether there is a more familiar kind of reason in Her than we might suspect.

Perhaps you remember this map of Florida from a few years back (click it for a larger view): the black lines traveling through the red counties show the paths of various hurricanes through various voting districts of the Sunshine State. And today, Nature paid a more intimate visit to the thrones of power in Washington. The flooding from the torrential rains of the past few days there snarled traffic, closed government buildings, and blew an old elm tree onto Dubya's front lawn.

In fact, our old buddy Lao Tzu might have something to say about that. Mr. Tzu, how are you?

When we are born,
We are soft and tender.
After we die,
We become rigid and brittle.

A living tree can sway,
A living blade of grass can bend,
For suppleness is the strength of life.
Only in death is flexibility stilled.

Tough and taut is the body of death;
Gentle movement is the way of life.

Powerful forces crush themselves
Because they cannot move or yield.
A stiff and heavy tree will soon be broken
By wind or by axe.

Thus does rigid power always crumble,
While the supple and the humble
Gently endure.

Many thanks, as always, Old Philosopher. Incidentally, if you liked the verse, it's from my translation, and frankly it hasn't exactly been leaping off the shelves lately...

Media Watch: The irrepressible Helen Thomas has once again spoken for the rest of us. Recently, she took on Tony "The Teacher" (any Da Vinci Code fans reading this?) Snow, thus:

Q Do you not understand the difference between private companies and governments, sir?

MR. SNOW: I understand. I do understand. But what I'm saying here is, what the public -- I'll tell you what, you ask the American public, do you want -- do you think you have a right to know the specific means and methods by which --

Q That's not --

MR. SNOW: Helen, will you stop heckling and let me conduct a press conference.

Q -- argument.

MR. SNOW: Well, no, I'm making an argument, and you're pestering the teacher.

The conversation, by the way, was about the publication of yet another Bush administration spy program—this one involving the investigation of banking records. While Bush and his buddies shook their fingers and wagged their tongues at the New York Times for publicizing this program (Rep. King of NY called for a criminal indictment of the Times' publishers), Helen Thomas calmly asked a question:

Q Let me ask a follow up. Are you saying that the financial experts in the terrorist ranks would not know about an organization that works for 7,800 different financial institutions in 200 countries?

MR. SNOW: I'm saying, yes. I think that a lot of people didn't know about the existence of Swift.

The message to the press remains clear: journalists, if you dare do your jobs the way the Constitution of the United States of America asked you to do them, you will be punished, browbeaten, threatened, and incriminated. And, it goes without saying, lied to. God bless America.


Fun Links: Hagrid and Snape??? Hermione and McGonnagall??? Harry and Voldemort in a fight to the finish??? Well, if our part-time correspondent Guptilla the Hun is correct, we'll all know on 7/7/07 when Book 7 appears. J.K. Rowling announced it yesterday: 2 characters will die in the final tome of the Harry Potter series.

I have read and loved these stories for around five years now, and have written a fair bit about them myself. I hope my agent's paying attention to this new stirring in the cauldron...

And if you're a fan of the Astronomy Picture of the Day, as I am, you may especially enjoy Monday's pic—an art lover's high-res gift, fit for a background image.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Best of Enemies

New Links: I've had a Daily Kos account for a long time, and have finally gotten round to posting a diary entry. This one is about the Brooks op-ed piece in the NYT, and focuses on Brooks' feeble attempt at satire.

And our friends at World Wide Rennaissance have opened a page with a "Reprimand Your Government" letter. Check it out, and consider signing it.

So I found this story in the Washington Post yesterday, and had to wonder: why is President Bush treating Iran as it if were an enemy? After all, Bush and He-Whose-Name-Cannot-Be-Pronounced believe in the same things. Take an issue that's at the very core of the Bush agenda—the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The Crawford Cashew has a thing or two in common with our friends from Iran, and maybe a lot to learn, as in:

Homosexuality is a crime punishable by death in much of the Islamic world. In Iran last year, two gay teenagers were publicly executed, while in Afghanistan, the Taliban government would torture homosexuals by collapsing walls on them.

And maybe the Dobson/Falwell/Robertson crowd should be building mosques instead of those glass churches with solid foundations of good old Muslim hatred. Here's their ally, Muzammil Siddiqi of the Islamic Society of North America, speaking:
Homosexuality is a moral disorder. It is a moral disease, a sin and corruption. . . . No person is born homosexual, just like no one is born a thief, a liar or murderer. People acquire these evil habits due to a lack of proper guidance and education.

So what's all this axis-of-evil nonsense about, boys? For when it comes to pure, Godly hatred, you're all one. So come on, join hands and sing:
I'd like to teach the world to hate
For Christ and Allah's sake
I'd like to round up all the gays
And make 'em eat yellowcake...


Neocon Corruption Update: Frank Rich of the New York Times has done some research into the public record for us, and he provides his findings in the context of his usual crystalline perspective. I guess what I'm really saying is that Rich has done the work of journalism (remember that?). Here's an excerpt, in which he describes the result of the neocon policy of the "competitive sourcing" of government services (a marriage of K Street and the fattest corporate campaign contributors):

The result was low-quality services at high cost: the creation of a shadow government of private companies rife with both incompetence and corruption. Last week Representative Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who commissioned the first comprehensive study of Bush administration contracting, revealed that the federal procurement spending supervised for a time by Mr. Safavian had increased by $175 billion between 2000 and 2005. (Halliburton contracts alone, unsurprisingly, went up more than 600 percent.) Nearly 40 cents of every dollar in federal discretionary spending now goes to private companies.

WMD Bullshit Update: While Uncle Donny and Sanctum Santorum were making blithering idiots of themselves getting their panties gooey over the appearance of some ancient sarin that wouldn't even clear a clogged drain today, some actual facts about the WMD story were emerging:

In late January 2003, as Secretary of State Colin Powell prepared to argue the Bush administration's case against Iraq at the United Nations, veteran CIA officer Tyler Drumheller sat down with a classified draft of Powell's speech to look for errors. He found a whopper: a claim about mobile biological labs built by Iraq for germ warfare.

Drumheller instantly recognized the source, an Iraqi defector suspected of being mentally unstable and a liar. The CIA officer took his pen, he recounted in an interview, and crossed out the whole paragraph. A few days later, the lines were back in the speech.

It all makes me want to sing another song—join in, everyone:

Que sarin, sarin,
Whatever we say, will be;
The future is Dick Cheney,
Que sarin, sarin!


For those of you who have gotten used to seeing Terry McKenna in this space on Monday, I have disappointing news: he's taking a week off. From blogging, that is—both of us still have to work, because we don't get a nickel out of doing this. It's fairly common here in the blogosphere, and to my mind indicates one of its greatest strengths: people put in a lot of time and energy because they have a perspective to share with fellow citizens—you know, democracy (remember that?). Capitalism, with only a few heavily-trafficked and profitable exceptions, generally doesn't cut ice here. And fortunately for us, David Brooks isn't comparing me to Tom Delay, as he has done for Kos (I'm serious, he really did).

In any event, Terry is the positive node of the DR battery. Every Monday, he offers solutions and forward-looking ideas to the corruption and incompetence that have infected government over the past few years (or more). It's not that I'm exactly negative, but more that my solutions speak to the individual. My guiding axiom is that society is transformed when enough individuals within it discover themselves. In a time where the air is filled with the noise of competing groups with their institutional solutions to problems that are really as old as the human race itself, mine is a voice that is easily passed off as just another New Age tree-hugger's cloud of fluff.

