Tuesday, October 31, 2006

No Treats for Zombie George and Vampire Dick

Quote of the Day:

So when will the troops come home? When we won't put up with it anymore — when we change our government. And how will we do that? By voting the bastards out! On November 7, you should vote for anyone who's against the war and vote against anyone who's for the war. It's that simple.

—Willie Nelson, writing for codepink

I tend to agree with Bob Herbert when he writes, "American-style democracy needs to be energized, revitalized. The people currently in charge are not up to the task. It’s time to bring the intelligence, creativity and energy of the broader population into the quest for constructive change."

In other words, it is time that we began to develop viable third, fourth, and fifth parties—increasing our options and leveling the playing field so that petty bureaucrats, porkbarreling fatcats, cyberperverts, corporate goons, and cheerleaders for tyrants are less likely to find their way into Washington's halls of power.

But right now, and for this time next week, our best choice is regrettably simple: look for the blue donkey and vote Democrat all the way. The best reason why is the well-trained chorus of paranoia you're hearing against the Dems: if they win, terror wins. That's coming from the leaders of the free world, ladies and gentlemen. And there's your Halloween scare for the day.

Anyway, I wrote the following during a recent morning's commute, and I have no place else to put it but here. In a better-ordered nation than ours currently is, it might be a salient message for our time. So take Mr. Nelson's message above with you to the polls next week, and think about what follows as a goal for the future.

You cannot be a leader until you first learn to guide yourself. Self-leadership is the well that is fed by the spring of independence. This nurturing source is what supported the birth of our grand, through frequently flawed, experiment in democracy. It is coded into the formative document of our republic.

So as you prepare to vote next week, review the candidates, and the options they present, with this in mind: which among each of your choices—be it a person, a party, or a proposition—most represents or embodies independence? Which has revealed to you the self-guidance that is the prerequisite of true leadership?

Six years ago, we (or rather our Supreme Court) made a terrible choice: we elected a tyrannical junta, which was fronted by a figurehead so demonstrably lacking in the barest foundation of self-governance that he was lightly ridiculed for his incapacity to lead, even by his own supporters and media adherents. His background as a ne’er-do-well party animal, shirker of responsibility, and corporate bumbler has been very well documented. This man, George W. Bush, has not advanced a single step in that regard over the past six years. He remains, as he was in 2000, a stooge of corporate tyrants, a sidekick for plunderers more accomplished and daring than himself, a mouthpiece for hidden despots.

Similar errors were made—by the mainstream media, the political parties, and the electorate—in the choices offered and made on holders of office in the legislative branch, such that our principles of law, all the way to the cornerstone of the American legal system, habeas corpus, have been undermined by a collection of fat cats, corporate sycophants, perverts, and assorted miscreants in Congress.

So once again in our history comes a moment where we have to look past appearances—see beyond the shit-slinging, racist ads and the shrill fear-mongering of talk radio, and show the world again that a slick media strategy and a shiny white face fools nobody around here. And I'm not talking here to the MBA crowd and the readers of Foreign Policy Magazine: I'm talking to the carpenter, the farmer, the burger flipper, and the Wal-Mart sorter, because you are the people who are going to light the way for the next generation.

Politicians, as should be obvious by now, cannot be trusted to preserve our nation and save the earth. Their short-sighted lust for power and fame has pushed America to the brink of a pit of decadence from which there may be no rescue—either for our country or our species—if the continuance of the current ruling psychosis is allowed any further slack.

Politics is no longer merely a matter of states' rights, economic reform, or foreign policy. It is about recognizing that the human race is on a sure and speedy course to self-extinction. So when you speak, speak for the Earth first; when you vote, vote for your planet.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Monday with McKenna: My Kingdom For A Course

What do the quagmire in Iraq and the insane obsession with gay marriage have in common? As Terry McKenna observes today, both derive from the same delusion, which Freud would call the repetition compulsion of this truly neurotic government we are burdened with in America.

Later this week, I'll be offering a relatively new concept for your consideration. It comes from one of my books, and may help to at least explain what we have saddled ourselves with as a nation these past six years.

Also later in the week, we'll meet our banner quote author for this week, one of the brightest lights of American literature. Now let's hear from one of the saner voices of the blogosphere, Mr. McKenna:

Iraq and Gay Marriage. From the president, what we get is only sound and fury signifying nothing.

This week, the president made the bizarre claim that Americans have misunderstood his war policy – that he’s not about “stay the course” – all I could think was WOW! Fortunately, Keith Olbermann and his crew went into the video vaults to clarify that point.

Meanwhile, Bush's press spokesman, Tony Snow, tried to spin this change with a straight face. He must be a true believer. Even the lazy white house press corps couldn’t miss reporting this flip flop in a major way, but they still didn’t use the L word (LIE). By the way, doesn’t Tony Snow look like a caricature of an anchorman? A Ron Burgundy sired by Ted Baxter (the old Mary Tyler Moore character).

Conveniently for George Bush, gay marriage also re-emerged as a story. NJ’s state supreme court made a decision that compels the NJ legislature to pass some form of civil union or marriage right for same sex couples. The president hopes that gay marriage can push Iraq off the front page, but it can’t. Still, he weighed in: “Yesterday in New Jersey we had another activist court* that issued a ruling that raises doubts about the institution of marriage,'' …''I believe marriage is a union between a man and a woman. And I believe it's a sacred institution that is critical to the health of our society and the well-being of families, and it must be defended.” (Where does our government get off defending sacredness in any case!).

My reaction (besides thinking “what an asshole") was that the way Bush approaches gay marriage and the Iraq war is essentially the same. He views both through the tinted sunglasses of right wing ideology. And, his concern is not for results, but how will the issue play to his political base.

As with gay marriage, the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq has been skewed by ideology. Thus, we abandoned a successful (though difficult) containment for the current war. And when we went to war, we selected a pet theory that suggested we could do it on the cheap. But it turns out, you can only go in on the cheap. Staying the course take a lot more than we are willing to spend in terms of soldiers and treasure. The standard opinion before the war was very much what it was at the end of the first Gulf War – that to conquer Iraq is to destabilize the middle east.

Gay marriage is a relatively small issue. And no, I’m not demeaning gays – their desires are genuine and compelling, but however this issue is resolved, it will do nothing to help the majority of working and middle class families with their lives. In fact, the lives of gays have improved much over the past 37 years since the Stone Wall riots. Even Republican Washington is full of successful gay staff members. This story documents the recent swearing in ceremony by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of an openly gay man, Mark A. Dybul, in attendance was first lady Laura Bush and Dybul's partner, Jason Claire. So clearly, it’s a better world and getting better. But doesn’t the issue of hypocrisy raise it’s ugly head? Yes it does!

Hypocrisy or not, does gay marriage threaten the rest of us married folks? Or will it make young couples decide not to marry? It certainly doesn’t threaten my marriage. I’ve been married 30 years. Same woman. We’ve had our ups and downs, but at no point have gays had the slightest interest in our marriage, nor have I had the least interest in their relationships – though I still find it hard to watch men kissing! Oh well.

By the way, listen to Lewis Black’s blurb on gay marriage – go to his website click anywhere, then look for a section “Lewis speaks” – his gay marriage segment is short and sweet. Or try this little satire.

For the larger issues of religion and homosexuality, I can’t do better than the professionals. But the unavoidable conclusion for me is that gays threaten no one. Yes, some gay men prey on teenage boys, and some straight men prey on young women. But as far as interfering with marriage, it just doesn’t happen.

How does this relate to the Iraq war? Simple, Bush’s policies in both instances are based on ideology, not facts. Thus, despite there being no “gay marriage” crisis for traditional marriage, various legislatures have enacted a number of laws that purport to defend marriage. If there is any challenge to marriage, gay or straight, it’s the two big ones: love and money. The government can’t legislate ever lasting love, but it can help with the cost of health care, and can try to enact trade policy that focuses on wage earners and not corporate profits.

—T. McKenna


*A comment on activist courts. Liberals are dishonest when they speak about this matter. Left wing court watchers pretend that right wing courts are just as activist as left wing versions (an example of a liberal courts system would be the NJ state court); but their arguments fall short. Right wing decisions typically work to defend the status quo –left wing courts create a perpetual constitutional convention. In doing so, they make a mockery of state rights. But state rights were the foundation for a vicious system of racial oppression that was finally overthrown during the civil rights era. Of course, once the courts were unleashed, it was nearly impossible to put that genie back in the bottle.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Friday Reflection: Exorcising the Hungry Ghosts

Hey, what happened to all our Buddhist readers? I figured there had to be a few of you out there, and that you'd have a pretty good idea of who might be the source of our banner quote of the week.

