Monday, July 31, 2006

Coming to 300 Million

The New York Times has a relatively new blogger named Judith Warner, who apparently wrote a book about raising children that gained some attention. On Saturday, she wrote an op-ed piece on the matter of the abortion-for-minors-across-state-lines vote being carried on in Congress (as if they don't have anything better to do). As a fellow blogger, I appreciated her candor and her capacity to vent with a certain lucidity about the lazy arrogance that has infected government these past few years. As an op-ed writer, I find that she compares quite favorably with the likes of Brooks, Friedman, and Tierney in the NYT stable.

Nevertheless, I felt as if she might have missed an underlying issue connected to this latest abortion debate that needs to be kept before the public eye. So I wrote the following note to the comments page; I repeat it here because I'm the father of a 12 year old girl, and the issue has more personal meaning to me than a lot of the stuff that Congress spouts over before they go on another month-long vacation (I've said all I need to about that, this time last year).

A child is a gift, not a possession. This is a teaching that needs to be heard more pervasively, especially given the possession-centered ideology of the Dobson clique.

But such a gift comes with certain responsibilites. When our kids require medical attention—whether it's for a stomach virus or a surgical procedure—parents need to there. Not to punish or judge or perform any of the other petty depredations of the cult of possession, but to support, to comfort, and above all to give love. This is something that I do not feel can be legislated; only taught, and then experienced.

When my daughter was sick last month, I treated her according to what I knew was correct for her. She asked me how I knew this stuff, and I said, "it's my job--if you're ever the parent of a kid, it'll be yours too." In short, if my girl ever faced an abortion, for whatever reason, before she had left home and begun her adult life, I'd want to know and be able to help her through it. The last thing I would need in such a circumstance would be a Congressman telling me how to do it, and under what legal terms.

Yet I see no deep disconnect between that natural desire to be present for my kid and Warner's message on the necessity to protect girls and young women from the encroachment of politicians who are stepping beyond their proper sphere of influence. The disconnect is rather in our culture--first in its narrow assumption of ownership that informs everything from child care to foreign policy; second in its arrogant disregard for nature and the planet.

In about 3 months, the population of the US will pass the 300 million mark. It has never been more true that "the world is too much with us." The poet Wordsworth wrote that line in reference to the accumulation-compulsion of modern society; and it applies equally to the current crisis of our species overrunning and destroying its home planet.

Perhaps if we replace the two assumptions of our culture mentioned above with a different mindset--one that recognizes the gift-nature of a child and supports it with an overarching regard for the planet we live on--then abortion where necessary, and (of greater importance) freely-available birth control would find a more general acceptance. What is prerequisite to that is a broader perspective of understanding than many Americans currently hold. Such a sea-change in the cultural attitude--toward ourselves, our children, and the planet--is what will enduringly prevent any of the horrors cited by Warner.


McKenna On the Mend:

Those of you who look here every Monday for your dose of my G.O.P. cohort can now breathe a sigh of relief. Here's a note I got from him on Friday: looks like it won't be long before he's back to normal and loaded for bear.

Hello folks. And yes, I’m in recovery mode, so not up to my usual long-windedness, but who can witness the re-invigorated tragedy in the Middle East and not remark upon the incompetence of our current president? And here I’m not working the details, so no recommendations for an easy peace – but what about the quality of leadership itself? What would a good leader do?

A good leader would communicate by summing up the situation, acknowledging genuine difficulties and then ending with some sort of reassuring closing statement. In the last century, during the depression and WW2, President Roosevelt gave Americans hope -while not hiding the deep problems and risks. British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill too was able to convey grit and determination, while being able to acknowledge the tough reality. Of course, these were great leaders.

Then we have George Bush. We are two weeks into a war between Israel and Hezbollah and his unscripted moments are brief, incoherent, and express the quality of a man poorly prepared to think outside the lines.

Deer in the headlights?

Friday, July 28, 2006

Friday Reflection: Faith Kills

No one has a solution to the suicidal destruction in the Mideast. Condi imagined for a moment that she had one: let's just call it all a "birth pang", put down our guns and missiles, and watch the wonderful baby being born. She was—appropriately in Rome—fed to the lions and laughed out of the arena.

So I do not have a solution, either. But what I can offer is an explanation, and the smallest pore of an opening to growth. I offer it today as our Friday Reflection.

Hatred is a self-destructive emotion. This is the short explanation for the motivation of the suicide bomber.

But where does it come from, this hatred? We in the West have trouble even conceiving of such a depth of hatred, raised as we are (with some ominous exceptions here in America) in a primarily secular culture. How can we even begin to understand such a hell of hatred, that consumes both self and other in a detonation of the psyche? How can we conceive it, let alone stop it? After all, how can you possibly destroy an army whose ideal is suicide?

You have to go to the root, and cut off the source of its energy.

Not its physical energy—for we have seen how impossibly difficult that is. I am talking about its ideological energy: faith.

Faith is the fuel of the fundamentalist, whether of the suicidally murderous or the despotically murderous varieties. They all come down to the same thing, after all: note that Osama and his cronies cling carefully to life, just as Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld hide behind the shield of distance. The same goes for Olmert, Nasrallah, and their courtiers.

This is the murderous way of faith—the faith that is conditioned into a person by every fundamentalist cult, be it led by an Al Zarqawi or a Pat Robertson. The conditioning of faith is designed to fill a person with such a self-hatred that he will be led inexorably to suicide. The only difference is that Islamic zealots of faith will be thoroughly open in their psychosis: they aim to die while taking as many along with them as possible.

The Judeo-Christian fundamentalists will be taught to do the same, except in a more devious manner. They kill under the flag of rectitude, thereby lighting the fuse of murderous resentment that will eventually complete their suicide. Yet they, too, take many innocents along with them on the road to self-annihilation.

In all cults of faith, the acculturated hatred of self is projected onto the bodies of the designated enemy, their families and their children. This is the way of faith: it spreads hatred indiscriminately, like cancer cells. When you hate, then everyone and everything is an enemy, or a potential enemy.

There is no redemption in faith, aside from the fables that its proponents pour into the faithful. There is only the hatred of self, going under the name of sacrifice or martyrdom. All there is after that is destruction—aimless waste, directionless desolation.

So I teach that faith is a poison—perhaps the deadliest of them all. Faith denies experience, and replaces it with the fantasy built on delusion; the monument made of shadows.

I would encourage you instead to replace faith with trust. What is the difference?

Faith pledges itself to Forever; to a distant and external Absolute. Trust is placed in the moment, and is led by the direct experience of sensation, feeling, and thought. Faith is driven by belief; trust is led by love.

Trust can be violated and then revoked; faith is irrevocable. Trust can be shaped, refined, transformed. Faith demands the rigid inflexibility of an endless monomorphism. Faith will always and forever be the same.

So let trust be the guide of your life's path, and you will never be trapped in the rock-walled, sheer, and suicidal pit of faith. Let trust lead you, and you will find in it all the room you need for god.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Taking a Break

After I'd finished writing Wednesday's piece, I realized (a) that I'd written more in one night than many bloggers and op-ed writers produce in a week; and (b) that I'd forgotten all about Geek Wednesday.

Well, as for (b), we'll pick up the geek thread again next week, once we get off the floor from laughing over 'zune's challenge to the ipod.

Now as for (a), it simply means I've earned a break, especially considering that there is a fair amount of good commentary on world events around, if you're willing to scratch and dig a little. Here are some links:

"What Kind of a Whore is this God?" Jon Stewart and friends compress the entire Mideast scene and its causes into five side-splitting minutes.

Our Willful Blindness in Lebanon, by Marjorie Cohn. She offers facts, names her sources, and relates it to the known track record of the Bushies in Iraq. If you think she's missing something or has her head up her ass, go ahead and hit the comments boards, either at Alternet or right here. But if you're going to take on a researcher like Cohn, you'd better get your facts straight first.

Eric Alterman is as lucid as anyone I've read about the Mideast and the new Lebanon War. Read his six-point response to a reader's challenge to see how a truly diplomatic spirit might address this situation.

The Wisdom of the American People: We really are so much better, so much wiser, than our government; and we deserve so much better than we've got, both in Congress and the White House. Look at those numbers and tell me that Americans are fools. Sure, sometimes we descend into an apathy that is fed by despair, or a complacency fed by advertising (much of it from our government); but even the sleepers among us are awakening. Personally, I think the NBC/WSJ crowd is interpreting the results of this poll wrongly: this is not a tide of pessimism; it is a burgeoning of awareness that will lead us free of the tyrants who currently oppress us all. Soon may that day come.