But Mr. McKenna is not so easily dismissed. Every week, he offers detailed, constructive, carefully thought guidance for legislators, policy makers, and voters, in a real-world political context that I can't match, either for wisdom or its comprehensive perspective. One of these days, some think-tank or policy making organization is going to stumble across Monday with McKenna, recognize the hidden treasure there, and make Terry an offer he can't refuse. But until then, he's here every Monday; and since his arrival here, the quality and direction of the content here at Daily Rev have been immeasurably enriched. For that, I am—both as the editor and as a reader—grateful.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Friday Reflection: The Poison of Gossip

Before we get to the Friday Reflection, an addendum to yesterday's post on our psychotic leadership. Here's Dick Cheney, speaking in an interview yesterday, on what will happen if we even begin to withdraw troops from Iraq:

"If we pull out, they'll follow us," he said of terrorists.

Cheney's variety of psychodeviance is, of course, paranoia. He is the paranoid specialist of this Administration. You might even have fun debating with your friends on matching particular psycho-diagnoses with your favorite Bush officials...don't forget to put your votes into the Comments. Here are some ideas I've had:

President Bush: ADHD, a touch of mania, presenile dementia

Dick Cheney: paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (manic depression)

John Bolton: aggressive personality disorder with borderline traits

Donald Rumsfeld: narcissistic personality disorder with a touch of mania

Tom Delay: cleptomania, sociopathy with aggressive traits

I can still recall that Pink Floyd lyric:

The lunatic is in the hall;
The lunatics are in the hall;
The paper holds their folded faces to the floor
And every day the paperboy brings more.


Gossip: The Voice of Idle Arrogance

For obvious reasons, I can't tell you anything here about where I work; but I will tell you that there's a lot of in-fighting going on there these days. The preferred weaponry is, of course, email and meetings. The preferred ammunition consists of rumor, half-truth, personal attack, blame, and good old petty sniping. I'm fortunate, because I've been in the corporate game for two decades and have developed a sense for when this stuff is coming my way and what to do about it; and I've got a boss who won't tolerate a speck of bullshit tossed her way or mine.

The current prevalence of this foul stuff, however, reminds me that our culture appears to be breeding it. You pick up a newspaper and are as likely to see Jacko or Britney or 50 Cent as you are Bush, Cheney, or Osama. Whenever anyone's done a statistical survey of such things, it comes out that whatever's coming out of Gwyneth's womb or Cruise's mouth is reported out of all proportion to their importance, compared with, say the poisoning of the earth. It seems an appropriate moment, then, for a Friday Reflection on the subject of gossip.


A wagging tongue comes out of an empty mind. The intelligence of a soul is inversely proportional to the gossip it spouts or consumes.

But today, gossip has taken over the media; it poisons the front pages and sits in the network anchor's chair. Its toxic breath infects us all, like acid rain or wind-driven smog. A rumor is a disease, a contagion on the living body of truth.

Gossip is the insurgent of Mind—it plants little bombs of improvised invective or half-fabricated innuendo within us. It deflects vision from reality, and dismembers thought from feeling; intellect from intuition.

We take it to work with us, where we use it to lay traps and wreak hatred among our colleagues. Gossip is self-destruction spreading outward; it is ever seeking to penetrate the bounds of privacy; to make noise where there should be silence. It sits in dull ignorance as it claims to be in the know.

Is your life so full of empty spaces that must be filled with lurid images and breathless rumors of people you will never know, whose only influence on your life and mind is to trap them amid fantasy? If you are sick, seek treatment; diversion will only kill you faster within.

Your human life needs deep and constant attention—the kind of care you would devote to a child of your own. Can a single moment of it be wasted on gossip? Remember that the smallest rumor is still a scourge; the briefest glance of vindictive idleness quickly becomes a cancer on consciousness. Your life cannot afford any of this; it is far too precious to waste on petty scandal. Retreat from it, then, wherever you find it; expose it for what it is, to yourself and others; then turn away, turn within. Go back to the center inside you, where truth lies waiting like the woman you love in your bed. Embrace her, protect her, feel her gentle glow radiate from your core.

Truth is moonglow: the soft light of the personal joining silently with the universal. Gossip is a blinding glare of display. A demon is only dark within; but its facade is always a gleaming, narcissistic flash that stuns the eye and stills the inner senses. The path to death is lined with idle chatter and flagrant display. Show those voices no mercy: kill them within you, and the warm body of your truth will awaken and fill you with gratitude and bliss.

9:00 PM tonight: Watch Bill Moyers on Faith and Reason

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Magical Thinking, with Flight of Ideas

Our post's title today features two terms that are very well known to Western psychiatrists, particularly those who deal with psychotic and delusional disorders. Here is an example of what a psychiatrist would call "magical thinking":

"I'd like to end Guantanamo. I'd like it to be over with..."

Yes, that's what he said, the leader of the free world—in Vienna, on Wednesday. Can you imagine him holding a teddy bear or a security blanket, with his eyes squeezed shut; his thin, colorless lips set in a grimace of wishfulness?


Now comes the flight-of-ideas part—the complete and unabashed breakdown into a quiet psychodeviance:

But he added that there were some detainees "who need to be tried in US courts...They will murder somebody if they are let out on the street."

Now you may ask, ladies and gentlemen: "why couldn't this idea have occurred to him 3+ years ago, when this madness all began?" I hope that the question, on a little reflection, will answer itself.

I am beyond words, past the point of reasoned argument...when will I awaken from this nightmare? Mr.!

Today in Vienna, at a press conference, George Bush defended US policy by reminding Europeans that September 11, 2001 caused a changed in US thinking.

But September 11 did not change my thinking. And by the way, September 11 was not something I saw on TV. I was on the 20th floor of an office building in New York City on that day. Our building shook from the shock wave of the first plane – though we didn’t know what it was for a few minutes. I was sad to see the twin towers burn. And shocked when they fell. (And I loved the twin towers – even though they were an architectural monstrosity). My wife and I would meet there when we met in the City on days she came into the city for work.

After the towers fell, a colleague and I walked down to Washington Square. From there, you could smell an acrid smell of burnt something… was it flesh? I shudder to think about what it was. But the smell was there.

But no—my thoughts didn’t change. I knew we had fucked with them. And now they fucked with us. It’s the grim symmetry of war. The CIA refers to the reaction as “blowback” (see this article by Chalmers Johnson).

So today, George Bush was greeted by protests and by overt opposition - clearly from everyone. He strides bravely on: "I will do my best to explain our foreign policy," he said. "On the one hand, it's tough when it needs to be; on the other hand, it's compassionate…”

As an American, I’m embarrassed and ashamed.

—T. McKenna

By the way, Happy Solstice everybody.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Geek Wednesday: Language and Its Enemies

As if specifically targeted for Geek Wednesday, we note that Jacob Weisberg has his linguistic psychoanalysis of Bush up on the Slate site. Here's a selection:

Bush's assorted malapropisms, solecisms, gaffes, spoonerisms, and truisms tend to imply that his lack of fluency in English is tantamount to an absence of intelligence. But as we all know, the inarticulate can be shrewd, the fluent fatuous. In Bush's case, the symptoms point to a specific malady—some kind of linguistic deficit akin to dyslexia—that does not indicate a lack of mental capacity per se.

Bush also compensates with his non-verbal acumen. As he notes, "Smart comes in all kinds of different ways." The president's way is an aptitude for connecting to people through banter and physicality. He has a powerful memory for names, details, and figures that truly matter to him, such as batting averages from the 1950s. Bush also has a keen political sense, sharpened under the tutelage of Karl Rove.

Language, according to common wisdom, is an essential part of what differentiates humans from the other critters on this planet. Why, then, would we choose to be so lazy and even intentionally stupid about the way we use it? This is a question that goes far beyond Bush and into the realms of our everyday lives. Who doesn't know someone who makes a show of Bushian dyslexia, or otherwise abuses the language with an effrontery at the other polar extreme—the tortuous neologisms of corpo-speak?