Buddha, Sangha, Dharma. Self, Community, Teaching: the great tripod of the Buddhist world-view. The universe, and everything that can be known or taught about it, are contained within the self. There is no need to go outside oneself to discover the primordial light that glows, perfect and complete, within you.

It's just that it's more fun, not to mention more practical, to do it with others, to share it. Illumination is not the private possession of one God or Doctrine or Church or Government; it is common to us all, even if its manifestation is unique within each individual.

This is the core teaching (to my mind) of Buddhism. It is a simple and deeply intelligent perspective that lacks the arrogance, aggression, intransigence, rigidity, and stupidity so often found in the dogmatic creeds of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

Some of the more perceptive and truly spiritual teachers of the modern era have come from or been influenced by Buddhism. Among these are Thich Nhat Hanh, Peter Matthiessen, Jon Kabat-Zinn, the Dalai Lama himself (though I think that much of his insight has been blunted by his putative standing as a God-King), and the author of our banner quote this week, Sogyal Rinpoche.

Our quote is from The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (1993), and is one of those books that, once you have it in the house, you'll pick up again and again. My copy is worn ragged and scribbled over throughout. It is, to my mind (and with apologies to the fans of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross) the greatest single work on the subject of death ever written.

Part of the reason for that is because this book is so full of life. It is a clarion call back to life, made to the people of Western cultures that have aligned themselves with death—inner death; the only death worth fearing. Here is one such call, which consists of a warning:

Western laziness...consists of cramming our lives with compulsive activity, so that...our lives seem to live us; to possess their own bizarre momentum, to carry us away; in the end we feel we have no choice or control over them...Modern society seems to me a celebration of all the things that lead away from the truth, make truth hard to live for, and discourage people from even believing that it exists.

Sogyal's book is sprinkled throughout with ancient and modern stories; personal anecdotes; character profiles; and commentaries on modern life that are so salient and incisive that you will find a single paragraph of this man's work as instructive as an entire volume (or an entire blog) from another. You will also start seeing "demigods" and "hungry ghosts" during your daily commute and at the office; but most significantly, within yourself. Those you can do something about; as for the ones in Washington, we'll have to keep working on them together.


Sogyal Rinpoche is one voice, one teacher, among many social commentators, from both the spritiual and secular domains. I feel that there needn't be any particular separation between them, in fact. Nevertheless, such divisions exist in our culture. A woman wrote to me recently, saying that she found very few enlightened people currently alive (she was recommending me to her own new teacher, who she believes is one such enlightened being).

My response was to say that I find a great deal of illumination among many ordinary people and animals that I meet quite regularly; and that there is another entire class of people who, in my experience, would merit the designation "illuminati." They are known as children.

It is, to me, a mark of considerable cynicism to claim that there are only a few enlightened beings today. Granted, we live in an iPod culture, where many listen to music, but few make it. We live in a time where peace is on everyone's lips, but in seemingly few hearts. We are in a moment when the search for truth is the stuff of book tours and appearances on Oprah; yet so few appear able to seek truth within themselves.

Perhaps what my correspondent meant to tell me is that there are no perfect beings, and very few indeed who are worth following.

I say there are none. You can't consume wisdom the way you eat a slice of pizza or purchase electronics. You can only be touched by someone's inspiration to discover the wisdom that resides within yourself. As I have mentioned in one of my books, there are no Masters in the way of Nature; only guides. We are meant to hear their voices and then turn within, where we all find our own unique wisdom.

One of Sogyal's core messages to Western people is that we have overstuffed our lives with activity, diversion. "The pace of our lives is so hectic that the last thing we have time to think of is death. We smother our secret fears...by surrounding ourselves with more and more goods, more and more things, more and more comforts, only to find ourselves their slaves."

I had an object lesson in this during my morning commute one day this week. A man was sitting on the train, with one of the tiny new iPods clipped to his jacket, and the ubiquitous white earbuds plugged into his ears. He was meanwhile pressing away at the keypad of a cell phone (playing a game, probably, since we were underground); and then he pulled out a Blackberry and started compulsively flipping the dial on the thing, staring into it as if it were an oracle. This was a man owned by his gadgets—and that assessment comes from a fellow who is no enemy of gadgets himself.

But we have to ask what we are doing with them, or whether they are doing something to us that we had not intended. It "saves time" to have these things, we reason; and the more of them we have—even of such redundant objects as cell phones and Blackberries—the more time we will save; the faster life will progress, and the farther will we go toward whatever we imagine is our goal.

Yet I find that when we speed forward, we tend to regress. When we rush to be first, we are caught inevitably in the crush of the crowd, the middle of the pack. Speed only blurs experience; foreshortens and distorts accomplishment. Was there ever a forward step taken on a treadmill?

Our leaders in Washington have shown us, with painful clarity, what happens when action is fueled by arrogance, policy by hatred, and response by mindless impulse: disaster upon agonizing disaster. A true leader never panics. Let your life be led, not driven from one cataclysm to the next, nor from one act of occupation, takeover, or consumption to the next. When your action is led by clarity; when your expression is led by reflection; when your relationships are led by respect, then you become a guide to others, and an inspiration for them to recover their own inherent wisdom.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

IT Happens

Some follow-up links to our post from yesterday:

The Geek Press Votes for the "Worst Political Websites" Great images, good fun. Check it out.

Kennedy (in RS) with more on voting machine fraud.

What happens when a tyrant suspends habeas corpus. This could happen to you or me. That's not panic; it's just a fact.

A Coloring Book for Fundamentalists

What they're saying about us: if America can do it, so can we.

A fascinating (and probably true) theory on why there aren't more girl geeks. When we're told that it's not in our genes, we tend to give up on the effort to prove otherwise.

Finally, Progress asks the question, "what booming economy?"

Job growth in September was the lowest since Oct. 2005, and the share of the population in poverty rose from 11.3 percent in 2000 to 12.6 percent in 2005. Most Americans -- including the middle class -- have been left behind by Bush's tax cuts and continue to see the costs of living rise, wages stagnate, and financial insecurity increase.

This, my friends, is not good news. Not good at all. For I found out today that I am to be unemployed—perhaps as early as next week, and definitely by yearend. This may also spell a speedy end to my blogging "career" as well (can you call it a career if you don't get paid?).

Well, maybe it's time now to make some chicken salad out of chicken shit. To that end, I offer any passing potential employers the following resume downloads—select according to whichever sort of position you are looking to fill.

Editor and/or Writer

IT / Quality Assurance Lead

Insurance Claims Analyst / Consultant

Psychotherapeutic Counselor / Teacher

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Putting Advertising in Its Place (and Geek Wednesday)

Quote of the Day:

"We're on the verge of chaos, and the current plan is not working," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in an Associated Press interview. U.S. and Iraqi officials should be held accountable for the lack of progress, said Graham, a Republican

On the verge? Senator Graham, exactly what is your definition of chaos?

Maybe what we need in our confused, benighted political nation is this: a pot-smoking, tit-swinging, war-ending southerner.

Meanwhile, Keith Olbermann is getting more and more disgusted by the day with the follies of BushCo. What's got Keith's chili hot now? Click the link and watch him—it's Advertising--the same RNC-produced, fearmongering ad, in fact, that Terry McKenna exposed here on Monday.

Well, I've been thinking about advertising a lot this week. It came up again Monday night, as I watched the New Jersey Giants pummeling those other losers from Texas (not the ones from Crawford). I couldn't help noticing the advertising being done on the field. Self-promotion was evident on virtually every play. The best player of the evening's contest, Michael Strahan of the Giants (5 tackles, 2 sacks) put on a stunningly moronic display after each of his many tackles.

Frankly, I felt embarrassed for him. If you've ever heard him speak, then you know he's a fairly intelligent, articulate guy. He will, of course, be enshrined in the game's Hall of Fame at his earliest point of eligibility after his career's done. He has been one of the truly great defensive players of his era.

But on that field in Dallas on Monday night, here was Michael Strahan--a seasoned professional--behaving like a 3 year old. At work the next day, I asked the geeks, "how would you guys feel if every time I found a bug in your code I did an in-yer-face dance?" (They all said it would be hilarious, but that was them imagining me dancing). But the TV reporters who were covering the game for ESPN didn't seem to find anything strange or disturbing about Strahan's antics. In fact, they appeared to find it completely normal for a grown man to act like a snot-nosed brutish runt as he did his job. They spoke of his character and greatness, even as Strahan's behavior so clearly put the lie to this adulation.