Coming to Life in South America: Greg Palast on Hugo Chavez's $50 a barrel offer, the real economics of oil, and the bloom of life that is occurring below the equator. Bush can have Blair and Maliki; I would far sooner take Chavez and Morales as my allies.

Here's an Idea for 2008: He's intelligent, articulate, wise, experienced in government, and the kind of guy you'd trust to hold your wallet on the beach while you went for a swim (don't try that with most Congressmen or anyone in the White House). He's the dean and laureate of American journalism, and he would have my vote if the Dems were to catch his hat in their ring.

Greg Mitchell on Media Dissent in Israel: Having been called a "Hezbollah-loving Nazi" myself, this was refreshing to see.

The Long War on Insticator-ism: Watch our boy stumble through another joust with his greatest enemy, the English language.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Four Heroes and a Pet Goat

I want to open with a follow-up note on the two Iranian dissidents we heard from in yesterday's post, for I think its takes more raw courage to do what these folks have done than it would to go into battle.

Let's compare: You go into battle armed with a deadly weapon that has been designed to do its job as efficiently and distantly as the technology allows. You are also surrounded by friends who are equally well armed. If you are fortunate enough to fight for a power like the United States military, then you are likely to have ground, air, and even sea support for your battle; and if you have parents who are rich or desperate enough to find it and pay for it, you also have the latest in body armor and protective gear (never mind asking your government to provide it, though).

Akbar Ganji had a word processor.

No one came to his side when he was arrested; no one stood beside him with the force of military might to demand his release. He was hauled off in front of a kangaroo court and sentenced. Only after he was in jail and on his hunger strike did the world begin to speak up: the U.N., Amnesty International, HRW, and other groups and individuals spoke out on his behalf as they found out about his fate.

As for Mr. Mohammed Reza Afshari, the 23 year old mechanic working two jobs to make ends meet, his future looks even bleaker than Ganji's did last year. For he is a no-name, working stiff Joe like you and I—not a journalist whose work, at least, is a matter of public record to be witnessed and spoken to by others around the world. Mr. Afshari could be iced or sent to the Iranian version of Gitmo any day, and the world would not be the wiser.

So I pay tribute to them both, and wish them prosperity, success, a measure of vindication, and, perhaps most of all, a better, wiser, and more peaceful government for their nation. Indeed, I wish the same for all freethinking, peace-loving people who groan, either in silence or in protest, under the iron weight of oppression, here in America and around the world.

Now while we're on the topic of ordinary heroism (the best kind, in my view), let's think about the gentleman in one of the pictures above (I think you know who the other guy is), an officer of the U.S. Army, First Lt. Ehren K. Watada. He's a soldier who has not forgotten that he is a human being first. Here's how he explains why he is refusing to join the fighting in Iraq:

Simply put, I am wholeheartedly opposed to the continued war in Iraq, the deception used to wage this war, and the lawlessness that has pervaded every aspect of our civilian leadership.

Lt. Watada is facing a court-martial with possible prison time—even after he had offered to fight instead in Afghanistan, which he believes is a battle for justice over the atrocities of 9/11. The Army has chosen to isolate and, it seems, prosecute him instead.

But let's face it: that's how this administration has worked from day one. You dance to our one-note tune, or you're with the terrorists. It's that simple. The only wiggle room permitted in this administration involves the breaking or changing of laws passed by the U.S. Congress. So next we come to another stout-hearted dissident, and we find him in the most unlikely place of all: Washington, DC and Capitol Hill.

Arlen Specter, a Republican Senator from Pennsylvania, is taking on the Bush hegemony over the issue of the anti-constitutional practice of writing loopholes into law that has already been written, voted on, and passed by the Congress. Sen. Specter's bill will permit the Congress to sue the President for violating the Constitution, for writing legal challenges into signing statements that are then used to evade the letter and spirit of the law being signed.

Specter is particularly chafed by statements appended to the Patriot Act renewal bill and the legislation banning torture of prisoners and detainees. He is demanding that laws be followed and executed precisely as written and passed by Congress, or else simply vetoed and sent back. Now though you would think that this is fairly cut-and-dried, there are defenders of the signing statement position:

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a former judge, has said that signing statements are nothing more than expressions of presidential opinion that carry no legal weight because federal courts are unlikely to consider them when deciding cases that challenge the same laws.

OK: so if the courts will refuse to consider them anyway whenever such statements are challenged, then why not just pass Sen. Specter's bill on a quick voice vote and have done with it? It wouldn't be any greater a waste of Congress' precious time than the multiple rounds of the gay marriage ban amendment or the squalling over Terry Schiavo or the hideous and infantile demonstrations put on against the stem cell financing bill (which Jon Stewart so deliciously lampooned).

Finally, we come to a story that future generations will laugh heartily over at dinner tables to come. If, that is, there are any future generations, and if there is any food left to laugh over. For it appears that the Bush administration has elected to edit out the planet from NASA's mission statement. The planet Earth, that is. Here's how a Bush talking head at NASA explains the whole silliness:

...the aim was to square the statement with President Bush’s goal of pursuing human spaceflight to the Moon and Mars.

So just consider this a kind of reverse signing statement: addition by subtraction, if you will. After all, it goes without saying that we care for the protection of our home planet; why else would we be bombing Iraq into Hell and giving Israel bombs to do the same to Lebanon? Why else would we be toxifying the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, or selling great stretches of national forest to timber companies? Why else would we be playing golf while New Orleans drowned, or fronting a science fiction novelist as our spokesman for Big Oil's side of the "debate" on global warming?

Sure we love the Earth. We love the way it burns.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Mr. Ganji Won't Go to Washington

Good News From Iran: Time reports that the Iranian people are not a pack of violent drones who support Hezbollah. This may come as a surprise to some, but it should be a matter of no astonishment to most of us here in America, where fully two-thirds of the voting population now rejects any allegiance toward the neocon hegemony and its belief in the divine right of invasion and occupation. Here are some wise words from one such Iranian man-on-the-street; he may as well be a Wal-Mart worker talking about Bush's economic policy:

"I don't think it's right to support them when our own people are hungry," says Mohammad Reza Afshari, 23, a mechanic who works two jobs yet still cannot afford to move out or attend college. The shop where he works abuts a vast mural depicting a female suicide bomber with a baby in her arms, accompanied by the words I LOVE MOTHERHOOD, BUT I LOVE MARTYRDOM MORE. Frustration with such propaganda underpins young people's reactions to the conflict. "Where are the Arabs?" asks Afshari angrily. "They're sitting around, while we're risking our position in the world."

We are seeing another expression of freethinking individualism (remember that?—you know, the foundation upon which this nation was built in the first place) in the refusal of an Iranian dissident, Akbar Ganji, to an invitation from none other than the White House. His explanation is very simple, and easily understood by most Americans:

He said he rejected the offer because he believed current US policies could not help promote democracy in Iran. In a speech last week in Washington DC, he also criticised US policy in Iraq, saying: "You cannot bring democracy to a country by attacking it".

I find these messages out of Iran extremely encouraging, and in another era or under a wiser and more articulate administration than we have, they would be the meat on a good diplomat's plate. With the technology, resources, and talent we have available to us, both here in America and around the free world, you'd think that this would be the front line of the war on terror: encouraging, supporting, and giving voice to the many people who can clearly express dissent, even in nations governed by tyranny and extremism. A well-organized diplomatic team with capable statesmen could bring such voices to the forefront and allow them to turn the tide on tyranny. They can be found in Lebanon, in Iran, certainly in Iraq, and even among the Israeli people. If you must have heroes in your world, this is where I'd suggest looking for them, not in some jerk in a top gun flight suit standing in front of a Mission Accomplished banner.

But perhaps one of the messages we need to hear in the voice of Mr. Ganji is that we have some work to do in rooting out the tyranny within our own nation. Witness what he wrote from prison just over a year ago; he may as well have been writing from Gitmo:

In authoritarian systems, lying turns from a vice to a virtue. Liars claim: we don't have any political prisoners, any solitary cells, there is no hunger strike in Iran's prisons, prisons are like hotels. They solve their problems by changing the names.

Monday, July 24, 2006

What God Wants

I work with words a lot, and thus rarely find myself speechless or wordless before anyone or anything. But I have no words to sufficiently express the depravity of this scene, or my revulsion at this image.

This is institutional religion, the cult of institutional insanity, being drilled into kids. It is Orwell's collective in its pedantic mode, teaching that God is hatred, that destruction is salvation, that only group violence can make a chosen people free and safe.