Geeks have an appreciation for language, even if many of them aren't that good at English. Get a bunch of them in a room and listen to the banter: "what languages do you know?" Many, indeed, are multi-lingual, but this question is about C, Cobol, UNIX, Javascript, etc. If you want to piss off a geek, screw up his hardware or block his root access. If you really want to piss off a geek, mess around with his code. Geeks know that language matters. Maybe that's why I get along with them so well, even though I couldn't write a line of PERL if my life depended on it.

Geek Wednesday News

Uncle Bill is tired of European lawsuits, delayed Vista release dates, never-ending IE flaws, and those wise-ass Apple commercials that make fun of his hideous operating system; so he's going to pick up his marbles and go home, about two years from now. It's Michael Eisner redux, and should be an encouraging note for the rest of us: after all, us schmucks only have to give two weeks' notice when we quit; but if you're a CEO, it has to be two years. Anyway a comedian I've never heard of named Craig Ferguson did a very funny bit on Bill's ride into the sunset. It's well worth watching.

Now on to part 3 of our review of MS Office 2007. I had a look around Powerpoint '07, which I found to be better organized and more visually appealing than its predecessors. But as with Outlook, nothing really works. I imported a couple of shows I had on the box, including my "Depredations of Bush" piece that I had made last year. But PPT 07 won't allow you to make a movie or a Flash piece of a show. So while it converted the file adequately, I couldn't really do much with it.

This brings us back to the point about the Google vs. MS divide, which has been made here before by Nearly Redmond Nick. When Google releases a beta, it works. Most recent case in point: Google Earth 4, with better resolution and more features to further jangle Dick Cheney's clotted vasculature. In other words, Google puts out beta code that's got substance, that people can actually use. The Writely word processor is another example—by the way, anyone who's looking to try it can contact me for an invite; I've got another 40 or so to spare.

But MS puts out beta that's either mere display or else is so riddled with bugs as to be just too annoying to really use. Outlook '07 doesn't send mail; Word '07 creates files that are incompatible with anything; PPT '07 won't even create a pps file; and I haven't even gotten to Excel yet. So how come this $50 billion dork gets treated as a god by the mass media, which starts wetting its pants because the fool says he's going to retire in two years to devote his life to philanthropy? To me, true philanthropy is donating 20 bucks when you've got 10 in the bank.

All right, so back to PPT and its alternatives, because there is one—a really good one. Since the second version of Apple's Keynote came out, I've used that almost entirely for presentations, because of its superior handling of graphics and media, along with its simple and elegant user interface. Trust me on this one: Keynote is the best presentation software out there today; no version of PPT can match it, and I am willing to bet that this won't be any different once the bugs are fixed in PPT 07.

But don't take my word for it...Al Gore preferred Keynote, too. He made a movie with it.

Fore! A Report From the US Open

I'm writing today about golf, of all things; mainly because I happened to visit the US Open for one of its tournament days, and also because the final result appears to tell us something about our culture and, perhaps, human nature.

First, however, a quick link, which adds to the point made in the comments we quoted from Rep. Gilchrest yesterday. For today, the Center for American Progress is reporting on a bizarre scene taking place in the Senate, where they are closing in on a vote for the Hillary Bill of Wrongs—the criminalization of flag desecration. In other words, this is an addition to Rep. Gilchrest's list of dilatory inanities in Congress. The body count is past 2500 now, while more rather than fewer troops are required to maintain a baseline level of chaos in Iraq. Meanwhile, poor people here are getting poorer, inflation is raising its ugly head, employment rates are stagnating, the planet is being poisoned onto a steep path of perdition, and the corruption continues apace at the highest levels of government. But let's nail those flag-burners and all will be well. Double the penalty if they're gay and married.

So this past Friday, after posting my weekly Friday Reflection piece, I joined my friend and occasional Daily Rev correspondent, Shady Acres Mike, for a trip up to Westchester to the Winged Foot Golf and Country Club, to view, for my first time ever, golf professionals in action. Here's a little of what I discovered there.

• This event was organized with a positively military precision, down to the smallest details. We drove to a local community college where we parked and were then driven by waiting buses the eight miles or so to the scene of the US Open. Once there, we encountered a golf course that had been transformed into a vast stage upon which, guided by ropes and helpful volunteers, patrons could wander (as I like to say, golf's the only sport where the fans are allowed out onto the field) beside the elite of this elitist game.
• The place positively reeked of money—big corporate money. Vast white tents had been erected to provide comfort to corporate moguls who may have tired of walking in the heat to follow their favorite linksters. Among these tents was a collection of them dubbed "Tillinghast Village" after the designer of this marvelous golf course. Anyone who tells you that America is not an exclusive society should be sent to a PGA golf tour event. Just try and get into one of these corporate tents or step across the threshold of Tillinghast Village without proper credentials, and you'll see how inclusive our culture really is.
• About halfway through the day of walking beside the big boys (we followed Vijay Singh for awhile, then Mickelson, then Monty), we grabbed the cheapest sandwiches we could find ($7.00 for turkey and cheese on a roll) and sat down in the grass in a shady spot, away from the throngs. I stopped to feel the thickness of the rough (it was very dense, and I wouldn't want to try and hack a ball out of that stuff), and I noticed something. There were no bugs. I tried to find one, a single ant or a beetle or a worm, and I failed. The place had been positively nuked for insects. I speculated that you'd probably have to dig half a foot into the ground to come upon a single bug. So much for the organic golf movement here.
• That said, it was all a fascinating experience. I stood in places beside the tee boxes where, had I been the one with the club in his hands, I would have feared for my life as a spectator. But these guys never, ever miss; they never, ever shank a ball sideways; and so they are allowed to hit through tunnels of people (many pros will tell you that it helps them aim the shot properly). They were all (the ones we followed) very quiet and focused: there are no more Lee Trevinos out there, guys who will yammer a blue streak with the crowd, the officials, the volunteers, passing animals—anyone and anything with ears to hear—while receiving advice from the caddy, planning and executing the next shot. Guys like the Merry Mex, Fuzzy, and Chi Chi are apparently extinct on tour; they have been replaced by college-bred, grim, corporate professionals who are there to make the biggest checks and earn the greatest glory, while by turns ignoring and berating the fans, photographers, and other courtiers of golf.

Now, about the finish, which I watched on my old TV with its lousy rabbit-eared reception. Mickelson would later call himself an "idiot" for his gaffe on the final hole of the tournament that swung the trophy into the Australian Ogilvy's lap (though there is no question the kid from down under earned and deserved the victory for his consistently solid play over 72 grueling holes). But guess what, Phil did what a lot of people in this culture do—I see it all the time at work in my own profession. Folks make the same foolish mistake over and over again, but they keep getting away with it; they keep recovering just in time to salvage their egos and appearances. In Phil's case, it was an errant driver that haunted him throughout the round; but every time, he got back out of the mess his big club had left him in and saved par. Only on the very last hole did it finally catch up to him. He paid the price for his easy and complacent arrogance; but the point must be made that his experience to that point had told him that no lapse of judgment was irremediable.

So while many fans and media types made the gag reflex and used the C word, I merely saw the action of ego at work in the last hole of the US Open. As I saw during my own little visit there, ego abounds at the US Open—it is as big a presence as the 36,000 square foot "Merchandise Pavillion" (a Wal-Mart made of white canvas).