Much of the problem behind the obvious dissociation between Mr. Strahan's behavior and the non-commentary on it from the so-called journalists covering the game has to do, of course, with TV itself. Advertising--the blatant self-promotion of wealthy corporations for their products--is television's life blood; thus, it is no surprise that the mouthpieces of TV will find nothing wrong with wealthy individuals engaging in the same kind of immodest self-display as the companies that foot the bill for the media show in the first place. This is a fact, and it's another reason why I say again and again: if you are looking for anything resembling journalism, the last place you want to look for it is on television.

But advertising is everywhere, isn't it? Just look at the web: it's on virtually every single page you open online. This morning, I was trying to read a news article on MSNBC.com, but the content was blocked by one of those Flash media ads that are rapidly becoming ubiquitous on the web. I had to either wait for the ad to clear or find the tiny, 5-point font "Close" link. I found it in the left-hand corner of the ad, but it didn't respond to a single click. So I did what a lot of users do in frustration: I double-clicked that Close link, and the ad disappeared all right, but the banner behind it then opened in response to the extra click (by the way, I remember very clearly the product and company that was advertising there--it was a Panasonic laptop PC, and even though I'm currently in the market for a laptop, I promise you I'll not buy the Panasonic product, that's for damned sure).

All these experiences brought me back to examining myself. This is, after all, what I teach others: when you get upset about something, look within yourself to see where the problem is manifesting there. For where else can you more effectively change things for the better than within yourself?

So I examined myself to see where I have been indulging in self-display lately, and I found some instances of self-promoting behavior in my professional and personal lives. But I'd like to direct specific attention to what I discovered about what's going on here in the blog: we've been carrying ads in our sidebar; a few of them in the same kind of distracting Flash media that is especially annoying to have blinking beside what you're trying to read.

Well, they don't belong here on a page where you're trying to read a little perspective on what's going on in the world. You wouldn't expect to shop for underwear or computers or web hosting services while you were in the library, right? (and you do go to the library every so often...?)

So I'll soon be removing the ads to this page, and setting up a separate shopping page meant to be particularly useful to Daily Rev readers. I'll keep a link to it in the sidebar, so you can go back there whenever you're in the mood for some online shopping. Now, let's continue on to some online geeking...

Geek Wednesday

Just in case you've ever wondered why we have a regular tech column in a political blog, check out this video (even if you haven't wondered what Geek Wednesday is doing here). Geeks at Princeton show in detail how a Diebold voting machine can be hacked in a matter of seconds to do the bidding of whoever or whatever is controlling it. I've talked to several geeks about it, and they tell me it would be a fairly simple matter: the code is easy to write (for a geek, that is), and it can be installed effortlessly onto one of those machines. It's actually fairly sophomoric hacking, as hacking goes: like taking candy from a child. Or democracy from a nation.

Meanwhile, source code for Diebold machines has been leaked on multiple occasions. You can also look here to learn more and find out what you can do about it.

By the time you read this, Firefox 2.0 will have been released. Last week, MS released IE7. We've been running beta versions and release candidates of both browsers here, and reviewing them as they've moved through development (here and here).

In case you haven't been following along and aren't interested in the details, but simply want to know which is the best to use, we still recommend Firefox by a long shot. I also use Opera frequently, because it has so many usability features that set it apart; the only problem with Opera is compatibility with many sites and page types. I hope it does become more popular, because it certainly deserves to.

For example, one site that Opera can't load is Google's new online office, which incorporates the Writely word processor and Google's own spreadsheet application. Now if you have a Gmail account and a connection, you can keep all your spreadsheets and documents online (as I've recently discovered, it's great for a kid with divorced parents and two homes—her work is always with her, wherever there's a connection and a computer). And don't believe what you hear about the online office being a load of hot air until you've tried one of them on for size yourself. In a recent column for InfoWorld, some self-indulgent windbag named Rist pretended to find the entire experience of online office apps akin to torture (as if Microsoft's products for the local drive are paragons of stability). Rist made a fairly common error, assuming that what is true for him is true for everyone: because he's a famous magazine writer with lots of contacts, emails, and documents to keep straight, everyone else has, too. It's a very shallow piece of self-promotion from a second-rate hack writer for a geek weekly.


Apple, which never tires of making me drool over computer hardware, has just released the latest version of the MacBook Pro, featuring the new Intel Core Duo 2 processor. They start at two grand, and if you want a 17" model with 3GB of RAM, that will set you back $3,000. The strange thing is, even if I could afford one, where would I dare go with it?

The main point for geeks now is that Apple now has 64-bit processors in its machines, and is about six months away from releasing a 64-bit OS. This could be the closest you may get to geek nirvana on this side of the veil. If you've been saving for the perfect portable, your moment may have finally arrived.

Switching over to the Linux realm, Ubuntu Linux, which we have reviewed (here and here), is apparently being courted for a working partnership by none other than the database and corporate middleware giant, Oracle. An announcement may be coming as soon as Friday, which is the end of the Oracle Developers' Conference. The Ars piece indicates the most likely driving forces behind this partnership:

Since Canonical [the company that provides enterprise support for Ubuntu] has no middleware software of its own, it doesn't compete with Oracle, and the interests of the two companies do not conflict. A partnernship with Oracle would be beneficial to Canonical, because it would promote the use of Ubuntu in an enterprise environment and provide new opportunities for lucrative service contracts.

So Ubuntu may have to upgrade its slogan: "linux for human beings...and massive corporations."

Mind you, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with working for massive corporations. I do. They're just...well, massive, and that's their problem. When I was writing my Tao of Hogwarts book, I found a certain metaphorical meaning in the character of the "troll in the dungeon" from the first of Rowling's novels. Here's how it came out:

The Troll in the Dungeon: A Metaphor on the Corporate Giant

What’s big, ugly, smells really foul to anyone in their right senses, and can’t seem to move without stumbling or locking up in confusion? Well, if you work for a big corporation, you might have answered, “my department” or “the company I work for.” And you might be right.

In fact, you could take your pick: the mountain troll that corners Harry, Ron, and Hermione in a girls’ bathroom in Sorcerer’s Stone could be a metaphor on the monster of the modern corporation or the government. Since the government comes in for enough rough treatment from Mrs. Rowling in “The Ministry of Magic” (see Chapter 9), I prefer to think of the mountain troll as a massive corporation whose various parts can’t communicate or coordinate with one another. It stinks horribly, meaning that it’s offensive to people’s most basic and feeling-oriented senses: every time I read about another company downsizing (that is, ruining the lives of) its workers, I sense that same repulsive odor that Rowling’s children smell as they encounter the troll.

The corporate troll solves every problem by trying to stomp it into oblivion or by trying to eat what’s in the way of its lumbering, juggernaut movement. But for all its vast physical size and the ungainly length of its various parts, it is only part-being: its intelligence is blunted by its massive, organizational-chart body, and therefore it can act only through domination—swinging the dull club of Power onto anything and anyone that comes within its myopic visual scope.

Finally, as in the story, the corporate troll is inevitably knocked out by the wooden immensity of its own size and force: how often do we see the company that yesterday was bludgeoning other smaller firms into bankruptcy or submission suddenly subjected to the same treatment by another, larger “troll”? Or worse still, consider the fate of some of the ugliest of corporate behemoths—those that fell under the weight of greed as well as incompetence. The trolls known as Enron, Worldcom, and their like, collapsed amid their corruption, poisoning an entire nation with the foul stench of their depravity, while leaving investors and customers robbed, broken, and destitute. Ron, Harry, and Hermione were lucky to escape the mountain troll with only a brief scare and the vague breath of its odor in their memories; the investors of the corporate trolls of Greed and Excess are often left with ruined lives and uncertain futures.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Monday with McKenna: The GOP Picks A Daisy

Quote of the Day:

No. 1, it’s not going to work, No. 2, if it does work, it’s not reliable. No. 3, it may not be legal, ethical or moral. No. 4, it’s going to hurt you when you have to prosecute these guys. No. 5, sooner or later, all of this stuff is going to come to light, and you’re going to be embarrassed.--Col. Brittain P. Mallow, the commander of the Defense Department’s Criminal Investigation Task Force from 2002 to 2005, talking about the use of torture and/or extreme interrogation techniques on detainees.