The kids with the markers in the picture are Israeli children. It would, of course, be no surprise to see another photograph of children on the other side, writing similar messages of conditioned ignorance and hatred on the rockets of Hezbollah.

What hope do we have for a future—for the Mideast or for the planet—if the children of our world are being taught, on every side you choose, that indiscriminate killing is the way of God, the path to Life?

Here's another image: one of the recipients of those notes scribbled by children onto bombs. One of the lucky ones: a Lebanese girl with shrapnel wounds.

I hope my previous posts have made clear where I stand on this: the insanity comes from each of the extremes involved; and it has all been brought to you, in this particular evocation, by the United States government and its psychotic obsession with invasion-as-salvation. Thus it is with all theocratic delusions. I have no more words for it; perhaps a poet can do better. Mr. Waters, please:

What God wants God gets God help us all
God wants peace
God wants war
God wants famine
God wants chain stores

What God wants God gets
God wants voodoo
God wants shrines
God wants law
God wants organized crime
God wants crusade
God wants jihad
God wants good
God wants bad
What God wants God gets.


Author Update: For those of you who look for Terry McKenna's contribution here every Monday, he's well and recovering satisfactorily. Unfortunately, he'll be unable to deliver Monday with McKenna for several weeks to come. I'll do my very best to stand in his shoes here, though I must admit they're way too big for me. If you'd like to send Terry a get-well message, just post it into the Comments, and I'll see that he gets it.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Friday Reflection: Learning Hu-manliness

Violence is a contagion—perhaps the worst of them all, for there is no vaccine. As the carnage in Lebanon turns into an all-out war (supported by none other than a renowned Bush-bashing comic); Baghdad reaches a deeper level of Hell.

This is the way violence works: like a plague that sickens all who are touched by it. I have no particular judgment to make upon any of the groups involved; all of them—perhaps most of all the United States government, because it instigated this massive spiral of death and loss—have illustrated what Lao Tzu taught some 2,600 years ago:

Natural law decrees that violence backfires
Upon all who resort to its means.

Armed forces camp and crawl
Amid thorns and brambles,
Which grow like cancer and close like traps.

Wherever group violence is done,
Desolation walks in its wake.
Truly, the harvest of violence is misery.


Could cloning Neanderthals somehow help in all this? You never know, but it sure couldn't make things worse than they are.

Jon Stewart gets Mr. PC to say it again, as the latter's fruity employer celebrates another quarter of lavish profit.

Head-to-Sternum Brings Slap-to-Wrist: Didn't this soccer guy retire? Or did I hear incorrectly? I swear the TV guys were saying that the World Cup final was "his last game." So FIFA "punishes" him for delivering a potentially disabling cheap shot to a man's heart by suspending him for three games. It sounds like a court posthumously condemning a suicide bomber to death. Oh, and he'll have to pay a fine of about five grand. Chump change: that'll cost him about a hundredth part of the advance on his book deal.

But 'Roid Boy the HR King has gotten a reprieve, so I guess we can't cast aspersions about how other nations govern their sports zeros.

So we turn instead to another Friday Reflection, which is just for us guys. But the ladies are welcome to read along.

Sensitivity is your strength. Shutting down feeling doesn't make you a man—just a clumsy and reclusive goon. Find the feminine that breathes deep within you, and watch as the ladies draw nearer (if you want them to).

Weep for those who suffer, and cry out in their defense; cry out for justice. Not for revenge, not for violence, but justice.

The more you nurture the moonlight of your heart, the more attractive you will become. The farther you spread your love, the greater will your influence be in the world.

The tyranny of a forced silence brings waste; the darkness of a powerful image is desolation to the self and repulsion to those who would love you.

The breadwinner gives no nourishment; the strong and silent type is inwardly weak and shrill. If you try to make your home into a castle, it will become a feudal tenement, in which you are torn from yourself and estranged from your family. The man who attempts to rule becomes a pawn of fate.

Strive for manliness, and you are pursuing a ghost. Learn instead to be humanly. It is merely a matter of discarding from within the self-images that have been drilled into you by the toxic tube and its advertising machine; by teachers and role models and societal heroes and even your parents. A humanly man can nurture and create; he can love purely and deeply, with no facade to separate himself and his beloved. He can tend a garden, change a diaper, cook a meal.

The roles we accept into ourselves entrap us. They also repel those who would want to come closer. So every time you feel an image or a stereotype murmuring from the back of your mind, "you can't do that," or "you shouldn't be that way," or "a real man would attack (or defend, or retreat, or go cold)"—turn within and ask Ego firmly, "who do you think you're talking to?" Then turn it off: shut ego down, and go where your heart leads you.

You were conceived and born amid Love; it is still there, sounding the rhythm of your life. Embrace it whole and express it completely, without a care for how its music resounds against the facades of ego and its patriarchal barriers. Barriers, after all, are for weaklings; not for men.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Ministry Reigns in Darkness

As you may have noticed from yesterday, I take a dim view of randomness. It's not an anti-scientific viewpoint, either; in fact, I would argue that it's as pro-scientific as you can get to reject randomness as a principle of Nature. My own experience (and science is, after all, the organized study of life, guided by experience) continually shows me that randomness is a pile of bull.

Here's an example: it so happened that the Life Lessons in a Time of War piece I had come to for tonight's entry in my Daily Kos diary contained a message written months ago, but seemingly custom-tailored to this moment, in which a little boy from Texas unzips his fly and discovers His First Veto.

In other news, I found this over at a gambling sheet on who's to die in the next and last Harry Potter book. Now, with everything that's going on in the world, you might snort with derision over the mass media's inclusion of this among its "top stories"; and I'd probably be snorting right along with you.

Still, I've written an entire book about certain strains of meaning I've found in the Potteriad, which might be summarized along the following lines:

Government (the Ministry of Magic) tends to be corrupt, mindlessly aggressive, incompetent, obsessed with empty imagery and appearances, and is often aligned with dark forces. The thin disguise for these realities is a glistening veneer of monument and display. Government dwells in an underground darkness, where down is up and up is down.

Media (the Daily Prophet) is a sham of objectivity. The press typically trades in what might be called intellectual cheetos—taste without nourishment. It scrapes and bows to vapid Power, helping to hold up the shiny fabric of lies that covers its depredations and its naked decadence. In the wizarding world, as in our own, the coin of the realm in the media is gossip and the ad hominem attack. Before Karl Rove had ever moved a single pawn on his chessboard of Power, Harry Potter was being Swift Boated by the bad guys in the pages of the Daily Prophet. Before Ann Coulter had hit the cover of Time Magazine, Rita Skeeter was slinging invective and bullshit, and calling it journalism.

Religion has no place in a truly magical life. Barnabus (a founding father of the church) is ridiculed as "the Barmy" and depicted being beaten to death by a troll, whom he was attempting to teach ballet. Voldemort himself, as I make the case in my book, is a Papal figure (maybe that's one reason why the current Pope has gone on record as an enemy of the Potter stories). The real magic of these stories is always done in a spirit of independence, free of the iron weight of institutional authority and religious commandment.

My own experience, again, confirms J.K. Rowling's metaphorical teaching: god visits me more as I sit on the toilet than in all the times I have sat in a pew. True magic is in the ordinary, the domestic, the personal and the intimate affairs of life; the magic of institutional power is an empty display. I find more of god in a peanut butter sandwich than in a thousand holy wafers of the body of Christ; in my daughter's home videos than a thousand episodes of the 700 Club.

So it's not that the MSM misses the right stories to report; it's more that they focus on the skin of each story, ignoring the body behind it. So my advice to and other MSM outlets would be: take in the skin of a story just long enough to reach for its heart. If you need a lesson in doing that, check out our Quote of the Day, below.


Quote of the Day, from that consistently clarion voice of sanity, Bob Herbert of the New York Times:

That rumbling you hear is the sound of the founding fathers spinning in their graves. Incredibly, under the trials originally authorized by President Bush, prosecutors would have been allowed to introduce evidence obtained through torture and other forms of coercion. The Bush administration didn’t just leave the moral and ethical high ground. It sped away with great enthusiasm.


Well, World Jump Day is over. Have we righted the Earth and corrected its orbit? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

How Deep is Your Gutter? (and Geek Wednesday)

Condi, look out!!! There's a guy coming in...oh, it's just a painting, never mind.

Here we are in the era of dead diplomacy, and there is much talk of how the right wing's rhetoric has reached into the gutter. I beg to differ: gutters in my world are only a few inches deep. American political discourse has gone way past the gutter, beyond the sewer, and now resides in those fathomless depths that are the stuff of science fiction stories. Or Harry Potter novels (the Chamber of Secrets). As Colbert showed us during a recent "Word" segment, fat wingnutters have been tripping over one another on the Sunday morning shout-fests to declare that we are now in "World War III"—and scarcely concealing their delight.