Phil Mickelson was not, in spite of his own self-assessment, an idiot. He was merely vulnerable—a man subject to the same delusions of self and other that possess the members of our species billions of times a day, in far less public settings. Having played it myself, I can attest that golf is, perhaps more than any sport, a game of feeling. Aggression, so often favored in other games, is a golfer's worst enemy, his undoing. Phil, under the influence of ego's caustic and aggressive assumptions, simply lost his feeling. And so he lost the US Open.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Monday with McKenna: War, History, Reality

Before we begin today, I'd like to make an earth-shattering announcement. Sometime in 2008, that's two years from now, I'll be quitting daily operational work here at Daily Rev to devote more time to my foundation. I hope this shocking news doesn't throw the mass media into a total tizzy; nor should it displace coverage of the important news of the day—soccer games, golf tournaments, or the hockey and basketball championships. I just thought you ought to know.


Now if you'd like to know what's really happening in Iraq, put down your Foreign Affairs Magazine, close that window with the Stratfor Intelligence report, and for god's sake never mind what the American mass media have to tell you. Try this instead: Baghdad Burning, a blog written by a woman in Iraq who sees the reality and expresses it with clarity. Bookmark it, check it regularly, and pass the link around. What you find there will help to make sense of what Terry McKenna has for us this week. Because what you'll hear in Congress won't—except for this, our quote of the week, from Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a Republican from Maryland:

To me, the administration does not act like there's a war going on. The Congress certainly doesn't act like there's a war going on. If you're raising money to keep the majority, if you're thinking about gay marriage, if you're doing all this other peripheral stuff, what does that say to the guy who's about ready to drive over a land mine?

And now, on to Monday with McKenna...

This week, the country was entertained by the spectacle of a debate in the House of Representatives on the War on Terror. The Republicans focused on the simple (simplistic?) message that real Americans don’t cut and run. The Democrats stayed their course by reminding us that the Bush war program is a failure – though they were less clear about what to do beyond complaining.

It is time for Democrats to take foreign policy seriously and to be prepared to confront Republicans not only for failure of execution, but for the outright foolishness of their program.

Of course US foreign policy has long been riddled with bad ideas. We looked for short term fixes over long term success. Some failures were inevitable. After WW2, we should never have expected to have much influence in Eastern Europe which was, after all, the Soviet Union’s backyard. We also should have anticipated the anti-colonialism of both Africa and Southeast Asia.

In the 1950’s, US policy mixed open support with covert action. Thus we supported and armed a series of right wing dictators around the world, but most particularly in Africa and Latin America. After the Viet Nam war collapsed, we started to arm surrogate armies (militias). Most specialists now believe that we did more harm than good. The current instability in Africa is thought to be a direct consequence of our shortsighted policy. And in the Middle East, Al-Qaeda is essentially our creation; when we armed the Mujahidin, we sowed the seeds of the current crisis.

All the while, the foreign policy establishment remained eastern, upper crust, and moderately left leaning – whether working for a Republican or Democratic president. Conservatives thought that if they ever assumed power, they could do better.

Even after conservative Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, foreign policy remained the province of moderates in the State Department. So when Bush II was elected, conservatives vowed to push aside the professionals in favor of appointed ideologues who supported the Bush agenda. The central tenets of Bush II were:

1. The US has the right to take unilateral action in defense of its interests, up to and including pre-emptive war
2. The Middle East needs to be revamped in favor of democratic and west-leaning free market states
3. Free trade and not foreign aid will create prosperity
4. The UN is a platform for tyrants to lecture the West (and especially the US) about human rights

If you look at these positions in a vacuum, they sound at least half right. For example, who among us would not admit that the UN is a failure. And who would challege the right of any nation to defend itself. The problem is that when you take action on half-truths, you get weak results based on half-baked, immature policy.

Pre-emptive war: a genuine threat deserves a response – but you must be really sure of yourself before your embark on such an endeavor. Sadly, Bush II picked Iraq for its gamble. Based upon the utter failure of the enterprise, it will no doubt be the last time anyone tries this foolishness.

Democracy in the Middle East: specialists who understood the Middle East always warned that Democracy was not a simple answer to all of our concerns. Iran’s elections are troubled, but they are more genuine than most, and look what happened; they elected an anti-Israel extremist who wants the bomb. And look at the Palestinians; they also voted for an extremist, in this case the extremist party, Hamas.

Free trade: a spate of free trade measures over the recent past has pushed more and more nations into the global economy. The problem with globalization is that, while prosperous citizens and prosperous nations gain access to more cheap goods, for the rest, change destroys economic relationships that have gone on for ages. So the indigenous ways collapse, and the gap between the rich and poor gets wider. In China, the children of poor peasant farmers come to the cities to find work (usually in factories where they work for a pittance). In Mexico, peasant agriculture has also collapsed, forcing small farmers to turn into illegal laborers in the US. China and India now compete with the West for oil – and in doing so, have gained a voice in foreign policy matters like how to force Iran to stop its nuclear program – both nations oppose the use of a boycott.

The United Nations: we installed a bully (John Bolton) as our UN ambassador. While it is fun to hear the UN denounced for corruption, it is hard to imagine how he will rebuild a consensus in favor of whatever the US still may want to accomplish through the UN. And that’s the rub. We still need the UN as a vehicle for matters that don’t merit a full-fledged US military effort – such as Darfur or East Timor.

The Democratic program for foreign policy change should be a simple correction to the Bush nonsense:

The US foreign policy should return to a combination of realism and humility before the world.

• The US recognizes that war ALWAYS has unintended consequences and ALWAYS ruins the lives of innocent non-combatants. While reserving the right to combat any genuine threat, the US renounces pre-emptive war.
• The US encourages the efforts to achieve democracy in the Middle East. Middle eastern democracy may take forms that are troubling for US interests (and a threat to Israel). Nonetheless, while supporting Israel’s right to exist, the US pledges not to use it’s intelligence services to subvert local political developments.
• The US encourages the growth of the private sector throughout the developed world, but economic development must be accompanied by social programs that protect those who lose their livelihood in the course of modernization
• The UN remains the only respected international institution that can muster resources for the common good.

And that’s it. It’s not a sound byte, but it’s a sincere and solid idea.

—T. McKenna

Friday, June 16, 2006

Friday Reflection: Beyond Belief

One showman, one journalist, two field trips: While Bill-O was off visiting Gitmo and, as is his wont, arriving at the most violently bipolar and ill-targeted conclusions; Bob Herbert was visiting another detention and torture center, and he came back with some truth for us. I hope you don't read the blog over a bacon and egg sandwich.

Meanwhile, on the heels of Bobby Kennedy's expose for Rolling Stone on the rigging of Ohio in the 2004 election (video interview here); a geek magazine has found more evidence of ballot box skullduggery—this time (again) in Florida. (There are some excellent points made in that piece, if you can overlook the spelling and grammatical errors. I work with geeks, and I know they're not the best writers, our own Nearly Redmond Nick being the exception to that rule).

Yet, as Alterman reminds us, the so-called liberal media are once again gushing their approval of the continuing nightmare visited upon us by the inept tyranny of the Bush junta, all because of the death of Al-Z and the etonne trip to Iraq by the Crawford Cashew. I present Dr. A's conclusion on this Romper Room scenario without further comment:

Really, it’s too dumb to have to even discuss; One day the media is all excited about a phony turkey; the next day it paints lipstick on a real one.


Now that we've digested our fair share of ideological pulled pork, it's time for a Friday Reflection.

Go're going the wrong can't do just don't get it...won't you ever learn?

Sound familiar? Perhaps you've heard this refrain all too frequently in your life; maybe from a husband or wife; a boss or co-worker; a parent or teacher.

It's the pervasive mark of our culture, the impulse to control, criticize, compartmentalize. It's the positive pole of the bipolar cult that's ruling our government, media, and pedagogical institutions (the negative pole being the impulse toward victimhood that is the response to the impulse toward manipulation—it is so pervasive that it goes on internally, within the individual psyche).

We've gotten so good at this that it seems as if it's the only thing we're good at anymore.

How do you typically respond to it, whenever this petty aggression points its gunmetal dart shooter at your heart?