Terry McKenna has a rather arch commentary on Bush's "National Character Week", which we briefly mentioned Friday. Terry brings his extraordinary view of history into this discussion, so I recommend you follow it to the end, and without bothering to focus on whether this message is coming from a liberal, a Democrat, a disaffected Conservative, or an old-style Republican. The main feeling I always get from reading Terry's material every Sunday is of that rarest of breeds in modern America, an individual.

The right's lockstep forced march—you're either with us or with the terrorists—is well known by now; but the left is also coloring itself with a dubious taint. We have mentioned before the irrational (and self-defeating) demands of a certain advertising broker that Daily Rev identify itself as "liberal" before they'd do business with us; now comes news of a "liberal manifesto".

My only question to such proponents of groupthink is, "can we afford division any further, and what has it brought us anyway?" Everywhere you look on this earth, there is either war, corruption, genocide, or the threat of a nuclear armaggedon. I suggest, therefore, that if the next generation is to have a chance at survival, let alone prosperity, the time has come when we must all speak clearly from the heart, as freethinking individuals tied to no label, party, or in-group. I'll have a little more on this point at the end of this post. But now, then, Mr. McKenna:

Remember when the big issue was Bill Clinton’s character? That’s right, it once seemed almost more important to have a president who was earnest and honest than to have one who was smart. I didn’t vote for George Bush in 2000, but I believed he was more honest than Bill Clinton. Boy, were we ever wrong!

Of course, it turned out that with George Bush didn’t have the sort of character that a great president needs in times of trial. Yes, he is persistent, but his is a stubbornness removed from any deep understanding of world affairs.

Character is necessary, but it turns out we need strong public character – not private character. Thus, despite his smarmy personal life, JFK was a model of public deportment. He admitted his failure in the Bay of Pigs fiasco, wisely choosing to let the operation fail quickly, rather than escalate. With the Cuban Missile Crisis he overruled his military advisors, electing instead to pull back from what would surely have been World War 3. (Yes, I know that some say the missile crisis was managed by luck and nearly bungled, but the available material suggests that Kennedy was an involved thinker making up his own mind – and able to move away from the cold warrior ideology that he brought into his presidency).

Still Kennedy’s sexual indiscretions were profoundly disturbing. A better model of character is his immediate predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower. Until fame selected him, his was an entirely uneventful middle class life. During WW1, he trained troops and even in WW2, he was relegated to staff work – thus, he never commanded during battle. The Normandy invasion was the biggest single event of his military career. The plan was his, as was the final decision to go forward on June 6th, despite marginal weather.

These words were found on a scrap of paper in his shirt a few weeks after D-Day (they were reportedly found by his naval aide):

Our landings have failed and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.

Had the invasion failed, troops would have been withdrawn, and Eisenhower would have accepted blame. That’s how men of character behave.

His presidency was a mixed one; but as time passes, his administration looks better and better. He made a few tough decisions. One was these was to oppose Israel, Britain and France over the Suez Canal. Another was to use federal troops to enforce desegregation in the South. Liberals have long castigated Eisenhower for his backwardness regarding civil rights, but for a conservative man from a rural state, it’s hard to imagine him being more progressive than he was.

He also closed his presidency with a prophetic warning to the nation about the military industrial complex. Here's an excerpt:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

While most of the threats from Eisenhower’s day have disappeared, the military industrial complex remains a powerful force to this day. In fact, the Bush team is a monument to the military industrial complex, with Vice President Cheney being for all practical purposes, an “embed” from Halliburton.

Let’s end with a few tidbits about Bush’s lack of character. Even as he acknowledges ever so slightly the need for a course correction in Iraq, his pose on the stump remains that of a warrior – though much like Eisenhower, George Bush has never fired a shot in anger. But that’s where the similarities end. GW plays at being a military leader but he lacks the guts to accept blame for his many failures.

Even the White House website remains a monument to evasion. In their home page, they hide the war in a link “renewal in Iraq” – what the hell does that mean?! (click the graphics for larger views).

Click on the link and you get more bullshit. A picture of a child in a head scarf looking out at us, smiling shyly.

But the true story of Iraq is of families huddled in family compounds, fearing all but members of their own clan.

And however the president may soften his words for the sake of this campaign, his surrogate, Karl Rove, continues to preach staying the course. In a speech delivered in Ohio, October 20, 2006, his vision of victory remains that of a democratic Iraq able to defend itself, and ready to assist the US in the global War on Terror. Iran as democratic, puhleez!

The Republicans just released this web ad. It won’t be broadcast anywhere, its sole purpose is to draw attention from pundits and thus a lot of free airplay on TV news programs. To that end, it has succeeded. Please watch it. It is this decade’s equivalent to the infamous “Daisy” ad used by Lyndon Johnson in his 1964 campaign against Barry Goldwater.

After you’ve watched it, ask yourself – what exactly are we as Americans being asked to do? Do we want to spend the next several decades sending our legions around the world in an interminable battle? Can we afford it? Does anyone think we can win?

—T. McKenna


It's tough to see the clarity hidden amid the mud; but it is there. It is painfully frustrating to seek light in the squalid darkness that now covers our world; but it can be occasionally felt. It is especially agonizing to see truth recurrently repressed amid violence; but truth can never be tortured or hated into total silence.

One of the wiser philosophers of our age has urged us to light a candle rather than curse the darkness. This is the spirit that informed the creation of this blog, and its continuance these past two years.

Now I have a message for our small community of regular readers (our deepest thanks to you all!): I'll be scaling back our postings for at least the near future, and you will no doubt notice this. I simply don't wish that you draw a hasty conclusion from it.

The reasons are many: static or decreasing traffic; no revenue stream (as strange as this may sound, it's hard to work at something every day for nothing, even if you love it); and demands from other regions of life and responsibility are all involved. I'm working on another book (writers know that books must be written, even if they will not always or widely be read); and both Terry and I do have full-time jobs, families, and even the occasional human need to spend an evening at a tavern, with no keyboard or newsfeed in sight.

It may seem like pretty stupid timing, gearing down a political blog two weeks before the mid-terms. But if you're not sure which way you're likely to vote this year, then you're probably not reading this blog anyway. Its message would mean nothing to you, after all.

It's been an amazing experiment, daily blogging; and for those of you who write and have contemplated trying it yourself, I have some ideas which I'll be sprinkling into future posts. The lessons of the creative life are simple, whether you're a famous teacher like Ken Wilber (who I quoted above) or a common web hacker like me. The most precious treasures in life are truth, health, and love; the greatest wisdom is to be found not in a group or a party platform, but in yourself; and the genuinely universal truths and ideals of humanity are to be realized through the autonomy of the individual.

As I have mentioned before, the time for fear is long since past, because the worst that can happen has already begun. The single lights that glow the brightest in the years to come will all be distinguished by their fearlessness, no matter their individual differences. Fearlessness, in every age, has been both the answer and the tonic to deceit and violence. I would ask that you look for it amid the various candidates and issues that you will have to vote upon in two weeks' time; this, indeed, is of great importance. But perhaps of even greater moment is that you seek to discover and to nurture the fearlessness within yourself. Every day, if only for a few minutes, turn quietly inward, and look for your own sense of fearlessness: you will know it when you feel it.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Friday Reflection: A Poetic Prelude to the Devil's Impeachment

Before we get to the Friday Reflection for this week, The Progress Report has a cool reflection of its own on the Crawford Cannon's "National Character Week" (what a friggin' joke that is). Here's a piece of it:

President Bush declared this week "National Character Counts Week." Americans are supposed to remember our commitments to "values such as integrity, courage, honesty, and patriotism" that "sustain our democracy, make self-government possible, and help build a more hopeful future." But the nation's lawmakers are the ones most in need of the reminder. Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi writes, "These past six years were more than just the most shameful, corrupt and incompetent period in the history of the American legislative branch. These were the years when the U.S. parliament became a historical punch line...a stable of thieves and perverts who committed crimes rolling out of bed in the morning and did their very best to turn the mighty American empire into a debt-laden, despotic backwater, a Burkina Faso with cable."

Last month, one of the last voices of sanity and wisdom in the MSM, Eric Alterman, was booted out of MSNBC. How much longer, I wonder, will they take to attempt to silence this guy?

Our banner quote this week comes from a work that is frequently celebrated as the greatest piece of epic verse ever written. But I'm sure that Mr. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wouldn't care in the least how he ranks with the likes of Homer, Virgil, or Shakespeare.