On the corporate front, Wal-Mart, fresh and strong and green from its inspiring environmental initiatives, is back to attack mode in dealing with union organizers. The Dark Star's weaponry features ad hominem attack ads against prominent union leaders. One insightful observer, Steven Silvers, noted that this is "straight out of the Swift Boat playbook," and predicted the tactic would become de rigeur in corporate America.

Well, Mr. Silvers, I've worked in corporate America for upwards of 20 years, and I can tell you that it already is. The Karl Rove Offense is not a fresh invention. If you can't find a hole in an idea, punch a few holes in the person presenting it. I see it every damned day in my gig, and if the smallest fraction of corporate workers were to read this, I'm betting my Comments bin would be overflowing with assent.

And now, for our Parallel Reality Logic of the Week Award: it goes to our President, who said:

“It’s in our interest that Syria stay out of Lebanon and this government survive,” Bush said in a reference to the young, Lebanese government.

So naturally, you throw all your support behind the idea of your chief ally in the region bombing the shit out of the young nation, so its government can survive, you know...

Geek Wednesday

Morford outdoes himself in this piece about Windows, Macs, and geexxx. Here's a selection:

Before you can object, Windows yanks off its startup screen and whips out some mangled kernel code so scarred and meaty and discolored it looks like something Steve Ballmer might feed to his rabid daschunds. Or vice versa.

"I'll give it to you good, baby. Send you to the moon! To the stars! To the iTunes Music Store without a single sudden inexplicable freeze!"

It is, of course, the same old story, the same old come-on, Win once again acting all smooth and charming but completely unable to avoid that world-famous sheen of BS propaganda, coupled with a smell that's a disquieting cross between wet plastic and old cardboard and roughly 10 billion collected hours of lost productivity.

"And by the way, I sure do appreciate you dumping another $49.95 for the latest in mandatory anti-virals." A chortle emits from somewhere beneath its Recycle Bin. "Damn, that stuff is like digital Viagra! My Start button is throbbing like Tom Cruise at a Scientology rave!"

I sent this link around to some of the geeks at work today, and one later said to me, "that's the first time I've ever had to go change my shorts after reading a tech article."

It was one of those thanks-for-sharing moments at the office. Now for your Geek Wednesday Links:

Foreseeing the Uber-Mac: Ars Technica has a detailed look ahead at what the Power Mac desktop tower may become in its Intel incarnation. It will all come clear and clean at the WWDC in just over two weeks; where we will also get our first look at Mac OS X 10.5, "Leopard". I stick to my earlier prediction: watch Steve make a bold announcement on an early rollout for this OS, just to tweak Uncle Bill's nose once more, now that the latter's Vista product is sprouting more bugs than a flophouse mattress and is already at least a month behind schedule.

By the way, if you're among the Windows crowd and are vaguely curious about these fruity machines that now can run MS Project and all your other favorite Windows-only apps (yow!), you can have a very vivid experience of the Mac OS X UI on your machine, right now. Just go fly a kite, and you'll be there (click the graphic for a closer look).

Virtual Reality: On the Wintel front, MS is now giving away Virtual PC. It's a very neat utility for running multiple OS's and browser versions (N.B.: you need XP Pro to accommodate VPC; it won't run on XP Home). Look for them to eventually start giving away VPC for Mac as well, once the Intel machines become prominent in the Mac universe.

Finally, you geeks get a dose of my tree-hugging New Age tofu salad (what, you think you're immune?). This is the last chapter of my Life Lessons in a Time of War, and it's called "Random Access Memory":

This computer works, I am told, because of its RAM: Random Access Memory. Is this how I should work, too?

Why should my memory's access be random? Can't it make a choice? Can't it make up its mind?

The computer's RAM gives it an artificial intelligence. But randomness is the antithesis of intelligence; the denial of meaning. Randomness is the way of war; the way of chaos. No matter how well you guide the missile, it cannot avoid the innocents who lie in its wake.

Sometimes the center seems so far away. Sometimes the still point seems lost to feeling and being—as remote as those dark and scarlet clouds in Hubble photography, whose names all begin with NGC.

We seek the center because it feels distant. If it were not distant, then what would there be to look for, after all?

Thus we cry out, "ah, where is Peace? Where is the still point that the seers say I began with, sometime before all the nebulae came into being? Where is my fetal heart, the face I saw in the mirror of eternity before my parents' bodies joined together in ecstasy?"

Where else but in the body that is the gift of this life? And what else could that body be but pure energy in disguise? What else could form and matter be but space compressed and given shape? What else could darkness be but light made palpable and solid and alive?

Your senses tell you part of the story of god. Your feelings fill in the rest of what you can know. Look for god where others don't; where you haven't looked before; where the teachers and the experts tell you god is not.

If god is in the atom, then it is also in the bomb. The big bang was the original nuclear blast, but so far as we know, it had no political or territorial motive. The universe does not destroy things, but transforms them. God departs whenever the fuse of hatred is lit, when the bomb is dropped amid the field of malignity, onto the city of innocence.

God may be perfect, but it is not stupid.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

In Search of Cosmic Sanity

I'm continuing my Life Lessons in a Time of War series at Daily Kos here. I'll keep it up until the end of the week, and then I hope that some folks will have seen enough to order a copy of the book (see graphic at sidebar).

Links of the Day:

Merope of the Pleiades is the Astronomy Picture of the Day. When the news (or my reaction to it) becomes simply too intense to bear, I spend some time with stuff like this, and it seems to help deliver some perspective—a dose of cosmic sanity, if you will.

Richard Gere reviews the history of ethnic cleansing in Tibet, in the context of the opening of the new Chinese railway between Tibet and China. As I've said before, if the Chinese put half the mindpower, muscle, and money into a substantive pursuit of world leadership as they waste on their paranoia over folks who like to meditate, I'd probably be assembling sneakers for two bucks a day, right here in New York. That's the direction we're headed in, anyway.

This lady at the BBC nails the core of the story coming out of the G8 about Bush's expletive-laced rant on Hezbollah. Watch the video right through the pate and Moet, to the commentary afterward. Personally, I don't care if Dub uses foul language at table (at least he can pronounce it correctly); but is this shit dinner conversation? What will the servants think? You know, the press?

The Evacuation of Beirut: I couldn't help but recall those helicopters over the Embassy in Saigon, thirty-odd years ago...How is it that we seem so incompetent at learning from history? Is there a natural principle involved—could it be true that, as Harlan Ellison once observed, "The two most common elements in the universe are Hydrogen and stupidity."?

Deficient Brain has some photography from the new war.

That's all. It is very difficult to be either humorous or objective about this stuff, this moment we're in. I teach that every darkness is penetrable—I wrote an entire book on the point. But this one we're entering now seems especially thick and black and poisoned with the fecal stench of Power. There is no human institution, government, or policy that will deliver us from this hot and rigid night of destruction. How could we have allowed the presence of an active psychosis to become the primary job qualification for world leadership? Look at them all—Bush and Blair at their gilded dinner table; Osama in his vacant cave and Nasrallah on the run in the desert; Olmert within his iron outpost of mindless rage—do you see or sense anything but madness?

They leave the charred corpses of children behind them, all over the world, and they sip another glass of Moet or produce another video or photo-op, filled with psychotic rant and a petrified ideology.

It is not madness to speak to a god that no one else around you may be able to see or feel; it is only lunacy to kill or oppress others in its name. Every one of these lunatic killers named above has murdered in the name of a favored god, and thus driven the real thing further and further from the heart of humanity. Wherever group violence is done, god departs. I cannot prove this to you; I can only ask you to feel it for yourself. For that is the only way I can see that this darkness may be penetrated, this moment in history redeeemed, and our home planet preserved for the generation to come.


One more note of more personal moment: my blogging partner in this space, Terry McKenna, will be missing from Daily Rev for awhile. He has to take care of a medical problem, and is likely to miss a few months in his usual Monday slot here. Terry is a personal friend as well as my co-author here. We don't always agree on the substance we write about—he's a lifelong Republican and I tend to lean leftward on public matters—but Terry has added a depth, focus, and variety to this blog that was sorely wanting when I was writing it alone, over a year ago. More to the point, he's just a great fellow, and I wish you knew him as I do. So if you've read his work on Mondays with McKenna and admired it half as much as I have, perhaps you could send your best wishes, thoughts, or prayers for his quick and complete recovery. You don't have to believe anything for it to help—in fact, I think it's better if you don't—just wish him well, and I assure you, the message will get through.