Well, you fight back, right? Well...wrong.

Fight evil, and you empower it. Swing the sword of rectitude, and you will be struck by it. Attack whenever you feel assaulted, and you will be trapped in the dance of everlasting death.

This is the culture at work on your soul—claiming it, controlling it, killing it. Fighting is deemed bravery, no matter how dull and incessant it may be; while retreat is always labeled cowardice (the opinions of the greatest military strategists of all time notwithstanding).

But think how brief it is, the time of your life. Compare it not with the breadth of eternity, but merely with history—the history of your society, your nation, your personal ancestors. See how ephemeral it all is: your spark will glow an instant before it sputters and is extinguished amid water and ashes.

How could such a moment be lost in belief, hidden behind a mask, buried under a psychotic monument of Law? When you realize how brief it all is, how soon it will burn out and return to its Source, then you can see clearly that there is really no time for falsehood to your self. There is no time to waste on the treadmill of hatred, casting the boomerang of enmity.

Indeed, there is barely enough time in a human life to approach and touch your natural destiny—how can there be a minute to spare for ego and its monuments made of shadows?

So what if we all dropped the impulse to control—just let go of it and walked away? What would be the result of that?

Chaos, right? Without law and order; without the fear of God; without the threat of punishment and the tools of manipulation, we would quickly descend into disorder. This is what we are told, from our earliest childhood onward.

Maybe that's true, I don't know. But would it be worse than the "order" that we have today? The order that we've been trained to acknowledge in a spirit of subjection, and which we impose upon one another in every corner of our lives—would giving up on control drop us into a pit any deeper than what we're sinking into at this moment in history?

Fortunately, your life is only one among billions. You can try dropping the bipolar impulse of control and victimization, simply to see what it brings you.

If you wish to conduct this little personal experiment, consider this possibility. Spend more time in contemplation, and your actions will be better guided. That is, more efficient, using less energy to accomplish things. Action led by clarity gets things done swiftly and enduringly; and clarity is the result of contemplation—the inward-turning of the self that has learned to ask the right questions of itself and its world.

Logic, reason, and the algorithms of deduction are wonderful; Visio charts and decision trees have their place as well. But if you haven't felt your way through a task or a challenge, then you aren't ready to act on it.

Try this approach: take two similar tasks and approach them with only one significant variation. Think one of them through and find the most rational way to action. Then, for the other one, spend time in meditation, perhaps with a simple, conscious request that you be helped to clarity, a sound perspective, a rounded plan, and well-directed action.

See how each situation turns out: lightly compare the results, both in the short and long term. There is no need to microscopically analyze the respective outcomes; just use your common sense in appraising them, and then let go.

This is science performed on the personal plane. It is the choice of experience over belief; of feeling over faith; of lived reality over a dead and derived acculturation. To live a life of personal science is to accept risk in the pursuit of truth.

The alternative offered by the forces of belief has failed, and continues to fail. The risk implied by a retreat from the battlefield of contention is an illusion perpetrated by the followers of warfare. Be guided by your own light; test every idea and action in the crucible of your inner truth, and though you will make errors, you will never fail.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

For Whom the Bell Polls: Jail to the Chief

Poll time: It's a "baby bounce" at home thanks to Al-Z. But before you crack another bottle of bubbly, President Pestilence (the first one was for Karl's legal teflon act), remember: the world still hates you.

So this one's for you, Chief. Hail, Hail (the full text of this piece is here).

In our Western culture, [the slavish following of "chiefs"] remains much the same. You don't see it? Then look at these titles from the realm of corporate America:

• CEO (Chief Executive Officer)

• CFO (Chief Financial Officer)

• COO (Chief Operations Officer)

• CIO (Chief Information Officer)

• CTO (Chief Technology Officer)

There may be others; but these are the most familiar. Common to them all is that word, Chief. People holding this class of jobs are paid something on the order of 300 times a fellow in the mailroom or a woman in the secretarial pool. Even an average professional-level employee making 70 or 80 thousand dollars a year would have to work for 20 to 50 years to equal what one of these Chiefs "earns" in one.

Then we come to the great political Chief of America, the one celebrated in the song, "Hail to the Chief". Here, the disparity is not so much about money (though that is a factor more related to the political machinery that drives him forward into office), but rather about power. These past six years, we have witnessed a great decline in the strength, morale, and economic vibrancy of this nation, due to the despotic power-grab of an incompetent Chief with a vast political machinery behind him. He has wrought death, ruin, despair, and apathy among a once-great people; even as he has proclaimed himself and his cronies a vast success, in an Orwellian Newspeak distortion of language, a foreshortening and strangling of truth.

I hope it is clear by now that the enduring answer to this trouble is not to install better Chiefs—that is only a partial and temporary solution that collapses as soon as another Nero, another Caligula, another Hitler, another Saddam, another Bush, arises and takes power. If we want to find a more natural and permanent solution, one that is in tune with Nature and truth, we have to probe deeply into the souls of ourselves and our communities. We have to find the cultural rot that must be expunged from within; we have to clearly identify the decadent beliefs and their representative words, titles, and phrases that tend to perpetuate the assumptions of human delusion. In short, we have to kill the belief that fuels dependence and inequality: we have to assassinate the Chief within ourselves, our communities, and our nations.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Geek Wednesday: Slaves to the iPod???

Ars Technica today is featuring a story that will disturb, but should not astonish, iPod owners—especially in light of Apple's recent collaboration with Nike. It's about child labor, slavery, and the same gruesome wages of globalization that we've come to witness all over the corporate map. Reality check, Steve: are you so fattened with profit and success that you can't open your eyes?

I ask, once again, the same question I have asked time and again before: is it humanly possible to do business, make profits, support the health of your local and national economy, produce great products that appeal to both need and desire, while also keeping one's heart open, one's conscience clear, one's actions aligned with the cause of Life? We're waiting for your answer, Steve...

Now, onto more pleasant geek news. The Webby Awards show was Monday night, and the results are in. I was a reviewer for these awards (though I'm sure it's no great distinction; there were probably hundreds of us). I looked at something like 250 websites over six or eight different categories, and saw all the Flash media I'd like to see for a long time. But it was fun, and I got to spend a little of Larry Ellison's money (he's the big cheese on the Webby committee).

One thing I couldn't help but notice amid the Webby winners was a distinct (and refreshing) leftward lean. Check out these victors; you'll find links to their sites at the Webby results page (link above):

Ariana Huffington's Huffpost blog
Prince ("lifetime achievement")
Thomas Friedman ("person of the year"—and don't ask me why)
The New Yorker (best writing, and well deserved, too)
Google Earth (design/function)
UNICEF / State of the World's Children (I reviewed this one, and gave it a "10"—the link's in my sidebar)
The Onion (humor)
Grist Magazine (an environmental mag that is the only source you need for real info on global warming and environmental issues)
NPR Music (music)
Guardian Unlimited (newspaper)
Mother Jones (politics) (radio)
What is Enlightenment? (spirituality)


Smoking Geek Gun of the Week: Ready to leap onto the Ajax bandwagon? Where I work, there's a lot of excitement about it (it always cracks me up when corporate types talk about how "excited" they are about something they know nothing about except that it might make them look good. Excitement is when you've just had your second glass of wine and your girlfriend comes over and sits on your lap; sorry, but javascript just doesn't rate). Yahoo Mail got onto the bleeding edge and paid the price—serves them right, too.

Now, on to part 2 of our review of MS Office 2007. Last week, we looked at Word's fresh new UI and its slick toolbar re-design. Today, Outlook, the email client with a traditionally bad attitude.

Like Word, Outlook has received little in the way of enhancement or new functionality. I was a little astonished to see a Google Desktop bar offered with Outlook. That may be permanent or simply a warm-up during the Beta phase for Microsoft's own proprietary desktop search, which also installs itself along with Office 2007.