Faust is an ancient story of a perpetually modern man—a fellow who thinks he has all the answers but is miserable nonetheless, because all his answers are riddled with cynicism and hatred of his own humanity. He is joined by the poet while Faust is turning his hatred against himself and wishing he were a magician instead of a mere man. He accordingly conjures up an Earth Spirit, followed by the ghost of Wagner, who provides a dose of pompous comic relief. The next significant arrival is a black poodle, who Faust sees trailing flames in its wake. The dog, of course, is soon revealed as Mephistopheles, "a portion of that power which always works for Evil and effects the Good." The devil further announces his action and purpose (and here is where I would ask the attentive reader to begin thinking "Karl Rove"):

Think of the multitudes I buried!
Yet there is always fresh new blood in circulation.
And so it goes; it drives me to distraction...
Had I neglected to reserve the flame for me,
I should now be quite without a specialty.

I mean, who needs Bush's Brain when you have this already? Just read through Faust once if you've never seen it before, and you'll be convinced: Mephistopheles is a portrait of Karl Rove—a demonic, cynical, opportunistic image-builder; the sculptor of monuments made of shadows.

Now, whether Faust mirrors Bush or not is another matter; but we are not here to debate that (although it would make a great tavern conversation, whenever you're up to it). Let's stay with Rovistopheles and the bargain he arranges with his victim:

I pledge myself to serve you here and now;
the slightest hint will put me at your beck and call,
and if beyond we meet again,
you shall do the same for me.

All right then, here's my theory about Faust: he represents the American public, or, more specifically, the American mass media. Witness Faust's response to the devil's trade offer:

If you should ever find me lolling on a bed of ease,
let me be done for on the spot!
If you ever lure me with your lying flatteries,
and I find satisfaction in myself,
if you bamboozle me with pleasure,
then let this be my final day!
This bet I offer you!

The bet is appropriately sealed, at the demon's request, with a drop of Faust's blood. The devil instantly recognizes his prey's essence:

For you there is no boundary nor measure.
As you are pleased to grasp at what you can
and, flitting by, to see what you can get,
I hope your pleasures may agree with you.

The Roveian Beast is an action-figure, who follows impulse after impulse and leaves others to sort out the dead and wounded, the causes and effects.
Who gives a damn! One's hands and feet and toes,
one's head and bottom are one's own,
but if I seize and feel an alien thrill,
does it belong the less to me?
If I can buy six stallions for my stable,
is not then their strength my own?
I race along, I am a splendid specimen
as if two dozen legs were mine.
Go to it then! Leave off your ruminations,
and go with me into the teeming world.

In light of the recent destruction of habeas corpus and the continuing mockery of the Geneva Conventions, it is worth hearing Roveistopheles' remarks on justice:

In this I cannot find much blame;
I'm well acquainted with that discipline,
whose laws and statutes are transmitted
like a never ending pestilence.
Laws drag on from old to newer generations
and creep about from place to place.

The Mephistopheles of Part 1 is also an entertaining, sly, and lascivious devil, and modern readers would be astonished at the deadpan baudiness of Goethe's characterization. Yet some of the really cool stuff (for the purposes of our comparison here) comes in the oft-neglected Part 2. Check out this conversation between Rove and the Emperor:

Mephistopheles (Kneeling in front of the throne.)

What is cursed, and yet is welcomed?
What’s desired, yet chased away?
What’s always carefully defended?
What’s abused: condemned, I say?
What do you not dare appeal to?
What will all, happily, hear named?
What stands on the step before you?
What’s banished from here, all the same?

The Emperor

For once, at least, spare us your babble!
This is no time or place for riddles...

And here, where "the ancient fluid" may be oil, and where "terror hides":

And if they wants to try their uses,
Beside them there’s the ancient fluid.
Yet – I would trust the expert though –
The wooden casks rotted long ago,
The wine makes tartar, in the liquid.
Not just gold, and jewels, fine
But the essence then of noble wine
Terror hides, and night, as stark.
So quiz the wise untiringly:
It’s trivial, by day, to see:
Mystery: houses in the dark.

When at war, the Devil's advice is typically and astonishingly Rove-like. First he says:

Driven by blows, ten times repeated,
The enemy force has retreated,
And in the uncertain fight
Drifts away towards the right,
So defusing all the force
Of their army’s sinister course.
Our phalanx with its spears tightening
Moves to the right, and like lightening
Strikes them in the weakest place:
Now like the storm-driven waves
They roar, with opposing force,
Wildly on their dual course:
Gloriously all sound dies away,
And victory is ours, I’d say!

...And then:


The birds announce a dreadful fate:
Beware the enemy at the gate,
Near our heroes’ rocky wall!
They’ve attained the narrow height,
If they gain the pass, and fight,
Our position’s critical.

Roveistopheles is cynical and miserable to the bitter end, where he eventually loses his prey to the spirit of Love:

I’ve mishandled it all disgracefully,
A common lust, an absurd passion,
Swayed the hardened devil foolishly.
And if Experience was in a mess,
With all these childish, stupid things,
It was, in truth, no trivial Foolishness,
That took possession of him in the end.

Soon may our present Mephistopheles—all of them in Washington and elsewhere, as well as their credulous victims in the mass media—find their inevitable fate.

Meanwhile, I would encourage interested readers to discover (or rediscover) the wonders of Goethe's Faust. And I hope you don't think it presumptuous of me to provide the closing moral for the purposes of our comparison here (hey, it's my blog, after all):

The only fool is the one who imagines himself foolproof. Tyrants are nurtured on the blood of belief; from childhood, they spend their lives sucking at the tit of deceit; drawing into their receptive bodies the lies that god is hatred, that violence is the key to salvation, that profit is the way of progress. They are only weaned from this poisoned milk when the delusion of power is ripped from their filthy, cold hands. That part, my friends, is up to us.


Goethe's Faust and related literature can be cheaply purchased, or read online. I have quoted from A.S. Kline's translation for Part 2 (the previous link); and from Peter Salm's translation of Part 1 (Bantam Books, 1985). I have heard very good things about David Luke's translation, though I have not read it myself.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Empire Strikes Out, Then Back

When it comes to arrogance and idiocy, the sky is no limit for the Bush administration. Check this out:

The United States will preserve its rights, capabilities, and freedom of action in space... and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to US national interests...

It's from the U.S. National Space Policy, a document released by the White House today and signed by the Crawford Cashew himself. This new rant says that "freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power"; and adds that the U.S. will aggressively assert its "right" to deploy weaponry in outer space.

Well, let's look at it from their point of view for a moment. You're Karl Rove, and you've just transfigured from a poodle into your natural self in the West Wing (maybe now some of you will be able to guess our banner quote for the week). Things are going as awful as could be in Iraq (despite Uncle Dick's outer-space assertions to the contrary). The American death toll is on pace to set a record this month; the civil war is only becoming worse by the day; our hand-picked figurehead for the occupation is recommending that Iran and Syria be brought into peace negotiations; and scientific estimates are supporting a total death toll to date for this war of over half a million Iraqis.

So what does any self-respecting demon do? Why, he gets the public's and the media's eyes off—far off—that lingering unpleasantness. And how much farther off can you direct vision than toward the heavens?

If we don't fight them up there, they'll attack us down here. Next week comes the CIA's report that will definitively establish, beyond any rational doubt, that Iran (or was it Venezuela?) has purchased weapons-grade dilithium crystals from Niger and is preparing to launch them into orbit. Scotty...er, I mean, Tony, set phasers to kill, and send a message to the Federation that we're going this one alone...

It gets better:

The United States considers space systems to have the rights of passage through and operations in space without interference. Consistent with this principle, the United States will view purposeful interference with its space systems as an infringement on its rights...

Is this what Daddy sent Uncle Jim Baker to Washington to do? Maybe, for Tony Snowjob is saying, "We're comfortable with the policy."

If they're comfortable, what should the rest of us be? We'll find out more about that tomorrow. But remember, it's almost Halloween...

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Another High Crime (and Geek Wednesday)

At a ceremony in Washington, Mr Bush said it was a rare occasion when a president signed a law that he knew would save American lives.

Because withholding evidence from people who have been detained amid torture without charge for 3+ years saves American lives; because suspending habeas corpus for selected enemies both foreign and domestic saves American lives; because now anyone and anything can become an enemy combatant, or (which is to say the same thing) an "aider and comforter" of an enemy combatant. Like, for example, an attorney or a filmaker (the former has been convicted and is in jail; the latter is on a terror watch list). Maybe even a left-wing blogger.