Best of luck, T: the next round of drinks is on me.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Diplomacy: A Call for Resurrection

Diplomacy is dead. Of course, this is not news: it's been dead going on six years now. We've gone from an administration that believed in diplomacy; that put both value and talent to the mission of talking through intransigence, to another administration that looks down its nose at diplomacy; whose PR machine has made it into a positive evil, spattering it with a "chocolate and flowers" rhetoric. Today we are governed by people who believe that there is no greater good than action—no matter how rash, ill considered, or falsely grounded—to act is to evade the exposure that reflection and discussion would otherwise provide.

How can you tell for sure that diplomacy is dead? The spread of war is one big tip-off; but another is the warlike rage that has taken over discourse, on both the right and the left.

But especially the right. Last week, I was referred to as a "Nazi," a KKK wannabee, and a Hezbollah-lover, because of a remark I made here about the Israeli government (a remark which was seconded, apparently, by none other than Condi herself). Mind you, the attack came not from some anonymous zealot on the Comments board, but from a personal acquaintance of mine. I'm not going to name him, because that would be an unfair use of this public space, and a continuance of the cult of warfare that has infected our dialogue here at home as a pall of death spreads over the planet.

But I want to submit that if we panic now, we are doomed. Our children will inherit a wasteland Earth; the desolation will, most likely, be irremediable. We have heard the voices of panic: they are those that have spoken of an Axis of Evil; those that pointed to little marks on a Google Earth picture and said, "WMDs"; and now we are hearing from Panic in the form of a call for the execution of the editor of the Times.

Take it from a fellow who has studied psychopathology: panic never works. It always fails. Panic is not a doctrine, not a policy, and certainly not journalism. It is a mental illness. Thankfully, there are still both Democrats and Republicans out there who understand this; and we are very fortunate here at Daily Rev to have a Republican who understands it better than perhaps anybody I know. Therefore, we now bring you, from the right, Mr. Terence McKenna. I'd call on all our readers to pay particular attention to the last sentence of Terry's piece, because if our leaders could say that very thing—and mean it—I feel that we'd be on the first step of the path toward the resurrection of diplomacy.

This short note is an “I told you so” for Joe Lieberman, Hillary Clinton and all the rest of the democrats who went along with the Iraq war. And remember, both France and Germany wanted us to slow down – give the weapons inspectors more time – hope for something to turn up. Well we didn’t and now we are stuck learning the lessons that we could have learned much more cheaply from history.

So here goes… in June of 1941, Nazi Germany had the strongest army in the world. Flushed with success, Hitler invaded Russia. The German plans called for a three-pronged attack that could only succeed if everything went their way – including a 10-week timetable for victory.

They almost pulled it off. By July, few thought Russia would survive, but by the late fall, rain made Russian roads impassible (few were properly paved). By December, the harsh Russian winter turned the tide. In January 1942, Hitler authorized the first retreat.

Turn the pages of history almost 65 years, and we see another ambitious military power that has bitten off more than it could chew. We were eager to leapfrog from easy success in Afghanistan to easy success in Iraq. Well now we’re mired in an Iraqi civil war while in Afghanistan the old sparks are burning. In the meantime, bad actors like Syria and Iran are using their own special forces and surrogates to bother us and Israel. The Israelis are boxed in – more or less forced to defend themselves, but in doing so, putting the rest of us ever so close to a wider crisis. And then there is North Korea.

And no…I don’t have any answers, but I can say one thing, we need much more than spin.

—T. McKenna

Friday, July 14, 2006

Friday Reflection: Facing the Face of Darkness

I teach detachment, and I also try to practice it. Mind you, I often fail. But I find that the mere attempt at detachment is worth the effort spent and the anxiety it arouses; it can even pay quite unexpected dividends.

Detachment, quite simply, is the snapping of the strings of attachment. When I use the word "strings," I mean it in a quantum sense: strings of consciousness, alive though often distorted into negative emotions and destructive impulses. Very often, you will experience detachment whenever you retreat from the compulsion to strike back when attacked.

But that never happens to us here in the safety and comfort of America; that kind of problem is for people in the Middle East and Asia and Africa, where a bomb is dropped every minute; a village burned to the ground and its inhabitants massacred every day; a once-living person "disappeared" beyond the reach of public memory every second.

Think again: if you work in corporate America, or if you live in a dysfunctional family; you know what it is like to be attacked, I bet. Invasions and occupations occur here as well, amid insidious assaults that frequently have consequences that wind up being equally catastrophic to life and sanity as the concussions of a bomb in the neighborhood.

This kind of assault is celebrated, lionized, in our media, where the loud and daily struggles of ideological mud wrestling occur before audiences numbering in the millions. We seem them on O'Reilly's show, in Ann Coulter's books, in the halls of Congress, or on the 700 Club. And once again, I am betting that you feel the hot breath of assault every day in your work or home life.

There are different ways of dealing with assault. You can try to kill or silence whatever or whoever attacks you; and that may appear to work for a little while. But the problem with that strategy is that it tends to create more attackers, not less. Pick up the newspaper today, and you're likely to see a graphic illustration of this principle on the front page.

Another way that the philosophy of counter-attack fails is that it is very likely to burn the last acre of earth upon which peace might otherwise be made. When the ground is scorched, nothing will ever grow there. Or else, the mutually assured destruction of attack and counterattack will simply waste the very territory that had been the subject of the dispute in the first place. Perhaps you've heard the old story about the person who took a crusade against a house full of cockroaches to the point where he poured gasoline on his kitchen floor and torched it. Within a few hours, his home was a cinder. Did he win the final battle? Surely, a lot of cockroaches died that day. But did he win?

So here's another strategy, one that has but rarely been attempted in human history. What if we gave it a try, here in the relative safety of our workplaces and homes in blessed America? When you are attacked, turn within before you strike outwardly. It is not easy. But I can assure you that it does become somewhat easier with consistent practice.

When you do turn within, just ask questions of yourself, the situation as you feel it in the moment, and its place in a context that you find through separation from the demonic. Ask some of the following questions, and invent your own to add.

º Who is being attacked?
º What is the weapon being used?
º How is it harming me?
º What kind of response will actually stop the attack, rather than make it worse?
º When I strike back, what will happen? Who besides my enemy will be hurt?

The great thing about asking questions is that there are no rules or limits, except perhaps this: do not confuse a question with a challenge. If you want to challenge or fight a belief, an authority, a person, or a nation, you are of course free to do it. Just be aware of what you're up to, for a challenge is an act of opposition, which is likely to breed a polar or antagonistic response.

But a question is exactly what it says it is: a search ("quest") for information or perspective. Could this be a more sensible way to deal with an attack? We do not know the answer to this, because so few have tried it, and so rarely. But let me submit the possibility that the moments where we have no choice but to strike back are very rare indeed, even though it is the dominant choice made within our culture. For all those other moments, I will merely suggest that the question may open many doors and calm many storms. Especially those that arise from within.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

There's Someone in My Head, But It's Not Me

If you'd like to scroll down past the news and get right to Red Hook Red's unique memorial to Syd Barrett, I wouldn't blame you. Red is actually too dark a color for him: stick him and he bleeds pink. The man knows more about Pink Floyd than any other human or animal I know. First, though, just a couple of notes on today's news.

The nation of India took a hellacious hit Tuesday—nearly 200 people were killed in the terror bombings in Mumbai. But on Wednesday, their living returned to work and life. They did not nuke Pakistan, send troops into Kashmir to start blowing things and people up, they did not strike out or ramp up or proliferate destruction. They just carried on, in the hope that their police will do the job of nabbing those that committed the atrocities against Mumbai and its people. They are the victims of terror, to be sure; but they are not reacting so as to inflame the problem. Instead, they are acting to solve it.

Are you listening, Israel? Does this strike a chord with you, somewhere deep down? Or are you, like the American government, so drunk on destruction that you cannot see what is directly before you?

Another Enron guy turns up dead... Nope, nothing to see here, folks...just go back to bed and whisper your conspiracy theories under the covers...

How Democracy Works: Everybody keep an eye on Mexico this weekend, if you want to see democracy (remember that?) in action. The people are rising up to demand a fair counting of their votes. What is needed, really, both there and right here in America, is a system that allows for the formation of a coalition government in cases where a vote is a virtual tie. We already know the alternative: have at least half the people of a nation forced to live with the rule of a government they didn't vote for.

In the Blogosphere: Eric Alterman takes off the gloves on Novak. About time someone did.

My Daily Kos diary has been updated with another entry from my Life Lessons in a Time of War series. It's now a book, if you're interested in this sort of thing. I know it's not for everybody (hell, it's not even for most bodies).