In terms of interface, Outlook at the front end maintains the traditional text menu with drop-downs that have been transformed in Word and Excel (just click any of the graphics for larger views). The look of the buttons is great, the calendar is very nice with a neat sliding mini-cal that comes from a button built into the right margin of the window. Word-style toolbars are featured in the Send window (though that's marginally annoying, as you have to remember to click back onto the Message toolbar just to get a Send button).

In other words, it's all great-looking stuff. One minor problem: it doesn't send mail. I tried two or three times, and it failed to send every time. Outlook crashed once when I tried to send a message containing two image inserts (about 250 KB total). Big problem when you have an email client that can't send mail. Back to the drawing board on this one, boys.

For Wintel email clients, I say nothing beats good old open source Mozilla Thunderbird for ease of use, looks, simplicity, and solid, reliable functionality. Take a look at a comparison (Outlook 07 above, T-bird below). T-bird also neatly arranges mail to multiple accounts; a feature that Outlook is still missing (you have to create and configure personal folders to make Outlook do what T-bird does automatically).

So I'd like to have a look at the Vista public beta, but my experiences with IE 7 and Office 2007 have me squirming a little. I mean, even though the Wintel box isn't my primary machine, and the trusty iMac shows no signs of stiffness at the age of 3 (exactly ZERO crashes of the OS in that time, knock on silicon); still I'd like to have a working XP box. So I'm teetering a little on this leap: I've upgraded the video card, which needed doing anyway, and it was only $30 for a 128MB nVidia card.

I just might make the leap, and if I do, we'll have a full report on the mess right here on Geek Wednesday at Daily Rev. Anyway, I've got Ubuntu Linux disks lying around...just in case.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Congress: De-Clawing America

Those of you who read here regularly probably know I'm no great fan of the New York Times, except every Monday, when the middle of their lineup comes to the plate. Yesterday, Krugman & Herbert did their stuff as no one else in the mass media can. If you've got the fifty bucks for a year of this, it's well worth it. If I were to put together a Presidential ticket and just swear to the voters that Krugman would be somewhere on my cabinet, I bet I'd steal quite a few votes—probably more than Nader, even.

But I wouldn't be at the top of the ticket. My presidential nominee would be the little lady you see up inside the banner. In fact, she has a few words for us today. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you...Night the Cat.

Have you ever had your claws clipped? Well, let me tell you, it's not exactly your warm-and-fuzzy Hallmark moment. Everybody's making a big deal over this cat in New Jersey that chased the bear up the tree...Kourageous Kitty. What a sack of dogshit. Chasing bears is nothing compared to what I go through with enduring people.

I guess I can't complain, because the guy here tells me that a lot of folks take their cats' claws out entirely. And they pretend it's good for kitty. OK, you pull your fingernails out and tell me it feels just great, and I'll follow you down to the vet to get declawed.

But anyway, that all reminds me of what's going on in Congress. I bet you were waiting to see where this claw metaphor was going...These guys are cutting off the claws of this society, while a war rages and the planet melts. You're incredible, you people—you'll bang your heads up against the same brick wall until your brains are lying in a pool of blood at your feet. And then you run for re-election!

So let's see what those folks that you refer to as "fat cats" are up to (believe me, I'm a fat cat, and none of these people in Washington rates as a fat cat, though I wouldn't want to be a tuna casserole in their vicinity). They're still trying to figure out how to mollycoddle the guys from Corpo-America who funded their election war-chests, while still making a pretence of preserving net neutrality. If you people put half the effort into reality that you put into display, this world would be getting somewhere.

Next, and this is really hilarious, they fulminate over gay marriage, estate taxes, and—I swear I'm not making this up—a bill to allow indigeneous Hawaiians the right to self-government.

What in the name of Bast are you people doing, paying these people a king's ransom with your taxes while they waste all that money doing the human equivalent of a dog fucking a tree, only to idle away the other half of the year on vacation, spending lobbyists' cash on $50,000 trips? I've said it before, and I'll say it again: you people are barking, howling, woofing mad.

And no, I'm not interested in your Chief Mouser's job. As one of your famous politicians once said, if nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve...

Monday, June 12, 2006

Monday with McKenna: Awakening the Left

Sometimes, albeit rarely, the little guy wins (click the graphic for the story).

In case you're wondering, we did not go to the Blogger's Convention. Daily Rev is still too small and quiet a voice on the blogosphere to rate inclusion in such an event. And anyway, we wouldn't trust ourselves in Las Vegas.

But it's good to see that a few politicians are listening to what they're hearing from the web. If they now do their jobs and protect net neutrality from the strangling grasp of corporate monopolies, then they'll be able to enjoy more of the free speech and independent reporting that the blogosphere has furthered.

Now before we get to Terry McKenna's piece on how the Democrats might awaken public trust, I'd like to comment briefly on some of the reaction to the killing of Al-Zarqawi. The reaction I'm referring to happened across the spectrum of political affiliation, so there is no right-vs.-left dynamic at work in this. But the attitude was typified by the cover of Friday's New York Post, which exclaimed, "GOTCHA!" over a picture of the dead man's face, with a talk bubble inserted beside his mouth, containing the words, "Warm up the virgins".

For a flag-draped rag like the Post that purports to support the troops, this was a strange display. Such an infantile, arrogant show of hubris will only have the effect of putting the troops in greater danger, as if they didn't face enough already. War is not a hunting party; the dead enemy is not a trophy. Violence, no matter its outcome, is nothing to crow or beat one's breast over. I would ask the Post's editors, and all the media outlets that spread this attitude toward the fate of Al-Zarqawi, to think more carefully about the consequences of their actions. Remember Odysseus' rebuke to his son, Telemachus, after the defeat of the suitors; or the grim warning of Admiral Yamamoto to his officers after the carnage at Pearl Harbor. Never, ever, celebrate or gloat over the death of your enemy. When you are victorious in war, it is well to be grateful, but never proud.

And now, Mr. McKenna: how can the Democrats possibly avoid piddling away the political advantage they seem to currently enjoy?

Despite the killing of Al-Zarqawi, we are swiftly returning to normal. In the few days since that successful moment in the War on Terror, three prisoners from the gulag in Guantanamo have offed themselves; and the Israel/Palestinian mess is heating up again, after the missile attack on a recreational beach in Gaza.

On the domestic front, the US economy is stalling; this promises to lower tax collections, increase debt, and incite further problems with interest rates. One would think this would be a good time for Democrats to take advantage of the political chaos. But the Democrats remain hemmed in by their own rhetoric and by an over-reliance upon advocacy groups to help them win elections.

Where Republicans speak with the clarity of a marketing program - they want small government, low taxes and self reliance, the Democrats are a crazy quilt of interest and advocacy groups tied together by their common support for social programs. Trouble is, the advocacy groups are now as much a burden as a help.

For example: we know the world is running short of oil. We also know we don’t have an immediate replacement. Yes, we can eventually re-urbanize –, but in the meantime most middle class voters live in small towns and suburbs and depend upon their cars for all of their transportation needs. So while we dream of re-urbanizing, with its emphasis on mass transit, this will take decades – and lots of planning. In the meantime, middle class suburbanites are feeling the pinch (up to $100 per month per driver.) Maybe it is time for Democrats to support domestic oil drilling. Right now, the majority of unexplored sites are in prohibited coastal zones and in our protected wilderness – it is time for Democrats to suggest a compromise that includes a cautious approach to oil drilling along with an immediate and aggressive increase to the CAFE standard, and maybe a fuel tax on all fuels, one that funds heating fuel for the poor.

Oh – yes I know that the odds suggest that there is little more oil out there- but so what. That’s no reason not to try oil drilling as well as conservation. The point is compromise.