Just get out and vote this year, people: with this lot in power, heaven knows how many more chances we'll get to do it. That's a pack of criminals in that picture—people who are entrusted to protect our legal system, but have absolutely no faith in it. Remember that.

Geek Wednesday

As we enter the era of Goo-Tube, many may wonder what exactly is the difference between tech and TV. It's a question that deserves an answer here, given that I have written before, "we will resort to medication—either doctor-prescribed pharmaceuticals or the self-medication of alcohol, drugs, and other socially-sanctioned forms of mental sedation, such as television." So here is one answer, offered by Bill Moyers, in a program that can be seen on PBS tonight:

“The Internet is revolutionary because it is truly democratic, open to anyone with a computer and connection. We don’t just watch; we participate, collaborate, and create. But this wide-open access could be slipping through our fingers.

It's true: I sometimes get more out of reading the Comments sections at the Huffington Post, Air America, or Daily Kos, than I get out of the main content. The Internet still can draw people out of that solipsistic shell that television wraps us in so easily. And on top of all that, Robert Bly may not have been all that far off when he referred to television as "the thalidomide of the 1990's": a new study from Cornell indicates that TV may contribute to autism.

This is another reason why Net Neutrality matters. Since I work in corporate IT, I get a lot of the trade and print publications that all tend to play to the same theme—technology exists to make money for mega-business, and the more the merrier. ROI is "king" in more than just French (in techno-business, it's an acronym meaning "Return On Investment").

Publications like Baseline Magazine are typical of this ilk. A fellow named Dignan recently wrote an editorial against Net Neutrality for them. It has the voice of someone who's arrived halfway through a conversation and imagines he grasps the entire gist of what he's missed. This guy has started paying attention long after the issue had become news, and thinks he can opine on it at will. His argument is, basically, anything that smacks of regulation is bad for business and Congress should stay out of our techno-turf.

What he has missed, of course, is the simple fact that nobody in technology started this: the whole shitpot was stirred up by a few big media giants who wanted to set up toll booths on the information highway, with all profits therefrom going straight into their already overloaded coffers. Christ on a bicycle, Google and even Microsoft are against handing over the Net to a few corporate behemoths. But this guy Dignan aligns himself with the same fat cats who want to make fast lanes for the well-heeled while chopping the bandwidth for the rest of us; so he flies out with this regular-joe sounding editorial that makes a pretense of understanding the issue, while only revealing that he was in bed with the corporate technocracy when others were telling Congress that they didn't want the Internet handed over to the highest bidder and wrapped into a porkbarrel earmark. If you'd like to see the web protected from such characters, then watch the Moyers program tonight to learn what the issue is really about, and then click on that Save the Internet banner in my sidebar to find out how you can act on behalf of a free, fair, and open Internet.

Net Neutrality update: check here for an inspiring story (for a change) on how a true grassroots movement can stop some of the wealthiest and most powerful forces in the corporate kingdom.

Vista Watch: Wouldn't you know it, I actually spent the five bucks to get a copy of RC2 of MS's new operating system, and then as soon as it arrived, I realized my Wintel machine here only has a CD drive, no DVD. So I stuck it into the Mac, just to see how big the files are, and they are massive: 2.6 GB is the base installation; and according to C-Net's recent review, they've actually taken away some features from RC1! The C-Net reviewer, therefore, concludes that it's "not ready for prime time" and that an interim build should be released for further testing before there's any talk of a final version. This means one of two things: either (a) the January release date is knocked back a few months (and smart geeks will check out Leopard on the Mac—due out in Spring '07—before they even touch Vista); or (b) Microsoft will release yet another piece of garbage beta software that will drive those on the bleeding edge straight into insanity or alcoholism. Which option would you bet they'll go with?

Elsewhere on the Vista front, here's a piece on the Draconian anti-piracy defenses being built into Uncle Bill's new cash cow. The headline says it all: "Microsoft wants to make sure that its customers feel as if they are being treated with contempt."

Apple on the Cheap: Meanwhile, if you're looking for great, inexpensive hardware that is likely to last you several years, check out the prices on "old" pre-Intel Macs. The machine I have here, the G4 dome desktop, that I paid two grand for three years back, is $650 at TechRestore; and for an extra hundred you can get a G5 flat-panel iMac, which were going for between $1300 and $2000 last year. And if you're looking for a laptop that you just need for running Word, Excel, email, and web-surfing, then a G3 or G4 iBook is your machine. Just click the TechRestore banner ad at the very top of the blog here and look around (yes, Daily Rev gets a little commission if you buy that way, so you'd be getting yourself a great machine and helping us to pay our hosting costs). $400 - $600 for a great laptop is the kind of bargain you'd want to check out; and anyone who tells you the pre-Intel Macs will soon be obsolescent just isn't in geek reality. Damn, you can still be productive on a Mac box running OS9, five years after the release of OS X. The G3 and G4 Macs will all run OS X (Jaguar and Panther, mostly), and all the software written for them (MS Office for Mac, Apple's proprietary stuff, and all the great third-party apps written for the Mac) will still be viable at least five years from now. If you're looking for a solid, safe machine as a second or portable computer, or something for the kid(s), then these "old" Macs are worth a very close look.

The Pooh-Bear PC: Finally, some geeks at the BBC tried this fun little experiment with what they called a "honeypot PC." They just did, under a controlled, lab-style environment, what thousands (probably millions) of people around the world have unwittingly done at home: opened the cyber-door to hackers, thieves, and malware authors. Believe me, folks, clearing out a machine that's been infected like this is just as hard as allowing it to happen in the first place is easy. That's why people so often trash a new PC once it's been infected and the enormity of the problem is apparent to them. If it happens to you, don't throw the box out—or if you insist on throwing it out, leave it in my trash can, for god's sake.

Better still, don't even go there in the first place: get a Mac, or else a Linux machine. The former you can get at any Mac store or straight from Apple; the latter are sold by a number of system makers, most notably System76. Then you can take all that money you save on avoiding Windows and donate it to one of Bill Gates's charities. The frustration, headaches, and hangovers you will also save yourself—well, that you can keep.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Crimen Solicitationis

You'd better have a strong stomach to watch this (and don't even think of looking for this in the American mass media); but it needs to be seen and acted on. Click the graphic at left and watch as much of it as you can: it is explosive. Endemic child sex abuse, knowledge of which is traced to the very man who is now the Catholic Pope, who also was involved in the covering up of these criminals. As one investigator points out, "The Vatican has no child protection policy. The only policy they have is to protect the perpetrators."

Still on the fundamentalism front, DefCon (it's short for "Defend the Constitution") has a new video out on what may be the defining issue for the upcoming mid-term election, not to mention the next generation's chance at a safe and democratic future. It's about the threat to freedom posed by the religious right, the force that has funded and otherwise buttressed the Bushies from day one, even as the whackos in Washington privately referred to their most maniacal adherents as "nuts," according to one right-wing turncoat's recent book.

Keith Olbermann has the rest of the story on Kuo's book (here and here); and later this week, we'll have a unique perspective on Karl Rove in particular. Hint: it has to do with the speaker of this week's mystery banner quote.

When it comes to exposing religious fundamentalism and its campaign for the destruction of democracy, there is scarcely room to contain the stories of deceit and depredation. Mr. Kuo wrote a book about it; Amy Berg made a movie.

In an academic paper(pdf download, 156kb) with the same title as Berg's film, a group of psychologists reminds us of the foundation on which the entire program of the religious right rests. These authors quote Ernest Becker, who we have heard from recently:

It is [fear] that makes people so willing to follow brash, strong-looking demagogues with tight jaws and loud voices: those who focus their measured words and their sharpened eyes in the intensity of hate, and so seem most capable of cleansing the world of the vague, the weak, the uncertain, the evil. Ah, to give oneself over to their direction—what calm, what relief.
—Ernest Becker, The Birth and Death of Meaning (1971, p. 161)

Until, of course, one of them starts trying to stick his dick up your ass.

Those of you who visit here regularly (and thanks to you all!) know that I teach and write of a personal experience of spirituality. But when I see what creeps dwell behind ritual robes and what tyrants they empower and endorse, well, Richard Dawkins' work starts to look attractive.

But I still think there is a place in the heart and in daily experience for soul, or something like it. I have written about it in one of my books, and you can now listen to part of it as well (mp3, 24MB).