And I know I've been tough on Mr. Zidane this week (he has deserved it); so I should note now that he has apologized for being a stupid lunkhead. Unfortunately, he did what many people do when they apologize: instead of letting their regret flow freely, they qualify it with rationales. This fellow claims he was only acting "like a man," because the Italian guy was dissing his Mama and his sister. No, pal: you were acting like a mindless oaf, and you could have killed or done serious damage to another man, clouting him in the sternum like that. Let's just leave it there; I'm sure you have your book deals to close and your checks to cash.

And now, Red Hook Red arrives back at the blog, with a retrospective on the life and career of Syd Barrett.

Crazy Diamond

Few musicians have made themselves truly legendary in one year and with only one year, but that’s exactly what the late Roger Keith “Syd” Barrett accomplished. That year was 1967, when his band Pink Floyd became the darlings of London’s psychedelic underground scene. (The band’s distinctive name was conjured spur-of-the-moment by Barrett, who needed to replace their old one – The T Set – because it had already been taken, and did it by combining two of his musical influences: obscure bluesmen Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.) Syd was already beginning to come off the spool, ravaged by the pressures of fame and his overindulgence of drugs, when the Floyd hit the singles charts with Arnold Layne, and after a disastrous tour of the U.S. in 1968, he was out of the band and off to a reclusive life in Cambridge, replaced by his childhood friend David Gilmour. But for that one glorious year, Syd produced music as unique as anything ever heard in modern pop music.

Syd’s classic songs – Arnold Layne, See Emily Play, Flaming, The Scarecrow, Bike, and Astronomy Domine are lyrical, melodic, beautiful, whimsical, sometimes violent, and possessed of a thoroughly British charm as well as a child-like insanity that proved to be all too real. His guitar playing was frantic, chaotic, squalling and utterly inventive. His final tracks with the Floyd and his solo material – the small amount he was able to produce after he left the band – are a tough listen. The flicker of his genius is there, but his dissolution is all too evident as he falters and drifts – “Vegetable man, where are you?” he asks in a song he composed about himself. Scream Thy Last Scream (Old Woman With a Casket) is utterly frightening because his onrushing mental illness is so vividly real. And his plaintive final words as a member of Pink Floyd – heard on Jugband Blues from their second album A Saucerful of Secrets – are truly haunting:

It's awfully considerate of you to think of me here
And I'm most obliged to you for making it clear
That I'm not here.
And I never knew the moon could be so big
And I never knew the moon could be so blue
And I'm grateful that you threw away my old shoes
And brought me here instead dressed in red
And I'm wondering who could be writing this song.

I don't care if the sun don't shine
And I don't care if nothing is mine
And I don't care if I'm nervous with you
I'll do my loving in the winter.

And the sea isn't green
And I love the queen
And what exactly is a dream?
And what exactly is a joke?

Syd’s departure inspired the themes that the Floyd later explored with great style and enormous success – madness, absence, the soullessness of the music business – as well as a fair amount of survivor’s guilt. They frequently acknowledged their founder and friend as the years went by – Shine On You Crazy Diamond being only the most well-known and powerful instance. Meanwhile, Syd’s small musical output combined with the Floyd’s legendary status was enough to make him an icon to a devoted cult of fans who produced a regular newsletter about him even though he retired to his mother’s house and refused to speak of his days with the Floyd or produce any more music. His songs were covered by Robyn Hitchcock, who sounds eerily like Syd, and the subject of several books – a compelling example of true genius thwarted that left his admirers always hoping in vain for more.

It’s fascinating to ponder what the Floyd would have become had Syd remained healthy. The band’s most powerful works -- Dark Side of the Moon, Animals, The Wall, The Final Cut – are entirely the products of Roger Waters’ vision of the world combined with the ethereally powerful musical sensibilities of Dave Gilmour and Rick Wright. (Wish You Were Here is a forlorn not to Syd in the wake of the band’s milestone triumph, Dark Side…) Syd was nowhere near as angry or political as Waters, but he was as musically innovative as Gilmour, Wright and drummer Nick Mason, so his Floyd likely would have been noticeably sweeter but as weird as they were in their Ummagumma -- Atom Heart Mother - Meddle era.

As a longtime Floyd fan, it hurts to say that Syd very likely would have been long forgotten if the Floyd had not kept his memory and legacy alive within their subsequent music. But that’s not to deny the originality or power of what he was able to create in the warm, bright window of (relative) lucidity that was 1967. I know I’ve never heard anyone quite like him.

Alone in the clouds all blue.
Lying on an eiderdown.
You can't see me, but I can you.

Lazing in the foggy dew.
Sitting on a unicorn.
No fear!
You can't hear me, but I can you.

Watching buttercups cup the light.
Sleeping on a dandelion.
Too much!
I won't touch you, but then I might.

Streaming through the starlit skies.
Travelling by telephone.
Hey ho here we go!
Ever so high...

Alone in the clouds all blue.
Lying on an eiderdown.
You can't see me, but I can you.
-- Flaming

—Red Hook Red

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Wish You Were Here

The Big Shift: I was talking to a co-worker today who was frustrated with management's seemingly unerring capacity to make the wrong decision at every turn on the project we were both working on. It reminded me of the Bush administration, which has been positively eerie in its sensitivity for the wrong path. Let's face it, and give them credit where it's due: they've got radar for the wrong move. Amazing, really, when you look back and think about it: every time they've faced a fork in the road, they have flawlessly chosen the path of incompetence, destruction, chaos, human misery, and financial loss.

This is an entirely new principle in human affairs: call it "Bush's Law". It goes beyond Murphy, because it involves a negative perfection of such pristine purity as to be Christ-like in its consistency. In all the major and minor decisions of state facing them—hundreds, perhaps even thousands of them—these folks have managed to choose the wrong way every time. An extraordinary accomplishment, if you ask me; and I'm sure history will be just as puzzled and astonished as are we, caught in the midst of it all.

But today may mark the breaking of this remarkable consecutive-errors streak. The Times reports that, in a "big shift," the Pentagon has opted to abide by the Geneva Conventions.

Yet even this is suspect. Tony Snowflake is insisting that nothing has really changed, after all:

The White House spokesman, Tony Snow, said today that the Pentagon memo was “not really a reversal of policy’’ because detainees were already being treated humanely.

Let's see...waterboarding is humane. Female interrogators playing with sex toys and staining prisoners with menstrual blood is humane. Holding a man captive without charge, trial, or knowledge of Miranda rights for three years and more is humane. So now we're just going to be even more humane than we've ever been. Any questions?

Just be careful, boys: you wouldn't want to appear to have that "flowers and chocolate" foreign policy that you charged the Clinton administration with today. (Note: for a reality check on the true history of relations with NK since Bush I, see Tuesday's Progress Report).

Elegy for a Lunatic: I'm hoping I can get our part-time correspondent and Pink Floyd expert Red Hook Red to offer something more substantial on this news, but I'll do the best I can here. Syd Barrett, a bedeviled and vastly talented man and co-founder of Pink Floyd, is dead at 60. The tributes from Gilmour, Mason, Waters, and David Bowie, will tell you enough about the contribution this man made to the musical life of an entire generation. I would add that Barrett's mark on music will be felt decades and probably even centuries on. When Pink Floyd arrived on the scene, everything changed; music was never the same afterward. They combined a classical vision and background (someday I'll write a piece describing exactly how Dark Side of the Moon has nearly the exact kind of symphonic structure as anything by Gustav Mahler) with an often overwhelming gift for the original and the revolutionary. Their concert style, with its visual effects, light shows, and perfect resonance of sensual elements, has been imitated almost ceaselessly since their first tours; but never with quite the same seismic effect to the soul of the listener. Finally, the Floyd's social message about the madness of Power—a message that was led in its spirit largely by Barrett himself—is perhaps more crucial to this moment than it was to the Nixon years in which it was first given voice. Listen to "Us and Them" or watch The Final Cut, and you'll hear what I mean.

Shine on, Syd

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Doctor, There's a Rash on My Nation

Have you ever thought of Bush as a horrible, pustular facial rash? Well, Mark Morford has, and it is, as usual, inimitable reading.

I wrote the following at my Daily Kos diary tonight, and I meant it. This is in response to the charges of "death threats" coming out of that community against a journalist in Boston (the story is discussed in detail at Eric Alterman's blog).

I post regularly at D-Kos, and have found (via comments to my diary there) that the discussions are always animated, but rarely malevolent. In fact, my overall impression is that DK is overwhelmed with caring, thoughtful, and, well...liberal people. I also, by the way, still feel that the American military contains a preponderance of caring professionals who always try to recall their place amid humanity while doing a sometimes impossibly difficult job.