On to abortion. We know this is a no win issue for Democrats; so it is time to drop it. Democrats have dropped issues before – like school busing. But while dropping an emphasis on abortion, they should re-emphasize support for family planning, including contraception – and include a single payor health insurance system so that the poor have access to medical services.

Education: it is time to revamp NCLB. In this case, the Democrats should take advantage of suburban dissatisfaction. For most middle class white families, their limited exposure to NCLB comes when a local (and well regarded) public school is branded as failing. The result (beyond the bad publicity) is that a small public school in a small town is forced to spend precious tax dollars on increased monitoring and essentially, teaching to the standardized test. Invariably, the school comes out better in the next round of testing, but the success is a sham (an artifact of a testing program that defines small failures as general failure). My suggestion for the Democrats is to propose that we replace the current testing scheme with this simple method – for each school, answer three questions: 1) what is the percentage of kids who graduate high school; 2) how many matriculate into one of three options - a 4 year college, a 2 year college or a professional program (such as training to be a machinist or nurse); and 3) how many graduate. If the answers add up to a result that is equal to or better than the state average, then the school system should be left alone. NCLB should focus on the genuinely failing school systems. For those that fail under the new rubric, the result should be both closer monitoring AND INCREASED FINANCIAL SUPPORT.

Federal Monitoring: by this, I am referring to OSHA, the EPA and the numerous other federal bureaus that monitor everything from coal mining to child safety. The Democrats should emphasize their strong support for these useful agencies. But they also should consider a redirection of effort. For example – it's been a boon to all of us that we have eliminated much of the hazards that came from toddlers putting small toys in their mouths. But in some matters, the regulations have created a monstrosity that no longer serves the public. For example – if you read the safety warning of almost any new tool or device, you start off with pages of safety warnings that are so dumbed down that the average tool user ignores them. So if there is anything new to learn about safety, it’s lost in pages of meaningless test data.

So that’s it. No, I have not represented all of the issues, but you get where I’m heading. It’s an answer to those who say that the Democrats have no program. Of course, the Democratic ideologues will scream outrage – but if the Democrats want to take back America, they need to move closer to the rest of America outside the beltway and away from the large cities.

Will they do it? I don’t know. Maybe they will if they find a new Bill Clinton (but not Hillary!) But if they keep going down the road taken by Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, they may still pick up a few seats in Congress, but the central problem will remain the same.

—T. McKenna

Friday, June 9, 2006

Friday Reflection: Hoffer on Fanaticism

So will the death of Al-Zarqawi lead to greater progress and safety in Iraq? Or will such a high-profile death be perceived as an inspirational martyrdom that will only incite further mayhem and tragedy in a land already broken with suffering? Will it only increase the pace and number of flag-draped bodybags being sneaked home in the dead of night to America?

I'm not sure anyone can answer these questions, but we have available to us a well of insight on fanaticism and mass movements such as we see colliding in the Middle East today. For our Friday reflection, I offer a quote from Eric Hoffer's classic, The True Believer, which I think should be on everyone's summer reading list this year. Though it was written more than half a century ago, it could not be more topical than it is at this moment in history. Buy a copy, read it, and then read it again. Presidents such as Eisenhower and Kennedy have benefited from its crystalline insight, and diplomats such as Arthur Schlesinger have appreciated what a treasure we received from this humble longshoreman from California. I will quote from Section 61, "Factors Promoting Self-Sacrifice".

The fanatic is perpetually incomplete and insecure. He cannot generate self-assurance out of his individual resources—out of his rejected self—but finds it only by clinging passionately to whatever support he happens to embrace. This passionate attachment is the essence of his blind devotion and religiosity, and he sees in it the source of all virtue and strength. Though his single-minded dedication is a holding on for dear life, he easily sees himself as the supporter and defender of the holy cause to which he clings. And he is ready to sacrifice his life to demonstrate to himself and others that such indeed is his role. He sacrifices his life to prove his worth.

It goes without saying that the fanatic is convinced that the cause he holds on to is monolithic and eternal—a rock of ages. Still, his sense of security is derived from his passionate attachment and not from the excellence of his cause. The fanatic is not really a stickler to principle. He embraces a cause not primarily because of its justness and holiness but because of his desperate need for something to hold on to. Often, indeed, it is his need for passionate attachment which turns every cause he embraces into a holy cause.

The fanatic cannot be weaned away from his cause by an appeal to his reason or moral sense. He fears compromise and cannot be persuaded to qualify the certitude and righteousness of his holy cause. But he finds no difficulty in swinging suddenly and wildly from one holy cause to another. He cannot be convinced but only converted. His passionate attachment is more vital than the quality of the cause to which he is attached.

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Mr. Brin Goes to Washington

I'd like you to follow this story for a moment, if you will: a young man, who at the tender age of 31 has become a cultural icon as the co-founder of one of the most successful enterprises (technological or otherwise) in history visits Washington, DC. And is virtually ignored except by the geeks and the tech press that follow him wherever he goes. I mean, PC Mag and C-Net follow this guy like People Mag follows Brad and Angie.

His name is Sergey Brin, and he is, of course, co-founder of Google. Ted Stevens and others among the Congressional ignorati chose to overlook his visit, or announce that they were simply too busy (with the gay marriage ban? repealing the so-called death tax? or just some new pork-laden appropriations bill?) to meet with the man who is to the Internet what Harry Potter is to children's literature or Michael Jordan to basketball. He reinvented the game and put a name to it that has become not merely a ubiquitous trademark, but a new English verb. Christ on a bicycle, this guy should have a red carpet flowing under his feet on Capitol Hill. And it had better be flying.

Now wait, it gets better. Not only is he ignored by the fat cats on the Hill, he apologizes for visiting them at such short notice. Then he apologizes again, admitting blame for having gone into China, perhaps at the compromising of his company's core value, "do no evil."

So I have a message for young Mr. Brin, because I'm betting that a bunch of assholes there in DC (and their media mouthpieces) are going to swell their waistcoats, shake a bloated finger or two, and tell you that you have a lot to learn about how to behave in business and polite society, young man.

My message for you, Mr. Brin, is this: you don't.

First of all, you have nothing to apologize for in going to Washington. You did what every citizen of this nation should be able to do—was once able to do. Go to the center of your government and meet with the representatives that your taxes help to pay. You simply showed us how imperially distant and parochially isolated our Congressional leadership has become. You revealed how insular, engorged, and repulsive a government can be when it is allowed to get fat on money and rich in corruption.

As to China, not only is the apology accepted, but the lesson you've given our nation's leaders is also to be noted. You showed Bush, Cheney, and roughly 99% of the so-called leaders of the free world how a real man deals with his errors. First, he admits them, even as he explains his motivation:

“We felt that perhaps we could compromise our principles but provide ultimately more information for the Chinese and be a more effective service and perhaps make more of a difference,” Brin said.

Then, he acknowledges the criticism he has received, and offers his receptivity to a discussion of alternatives:

"I can sort of see how people came to different conclusions about doing the right thing...Perhaps now the principled approach makes more sense,” Brin said.

So let's review, Mr. Brin: you have done more, in the past two years or so, to advance this nation's economy, to further the cause of technological progress, to transform the practice of marketing, and to promote diversity, creativity, and choice in our culture than every single one of the five-hundred-odd lumps of fleshy jowls currently sucking the nipple of K Street combined—and you're apologizing?

You know what, Mr. Brin? I trust you when you say that you're going to do the right thing vis-a-vis China, because you've shown me that you're open to learning from criticism and applying its lessons. And if there are more than half a dozen Senators or Congressmen that I can say the same thing about, I'll cancel all my Gmail accounts, uninstall Picasa, wipe the Google Toolbar off my browser, get rid of my Pages sites, stop using Google Earth and those excellent maps, delete my Analytics and AdSense accounts, stop selling my books over your Book Search, drop your calendar, your web accelerator, take my IM business elsewhere, give up on, and return the invitation you sent me yesterday to try out your spreadsheet.