Monday, October 16, 2006

Monday with McKenna: Re-Learning the Obvious

With less than a month to the mid-terms, a few Democrats are finally spouting the message that we and others in the blogosphere have been delivering for years; and the tone is getting appropriately clearer. Consider John Kerry's remarks in New Hampshire:

"This war is utterly disastrous," he said. "It's without parallel in modern American foreign policy history in the incompetence and in the lack of effort to bring elders of both parties together and create an atmosphere of solving it. And I am incensed that young Americans are losing their lives because these guys are arrogant and incompetent."

Well, now that a few politicians are finally stating openly what has been obvious to many of us for a long time, perhaps this is a theme that deserves further consideration. So Terry McKenna is back now with more on "re-learning the obvious."

The US has spent the 60 years after WW2 trying not to learn the obvious, that we aren’t strong enough to control the world. Sure, military enthusiasts can construct fanciful scenarios in which, under just the right circumstances, we can march our forces into some trouble spot and voila, problem solved. But as we can see from the Iraq debacle, good things don’t occur at the end of a gun. Yet after all these years of mixed results, the governing principal behind our foreign policy and defense strategy is that we must maintain American hegemony. Thus every possible threat must be both understood and managed. The understanding part is fine; the trouble comes with action.

Amusingly, the defense enthusiasts are just as hopeless as are domestic policy wonks with their dreamy notions – too bad, because we don’t really know the consequences of any policy until it is too late, and we don’t have the unlimited resources necessary for genuine world domination.

The current dilemma with North Korea is instructive. If we want to engage in a genuine military (naval) blockade, we should plan for likely North Korean counter measures. The worst-case response by North Korea would be a ground attack on South Korea – that’s where N Korea could do the most harm and it is where they have their greatest strength. They already have forces amassed and deployed; they also have a battle plan. South Korea is similarly prepared and deployed. If attacked, it is assumed that South Korea could hold its own, but if US aid were needed, we don’t have excess troops to spare.

Thus we see the problem with the real world. It’s just too big. And look at the number of regions around the world where US forces might be helpful. We have Lebanon – the US had to beg Europeans to cobble together a few thousand soldiers to police the recovery. And then we have Darfur – same problem, we are in the position of begging others to undertake a mission that we deem a necessary component of US foreign policy. By the way, don’t take this as suggesting that I support military action to end genocide – I don’t, for such efforts are generally doomed to failure – but clearly, the US has taken a strong and long-term position in favor of such intervention.

Iraq has undone us. Yet it’s no more than a single front in the so-called global war on terror. And if we compare the size of the Iraq effort to real world war, Iraq turns out to be a puny affair. The WW2 Normandy invasion included over 300,000 Allied troops as early as the fifth day. By the end of the Battle of Normandy, Allied casualties included 60,000. Yet now, a single engagement has undone us. (Don’t take this as an argument in favor of our constructing a much larger force; the time for that idea is long gone).

But to return to my point – we need to take the same reasonable attitude towards defense policy that we have toward social policy, and that is; focus on what is possible and only do what you can afford.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, conservatives fought the battle against domestic excess. Their mantra was that throwing money at a problem is not a solution. That despite the tons of money thrown at the urban poor, they remained poor. Their schools failed. And households remained mired in a dependent welfare culture. Thus, the war on poverty begun by President Johnson was a failure (food stamps and Medicaid are the exception). And then we have the issue of taxes. While there is no proof that higher taxes reduce prosperity, there is a limit to the amount of taxes that can be collected from any single population.

Can liberals fight against defense/foreign policy excess? Don’t know. They will need a careful plan of action. If not well articulated, they will come off as weak on defense, and that’s exactly what Republicans want. But someone has to make the case, and if not the Democrats, then who?

Closing comment: American talking heads constantly lament about how other nations seem unwilling to assist us in this or that strategic enterprise. (Tom Friedman is an example of a whiner). Thus, in the years before the second Iraq war, we were frustrated that the French, Germans and Russians would not assist us in strangling Iraq via a more complete commercial boycott. Similarly, right now, we are again frustrated that we can’t muster a fully united front against Iran. We may do a bit better with North Korea, for they’ve really pissed off China on this one. But maybe it’s time to think that maybe the other guys are right. They don’t think they can control the world, so they don’t even try.


If you want to read what genuine professionals write about strategy, you can read Strategic Challenges for Counterinsurgency and the Global War on Terrorism. It is produced by the Strategic Studies Institute of the US War College They write well and the articles are interesting. But the problem is, when you put it all together, you realize that we just can’t do it all.

For an overview of the neocon vision of American hegemony – read this article. Note that it includes the notion of higher defense spending. It's from a reliable neutral source – the Christian Science monitor.

—T. McKenna

Friday, October 13, 2006

Friday Reflection: Living Memorials and Buddhist Economics

The other day, in a small piece about death and forgiveness, I mentioned my admiration for the inspiring action lessons of the Amish people in the way they dealt with what, for them, was and is a community 9/11.

Now for a little follow-up. On Thursday morning, the schoolhouse—where the atrocity occurred that ended in the slaughter of five little girls—was razed. The Amish folks brought in high-powered demolition and earth-moving machinery and they erased that building in a matter of minutes.

So, what are they going to do next? Erect a magnificent granite monument to honor their dead? Build a towering skyscraper of steel, glass, and corporate opulence as a stiff reminder to the world of their lust to remain first and highest in the eyes of the world?

Er...no. They're turning it into a pasture. Already have, in fact, by the time you read this. That is, a field of grass, with small plants, maybe a tree or two.

That's why I say that the spiritual strength and wisdom of these people is a marvel to me. In the era of the Hollywood televangelist, the Mercedes Benz guru, and the crystal cathedrals of 8-figure prophets, these Amish are the living example of a genuine spirituality.

For nearly five years now, corporate heads, politicians, architects, and advocacy groups have fought among themselves to get and claim credit over various competing plans for a monument, memorial, or building at the site of what was the World Trade Center here in New York.

What if they just poured some earth into the hole left behind and planted grass and a few trees in the spot where such an aimless act of carnage occurred? What if by now, tourists and natives alike could come and walk around in the meditation space created by soil, grass, and plants; enter the quietude of Nature, perhaps taking a picture and leaving a flower? What if there were a natural altar of remembrance there instead of a garish, dirty, and noisy construction site surrounded by T-shirt salesmen ("I've Been To Ground Zero") and conspiracy advocates?

The Amish have so very much to teach us, if we will only open our hearts and listen from within.


Once again, our only correct response on the banner quote came from the amazing Miss Bitty, who identified our author, E.F. Schumacher, and the book, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered.

Schumacher has a lot to tell us, some 33 years after the publication of Small is Beautiful. His book is deservedly considered a classic today, having sold something like a million copies and influenced countless students and professionals in arts as diverse as economics itself, religion, sociology, and urban planning. Schumacher taught "consilience" before E.O. Wilson became recognized for the notion; Schumacher said that "all subjects, no matter how specialized, are connected with a centre; they are like rays emanating from a sun." To see how topical he is on economic matters of today, check out this commentary from today's Progress Report:

When President Bush took office in 2001, he inherited a yearly budget surplus of $284 billion. At that time, he predicted a $516 billion surplus for fiscal year 2006. Yesterday, the Bush administration announced that, in 2006, the federal government ran a deficit of $248 billion, missing its projection by $764 billion. President Bush considered this a smashing success. In a speech yesterday, Bush said the numbers were "proof that pro-growth economic policies work" and an example of "sound fiscal policies here in Washington." Although the deficit declined from $318 billion last year, "the long-term outlook remains bleak." If the President is successful in implementing his economic agenda -- including making his tax cuts permanent for the wealthy -- "deficits will total nearly $3.5 trillion over the next 10 years."

Now, compare this with Schumacher's writing:

The conventional wisdom of what is now taught as economics by-passes the poor, the very people for whom development is really needed. The economics of giantism and automation is a left-over of nineteenth-century conditions and nineteenth-century thinking and it is totally incapable of solving any of the real problems of today. An entirely new system of thought is needed, a system based on attention to people, and not primarily attention to goods—(the goods will look after themselves!)...What was impossible in the nineteenth century is possible now. And what was...neglected in the nineteenth century is unbelievably urgent now. That is, the conscious utilisation of our enormous technological and scientific potential for the fight against misery and human degradation—a fight in intimate contact with actual people, with individuals, families, small groups, rather than states and other anonymous abstractions...