But the problem with violence is that it's like a red dye: only a few drops can taint a large body of clear water. Or truth.

Dog Bites Man Story of the Day: The rich are getting richer, and the poor... Well, check out some of the stats that Mother Jones (one of the best written and researched mags out there) aggregated on this issue:

Bush’s tax cuts (extended until 2010) save those earning between $20,000 and $30,000 an average of $10 a year, while those earning $1 million are saved $42,700.

In 2002, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) compared those who point out statistics such as the one above to Adolf Hitler.

Bush has dedicated $750 million to “healthy marriages” by diverting funds from social services, mostly child care.

Bush has proposed cutting housing programs for low-income people with disabilities by 50%.

Among the working poor, 13% of income is spent on commuting if public transportation is used, 21% if a private vehicle is used.

Workers who earn $45,000 or more spend 2% of their income on commuting.

For more proof of the quality of the journalism at MoJo, click the graphic above, and then read this. Then do what I did: buy a subscription. For ten bucks a year, it's one of the best bargains you'll ever find.

Assault By Any Other Name...: Of course, people are making excuses for the oaf that committed a felony against another fellow during a soccer game. They say the victim of the attack had called the perp a "dirty terrorist." Now they're asking FIFA, the governing body of this bizarre cult, to—I am NOT making this up—punish the victim. Meanwhile, of course, the psycho that committed this heinous act gets to keep his golden ball trophy, and no one has even mentioned sanctioning him.

Remember how Tenet got the Medal of Freedom for screwing up the CIA? If these soccer folks are looking for work, I think they'd be welcomed in the Bush administration...or Congress, for that matter.

Errol Flynn Meets Groucho: Finally, a brief note of celebration for a very odd character who has broken attendance records that many had thought impregnable. For those of us with daughters, however (mine is 12), it came as no surprise: Pirates of the Caribbean has created a kind of mass movement. If you're familiar with Johnny Depp's character, perhaps it seems strange that a goofy, stumbling, Falstaff-like hedonist with a marked feminine streak in his nature should be a swashbuckling male cinema hero. He wouldn't be my top choice either. But rarely have I ever seen a film character so widely and deeply loved. Whenever I ask my kid why, she shrugs, laughs, and says, "Poppy, everything about him is SO funny...just watching him walk makes me laugh!"

Well, that's how I always felt about Groucho. And in a time of self-important, anal-retentive, bloviating fools who compete for airtime and big money, maybe a slightly effeminate, anti-heroic goofball doing Keith Richards impressions is just the entertainment we need—nor a bad male role model, in fact. My daughter thinks so.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Monday with McKenna: Immigration: Beyond the Abstractions

I don't want to get in my partner's way today, because he's got some opinions on a fairly torrid issue. But I can't resist airing out about this: the reason I don't watch pro sports anymore is because people sink to deeper and deeper levels of depravity, wherever you look at sports these days. That sicko who thunked his head into that other man's sternum could have induced a myocardial infarction and killed the man. Over a soccer game. Positively ill.

There, enough of that. Now: Immigration in America is an issue that's hot all over the world. Witness the opening of this story in Sunday's London Times:

THE date is looming large in America’s debate about immigration: the population is predicted to reach 300m on October 17 and the newborn citizen is as likely as not to be a bouncing Hispanic baby.

Also on Sunday, the New York Times Magazine featured a story on how the immigration debate is manifesting among economists.

So Terry McKenna returns today with some views on where this debate is playing out (and who needs to be invited), and some analysis of the Times Magazine piece. Mr. McKenna:

The “battle” over illegal immigration has been cast as one between Know Nothings and those who want to preserve America’s position as the land of opportunity. By and large, the right wants to make it harder for illegals to come and stay. The left takes its usual position in defense of the downtrodden – but in doing so, they disregard the complaints of small town residents across America who want to know how it happened that their town center has suddenly been taken over by legions of poor men looking for work. Supporters of the so-called free market point out how much our economy benefits low paid labor. Mainstream media outlets straddle the issue. This group of articles from NPR’s website is typical.

In the midst of bigger issues like a long failed war and our now sagging economy, why does this issue remain central to the American debate?

The big guns in the media can’t tell you. It’s not their story. Frank Rich of the New York Times lives in Manhattan – he may see low paid workers, but I doubt they live next door. Same with the Beltway types who live in rich suburbs outside of DC. So our talking heads and op-ed writers are groping in a world of abstractions; they just don’t know.

But I live down the street from illegals, and want to share what I and my neighbors think on this subject. My Puerto Rican born contractor wants to move out of our town because there are too many illegals in his neighborhood. A local Republican election worker who lives 2 blocks from me keeps sending angry letters to the editor of our local rag – and they publish them all. My wife is constantly pointing to yet another “over occupied” dwelling in our neighborhood. By over occupied, I am referring to houses that appear to have way too many adult residents for the number of bedrooms. On summer nights some porches will be filled with 7 or 8 young men, all drinking beer – and inside the house are a few women doing household chores and caring for a number of small children. On Mondays when we put out our recycling, I see enough empties in front of some of these houses to do a frat house proud.

And no, I don’t know for sure that these folks are illegal, but the less settled they are – and these folks are clearly not employed by a steady, mainstream employer – the more likely it is that they are not here with legal papers.

As I said, I live in a small town. But it’s not a white bread suburban neighborhood – it’s a real town. It was originally a factory and mill town. Most of our housing stock was built before 1930. Many are small multi-family houses. Much of our house wiring is outdated and we have more than our share of small house fires—usually 2 or 3 per year in my immediate neighborhood. What happens is that a resident will attempt to run a hair dryer and a space heater off the same 12 amp circuit. Or in the summer, maybe an air conditioner and a micro-wave (they don’t have their own kitchen, so cooking in the bedroom is typical). Most of the time they get away with it, but from time to time a house fire erupts.

These men are rootless (and yes, men predominate). This morning as I drove to a local convenience store, I counted 7 men milling around waiting for work. Once in a while a man will call out, “trabajo?” (WORK?) Last week was exceptionally rainy – perhaps you have read about all of the rain in the Northeast, well that was us. My wife went downtown one midday for an errand (we live a short walk from downtown). The streets were full of men just standing on the street corners hanging out. Since most “casual” labor is outdoor work – rainy weather put a stop to all the yard work and low skilled construction. Needless to say, it’s not fun for a woman to negotiate streets filled with aimless men. And it is not a good thing to have hundreds of men just milling around with nothing to do.

Again, I doubt that either Frank Rich or George Bush (or for that matter, Lou Dobbs) live next door to these folks, but people like me do. And I guess we want to know, how did we lose control of our towns?

If these people do get injured or sick, their medical bill will be paid by our taxes. And if they bring their kids (and yes, a few do) our property taxes will pay to educate them in our public schools.

And no… I don’t begrudge paying taxes to support the civic good. I vote for more democrats than republicans - and last year paid over $40,000 in various state and federal taxes (I pay income taxes to both NY and NJ) but I see a trend that it would behoove someone to control.

Do I want a wall? Maybe. But more than that, I’d like easily verifiable identification that would be sufficient for an employer to rely on as proof of the right to work here. And then I’d like to see better workplace monitoring.

Maybe that sounds like a threat to our liberties, but without controlling who can work and stay here, we have a good chance of filling ourselves up with many more people than we can employ, even at rock bottom wages. Mexico is the biggest contributor. Their population is 100,000,000 with a 40% poverty rate. How many can we employ? I don’t know. But it would be useful to find out very carefully.

Finally, a few thoughts about the Lowenstein article. I think the key comes at the end, "what is it that immigration policy is supposed to achieve?" – and by that, we mean what sort of society are we trying to build.

Since I am not among the wealthy (so don’t benefit from having cheap maids, gardeners and servants) - I think the Europeans are doing a better job. They have more labor controls and so, while they produce less employment, the end result is more equality and prosperity (if we consider income equality, literacy and life expectancy to be the true measures of prosperity).

The key is data. And it turns out, even economists are just guessing. For example – note this sentence:

“Also, and contrary to popular wisdom, undocumented people do support local school districts, since, indirectly as renters or directly as homeowners, they pay property taxes.”

In some case, illegals do pay market rents for legal dwellings, but what about the illegal rooming houses? Across from me, we have at least 10 people, 3 of whom appear to be of school age. But the property tax for the house is based on single family occupancy. In towns like mine, we’ve just added a wing to the middle school. And yet we have no vacant land, and no widespread home construction – so where are all the kids coming from? (Of course the answer is that they are fitted in among our already crowded housing stock). New York City and Los Angeles are among the many mature US cities that have an expanding school aged population.