That is, I think it's safe to say that today the apology shoe is quite on the other foot. You just keep trying to do the right thing, and the rest of us will demand that those obese obfuscators in Washington finally get around to it, too.


Click the link below to find out why Mr. Brin went to Washington in the first place, and what you can do to help.

Save the Net Now

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

The Day After...Yesterday (and Geek Wednesday)

Now that we've gotten past the End Times (whew, that was close—me, without a laptop, having to go all the way to Hell), the moment has come to continue our series on what's good about America. Well, what could be more challenging than facing Armageddon? Maybe finding out...

What's Right About the Media

Ugh. Satan, I'm ready—come and get me, brother!

All right, there must be something good and useful about the American media. I'm sure there are others better at this than I am (in fact, I know it—just check, for example, World Wide Renaissance)—but nevertheless, let's get out our shovels and dig...

Bill Moyers: The Dean, Laureate, and Conscience of Journalism. If you haven't heard and watched his recent speech to his colleagues at PBS, hit the link in the sidebar and spend some time with it. Then expose yourself to as much Moyers as you can. You won't regret it.

NOW: The program that Moyers started and nurtured into a mature validity and vibrancy is still going. The link will take you to a synopsis of their excellent study of the net neutrality issue.

Democracy Now!: Amy Goodman is perhaps the least-acknowledged national treasure that we have in American journalism. Bookmark the site and watch her programs regularly. She's a pearl.

Countdown: Keith Olbermann consistently probes beneath the surface and past the spin, often taking on issues and celebrities that others avoid. In other words, he does the job of a journalist. If you have cable TV, watch it regularly; if not, check for occasional videos from his show at the site and here.

Paul Krugman: To my mind, this man is the premier op-ed columnist in America today. If you haven't spent the $50 on an annual subscription to Times Select, two doses of Krugman per week is surely worth it. My personal hope is that in a future and smarter administration than we have now, Krugman would find a position in the cabinet. He's that insightful, his voice that clarion, his integrity that complete, his wisdom that simple and profound.

Greg Mitchell: His column appears in Editor and Publisher, and the link will take you to his panegyric on the career of war reporter Joe Galloway, whose name will be worth recalling later. Galloway has done some of the most honest and journalistic war coverage of anyone in the media. He has now retired and is working on a book that I know I'll want to read once it arrives. If, after reading Mitchell's piece, you feel the same way, just note the name and check the new releases in a year or so.

BBC News: If you really want "fair and balanced" in your media coverage, go here. It's far from perfect, but the quality of the journalism across the pond is as sunlight unto moonlight compared with what we get here. Until we get the second coming of Edward R. Murrow, we'll have to turn on a PBS station and catch the BBC news if we want to be informed about what's really happening around the world.

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert: These two are to the media of our time what Jonathan Swift was to 18th century England, or Juvenal to the Roman Empire. If you're like me and lack cable TV, go to Norm Jenson's site to receive occasional doses of these two hilarious and amazingly trenchant para-journalists.

Then there's the blogosphere: just spend an hour or so sometime hitting the links in the Blogroll over on the sidebar, and you'll uncover a world of insight and opinion that will both challenge and illuminate you. From Truthout to Altercation to Ehrenreich to Deficient Brain to Free Press to Current Era to Daily Kos—the great and the small of them, the famous and the little-known—you'll find enough there to sift out the truth for yourself. And that's what journalism is supposed to be about.


Geek Wednesday

For GW today, I have another encouraging (and shockingly positive) note to offer. For today, we begin a series of reviews on the beta 2 edition of Microsoft's Office 2007. I also just got my invitation to Google's new assault on MS Office, Google Spreadsheet; and we'll have a review of that product soon here at Geek Wednesday. First, a look at what is still the leader of the pack in word processing land, MS Word, in its MS Office 2007 incarnation.

Warning: I would never have tried this (nor the download of the IE 7 beta, reviewed here previously), if I didn't have my trusty iMac as my primary computing environment. So unless you've got a backup system or are just nuts, don't do this at home. This evening, for example, when I turned on the Wintel box (this is four days after I'd downloaded Office 07), I got one of those mysterious "lost profile" messages on bootup. Fortunately, when I restarted the box everything came back normal, but it was a reminder that when you mess around with Gates betas, you might as well be flossing your teeth with a razor blade. So once again, if you don't have backup, don't do it. Now, on to the review.

Office 2007

I began with the download, which went flawlessly over my 54mbps wi-fi connection to a five-year-old Gateway machine with a P4 1.3 GHz processor and 640MB of RAM. The download took about a half hour for a huge file (435MB compressed), and the actual installation took nearly as long. I got no prompts to add Taskbar items, and there were no additions made to my desktop or start menu. Therefore, I had to go into the Program Files folder, find the .exe files, and add them to the Taskbar. I added Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, Access, and MS Publisher (a surprising addition).

Word 2007

The most notable thing about Word ’07 is the interface re-design. I hope you like blue—specifically, a pale robin’s egg blue that perhaps is meant to be a sky-blue. It’s the common color for all the application toolbars and windows in Office 2007.

Next come the changes to the menus and toolbars. The era of the drop-down menu is soon to end for MS Word users. Instead, clicking on each part of the main menu delivers a single graphical toolbar, laid out horizontally across the top of the window. “Home” (there is no “File” menu item) brings up a toolbar of font, styling, paragraph settings, and clipboard options; Page Layout delivers page setup, background, theme, and paragraph settings. Above these (or below, depending on how you’d like it) is a customizable “Quick Toolbar” that contains save, undo/redo, and print icons, beside a larger, circular Windows graphic that delivers the only drop-down on the main panel.

Like anything new, this may take some getting used to, but it’s a remarkably smart, efficient design for a UI—especially considering it’s from Microsoft. Clearly, it rewards the mouse-dependent and may frustrate those who rely on keyboard shortcuts. But even there, the keyboard user is remembered: hit the F10 function key and a map appears onscreen, with shortcuts overlaid onto their respective commands in the menu and toolbar items.

Another new feature is something you may have read about in the news: the ability to convert Word docs to pdf format. Word 2007 does it, and it also converts documents to Windows' own XPS format (which required a runtime download before I was able to even test this function). Both of my test conversions opened successfully in Adobe Reader and in IE / XPS (Firefox couldn't understand the format, and failed to open the xps file). However, it's starting to look as if some legal action may delay the implementation of this feature in Word 2007 when it becomes available to the public, early next year (so we hear).

Beyond this, there is little of note in terms of enhancements to Word. Memory usage seems generally unimpaired over current versions, though the real test of that will be to see it running within Vista, Microsoft's next OS release, also scheduled for early 2007. As one might expect with a beta, file compatibility is completely chaotic: I couldn't open 2007 files on my Mac except as massive streams of code. One major distraction is the lack of support for the mouse scroll wheel. I have to assume that this is just a bug in the beta. Clicking the scroll wheel activates the scrolling function, but Word will not respond to rolling the wheel. Surely this will be corrected well before there’s a final release of this product. Another annoyance is the failure of Word to import styles of the previous edition: none of the styles I had set up in Word 2000 were present in the Home toolbar in Word ’07. This reinforces the warning above: if this were my primary machine and my styles had been kicked off into cyberlimbo, I'd be pissed. Fortunately for me, the bulk of my writing is done right here on the iMac in Word 2004 for Mac (which has a Photoshop-style floating toolbar).

Next week, we'll have a look at Excel 2007, and perhaps run it side-by-side with Google Spreadsheet.