Let me close with a comment on this sentence:

“Everyone knows in trade there are winners and losers," Card says. "For some reason it doesn't stop people from advocating free trade." He could have said the same of Wal-Mart, which has put plenty of Mom-and-Pop retailers out of business. In fact, any time a firm offers better or more efficient service, somebody will suffer. But the economy grows as a result. "

For Mr. Card (an economist at Berkeley), the benefits of free trade (and presumably wide spread immigration) outweigh the costs. But in fact the costs are not spread out evenly. For those who live in pricey suburbs or in exclusive neighborhoods downtown, illegal immigrants provide cheap labor when they need it (just as free trade provides cheap underwear and socks as well). But for the 55 year old machinist who can no longer find a job because we don’t do that anymore (we’ve farmed out manufacturing to China) he won’t be able to cut lawns either, because we’ve got lots of Mexicans (and Guatemalans) to do it cheaper than he ever could.

—T. McKenna

Saturday, July 8, 2006

Harry Potter: Drinking From the Fire

I posted a comment on Friday to Judith Warner's blog at the Times. I left a link in that comment to my post from last August on what had happened in the sixth Harry Potter book. This morning, I found that a couple of folks had complained that I had "spoiled" the outcome of HP and the Half-Blood Prince for them.

Obviously, I don't wish to "spoil" anything for anyone (with the possible exception of a closed group of police-state tyrants led by George Bush, whose six-year party I'd like to spoil with some impeachment hearings). So here is my message for Potter readers who may be feeling cheated by "spoilers" like myself.

There is much more to learn from a book in its meaning than in its plot. The story is the same for everyone, but the meaning is your own. So when you are reading, attend to the metaphor behind the narrative.

I wrote a book called Drinking From the Darkness, which was about learning to find the guiding metaphor of growth in depression and anxiety. J.K. Rowling wrote a far better and more successful book called Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, that described a similar lesson: find the meaning in conflict, drink deeply from adversity (as if it were in a goblet), and you will never cease growing, no matter your physical age or societal stature.

Therefore, do not worry about who dies or what happens in the stories, except as these events teach you something about yourself. When you read Harry Potter, ask yourself:

∆ Who is looking back at me from my Mirror of Erised?
∆ What do I find when I go into my own Pensieve?
∆ Where is the "room of requirement" in my life, and what do I find there?
∆ Which parts of myself are scattered about in the objects of life that may be called "horcruxes"?

Bring questions like these to your reading—be it of Harry Potter or the Daily News—and you may find that the narrative will blossom with personal meaning that is unique to your life and your capacity for insight. And you can be assured that you will never feel "spoiled" again.

Friday, July 7, 2006

Friday Reflection: Liberty and Justice for Each

I have a little assignment for anyone who imagines that liberals are always civil-tongued, play nice with others, and never descend to calumny. Just read some of the comments I've been getting at my Daily Kos diary.

Yesterday, I began by attempting to point out that polarization just keeps us fighting; and as the Bushies have so helpfully demonstrated to us, word-battles can very quickly lead to blows, bombs, and burials.

But I agree that we have an obligation to expose evil wherever we find it; that's part of why I and my blogging partner write in this space. Still, I feel that anger clearly and brightly articulated can remain free of the spit of warlike rage. So when I say that Cheney or Coulter or Rumsfeld or O'Reilly are ill, I mean that quite literally. I am usually (though not always) able to combine my angry horror at their destructive madness with a genuine desire that they get the help they need to heal within. I don't want to say that I feel compassionate toward them, because I do not.

Nevertheless, I know that every individual has a core of truth, however buried it may be amid a toxic swamp of greed and belief. I tend to recall the unique core in every body; and sometimes wonder what it would take to hear John Bolton say, "I love the U.N. and what it stands for," or to read a piece by Ann Coulter on the Huffington Post. I have occasionally wondered what America would be like if we ended the Pledge of Allegiance with "liberty and justice...for each."

Very well, I'm going over the edge...indulging a psychotherapist's fantasy. Never mind: here's our Friday Reflection. It's about Justice.


Justice is not a game; it is not something you win (though you can certainly lose it). Justice is not gained via combat, but realized through clarity. When you try to grasp it, to turn it into stone and own it, like a garden ornament or a temple of government, then justice is lost to you.

Justice is not a blind stone statue fixed into the ground you own. It is a lithe, perpetually young, whirling dancer of infinite energy. Perhaps to the narrow and slow vision of ego and its institutions, she will seem wild, disordered, unpredictable. But this is a distorted projection of artificial weakness, onto the body of natural strength. Ego tends to like its objects dead or disabled, in order to better control them. So it turns Justice into stone and wraps blinders over her eyes.

Justice does not happen when my enemy is destroyed or humiliated into subjection or payment. Justice only occurs wherever there is accord, or truce, or the dispersal of enmity.

We do not have much of Justice in our midst today; perhaps it is time to take the sword out of her hand, the blinders off her eyes, and the concrete out of her body. For we cannot hope to own Justice, or lock her into a cage on a Caribbean island, dressed in an orange jumper.

The best we can do is to touch her as we join her in the dance.

Thursday, July 6, 2006

How Diplomacy Died

When you read a blog regularly, you get a feeling for who the person is that writes the thing. Intimate personal detail is usually superfluous and distracting to the other material that is more truly revealing of the person behind it. I can tell that the fellow who writes The Poor Man is a funny and imaginative guy who sees easily past appearances; that the authoress of Tavern Wench is an intelligent and gifted lady with an inner sense for the hidden story in the plod of daily living; that the man behind The Drudge Report is a somewhat self-centered sensationalist with what I hope is a stark sense of humor.

I'm a fellow who is on the brink of old, has piled up some miles on the odometer, and learned something from harsh experience. For instance, and especially since my divorce some six years ago, I've learned that there are certain conflicts or arguments you just do not enter. These are often confrontations that have been constructed outside one's sphere of influence, and therefore are pre-determined to defeat, and even to humiliate you. So I'm often mistaken for a guy who retreats from a struggle out of cowardice, when in fact I follow the advice of that military strategist Sun Tzu, and the other Tzu, whose poems I have translated, Lao:

The generals have a saying
Which they apply to war,
And I teach it too:

Better to be aggression's guest,
Than its partisan host.
Better to draw back a mile
Than press forward an inch.

This is called marching
Without moving your feet;
Capturing without an assault;
Defeating without an enemy.

For there is no greater error
Than looking outward for enemies.
To look outward for enemies
Is to estrange your only true self.

This is why two sides opposed
Will fight to a bloody draw,
Where sorrow is the only victor.

Watching the geopolitical scene through the eyes of a regular blogger has also helped me in this respect. I have seen conflicts become so ramped up by the rhetoric of hatred that war is a fait accompli, long before the first bomb is dropped or the first coffin brought home. Clearly, the much-ignored Downing Street Memo has taught us that, and much else besides, if our media would only start paying attention to what is directly before them.

So there are times, believe it or not, when you have to bear an assault without returning a single blow. Maybe this is what the guy from Nazareth meant about turning the other cheek: he didn't mean turn yourself into a masochistic poster boy for victimization disorder. I am betting he simply wanted to remind us of exactly what Sun Tzu and Lao Tzu taught: you can't always have an eye for an eye. In fact, you would rarely want one.

Unfortunately, we live under the iron rule of a police-state government that turns a blind eye to these teachings, even as they profess to adore the one who transmitted them. I don't mean to imply that this is an easy lesson to adapt to one's life; it is not. In this culture, the hero is the one who lashes out at the mildest provocation; the one who returns from the fight with his shield, or on it.

Life has taught me differently. It has taught me that the impulse to fight is far over-rated in this culture of ours, even to the point where it is perhaps the most abused word in political campaign slogans—and that goes for both the left and the right equally. Everyone, it seems, is a fighter, and therein may lie much of the trouble we have in this declining nation of ours. We are always in opposition to something; always drunk with battle.

So it seems that if we wish to see real transformation in our society, we need to clearly perceive—as citizens, as professionals, as family members, and as individuals—the difference between a pragmatist and a peacenik; a diplomat and a doormat; a man and a martyr.


Links of the Day: Greg Mitchell once again speaks for many of us; and so does John Murtha. And our circle-of-bullshit award goes to the Justice Dept., which says you can't find out who broke the law re. national security because that would compromise national security. Tomorrow on Daily Rev, we'll have more to say on the topic of justice.