What is the meaning of democracy, freedom, human dignity, standard of living, self-realisation, fulfilment? Is it a matter of goods, or of people? Of course it is a matter of people. But people can be themselves only in small conprehensible groups. Therefore we must learn to think in terms of an articulated structure that can cope with a multiplicity of small-scale units. If economic thinking cannot grasp this it is useless. If it cannot get beyond its vast abstractions, the national income, the rate of growth, capital/output ratio, input-output analysis, labour mobility, capital accumulation; if it cannot get beyond all this and make contact with the human realities of poverty, frustration, alienation, despair, breakdown, crime, escapism, stress, congestion, ugliness, and spiritual death, then let us scrap economics and start afresh.

Are there not indeed enough 'signs of the times' to indicate that a new start is needed?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Fear That Never Left the City

I work in Jersey, right on the river and straight across from where those two towers once stood. So you can imagine the scene when the word started bouncing around the office Wednesday: plane crash...Manhattan...another terror attack. People ran to the windows to look, bracing for another scene of distant carnage.

I sat and kept working, opening a newsfeed in a browser window beside my work. It couldn't be...it was impossible...but dread wrapped itself over me like a bloodstained shroud. I realized, almost instantly, how effective the Cheney program of fear had been, even to one who had consciously rejected it.

When a little of what seemed to be the truth became evident, everyone actually relaxed a little; and one fellow made a grim joke of it: "tough week for the Yankees, boy; first the Tigers and now this."

Now you might be tempted to condemn that fellow's remark as heartlessly banal; but what I heard was simply his relief—it wasn't that again; it was just an accident.

I've written a lot about fear; that's because it is what we have been exposed to here in New York these past five years. I'm sure you've been exposed to it, too: it's in our media and our governmental policy; it has infected our interpersonal relationships; it has even gained a new and louder voice in our religious and cultural life. It is, to my mind, perhaps the biggest issue of our private and public life today. We have got to take it on, consciously and on deeper psychological levels; we need to drag it out of its hiding places and shine such light upon it as has never been shed in our lives. We need to be remorseless with it; we need to kill Fear. I believe it is possible. Now I realize, once again, that it is also urgently necessary.


Tomorrow, we will reveal the source of this week's banner quote (we've had one correct answer so far). One last hint: it's from what was probably the best-selling book written by an economist, until Freakonomics came along.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Freud's Resurrection (and Geek Wednesday)

Before we get to Geek Wednesday, a brief note about the state of our culture and our media. For the Washington Post today (here and here) is reporting that the Foley fiasco could spell the fall of the neocon version of the Republican Party.

Now I don't give a damn whether the G.O.P. collapses under the weight of the past six years' tyranny or not: the GOP itself is no more inherently evil than the Democrats are good. I align myself with the Dems in this country because they have more good people at the moment, and are far more likely to give government back the moral intelligence it needs. Otherwise, they are both group labels, with no more meaning than the "do not remove" tag on a mattress.

But why in the name of the hounds of Hell (Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the Crawford Ape) did it take a sex scandal to get people talking about exorcising these ghouls? What does it say about our cultural consciousness, that after nine months of plutocratic lethargy followed by five years of outright tyranny, oppression, incompetence, murder, deceit, fraud, and criminal neglect of the affairs of government—we can at last talk about expelling them? Why does a prurient affair involving a Congressman flaying his bacon while IM'ing teenage boys finally wake us up? It makes me want to resurrect every Freudian theory I rejected about ten years ago.

I'm sorry folks, my chile is just too damned hot right now for Geek Wednesday. CAT—GET OVER HERE. NOW...BLOG!

Geek Wednesday

Jesus, what an attitude. Hey everybody, it's Night the Cat again, back with another Geek Wednesday. While my human goes off and gets himself a cold shower, let's talk geekery, just us reasonable creatures.

Charles Cooper thinks the Google $1.6B YouTube purchase is a shoe that's still in the air:

YouTube indeed may become the future of contemporary entertainment, but right now it's still a site where I goof off and watch dumb cat videos.


Maybe, in fact, the dumbass here is the human, Mr. Cuban, who thinks Eric Schmidt is a moron. Makes me want to go watch some dumb human videos (it's known as the evening news).

Obviously, Google knows what it's doing—they don't pull deals like this out their butts. My only question on this whole deal is: don't you people read anymore? Does everything in your world that's of any conceivable entertainment value have to be packaged as TV? I've said it before, and I'll say it again: you humans are crazier than feeding time at the dog pound.

Now, what else has been going on in your geek world since last week? Ah, Microsoft: the people who brought you the BSOD (blue screen of death) and who will be bringing you, sometime next year, the sine qua non of software plagiarism (which will be laughably protected against piracy!), are now about to unleash another daring feat of techno-thievery, IE 7, now in RC1.

It's got tabbed browsing, which Opera invented ten years ago. It's got usability and security features that have been in Firefox, Opera, and even Netscape for years—except that, like most plagiarism, it copies them badly or incompletely. Check out the design of the toolbars in the picture (IE7 above left; Firefox 1.5 below right; click the graphic for an enlarged view).

IE7: the refresh button's too small, there is no personal toolbar (even the menu bar isn't a default, you have to call it up yourself), and what about that page ranking for the blog here? It was "5" on IE6 this morning! Now it's "8" (we wish).

But let's look at the bright side: the installation went smoothly, though it tried to set up MSN Search (Google politely rejected the effort); the "quick tabs" feature is a modestly interesting (if less useful) variation on a theme that Opera has had for awhile (clicking on the quick tabs button renders the window as a group of previews of all open tabbed pages); the tabs are moveable (again, a feature Firefox has had for some time) and pages load no less unpredictably than in IE6.

Ah, let's face facts, people: IE IS STILL A PIECE OF SHIT. If you're still using it, you're nothing but a dried-up hairball. I'm sorry, but those are the facts.

So imitation's weakness will always and inevitably get its comeuppance, and to judge by the stats, IE is getting its due in a steadily decreasing market dominance.

Here, we mostly use Safari; but in the Wintel realm we still like Firefox, whose version 2.0 is now in RC2 and is looking very solid indeed in both Windows and on the Mac (Ars has a good review here). But Opera also has features that make it a must-download as well: automatic session saving (you have to download an extension in Firefox to get that); active mouseover previews of tabbed pages; free community and individual pages, including blogging space; and a company led by geeks who know their stuff and care about innovation and quality—check out C-Net's interview with their CEO, Håkon Wium Lie (cool name!). Here's his assessment of IE:

It's the same formatting, and it's a Trident engine which, when introduced in IE 4 in 1997, was wonderful. It gave us many things that hadn't been seen on the Web before. And they have introduced things like XHTTP request, for example, so I don't think everything Microsoft does is bad.

But I do think now would have been the right time for them to say, "We haven't maintained this browser for five or six years, and we should really give it a good update." But they haven't.

The chrome around it has changed. They now have tab browsing. Well, Opera invented tab browsing probably 10 years ago, and now it's here with Microsoft. They've fixed some security issues. They've fixed some longstanding bugs, but only a subset of them. These bugs have been reported for years and years, and I think it's been huge cost to the Western world with all these Web designers having to deal with bugs in IE 6.

They had to work long hours to make sure it renders in all versions of IE and also with the standards-centered browsers like Firefox and Safari and Opera. It would have cost Microsoft only a tiny amount of development resources in 2001 and 2002, but they left the problems linger.

OK, enough Microbrain bashing for now...what's our favorite computer and software maker up to now? They keep churning out those goofy ads; basking in the glowing reviews of the new 24" iMac and the Mac Pro; looking forward to another record-breaking financial quarter; and getting the Leopard ready to pounce. And taking on the enterprise realm.

Huh?!? Apple playing with the big dogs of corporate geekery? That wasn't some kitten in the blogosphere saying that—it's columnist Tom Yager of InfoWorld. Here's part of his pitch:

Apple accepts that raising user and administrator productivity is the responsibility of the core platform. As Macs achieve 64-bit ubiquity -- a journey furthered by the September delivery of new 64-bit 17-, 20-, and 24-inch iMac one-piece desktops -- and the Leopard (OS X 10.5) operating system/application platform stalks its way to a spring 2007 release, Apple is promising the benefits of next-generation nimbleness and power to the desks, laps, and consoles of users and server administrators alike.

Even non-Mac users acknowledge the advanced usability. So why do most purchasers of commercial and enterprise systems ignore Macs when they get serious about buying?

Yager goes on to cite some longstanding misconceptions and false assumptions, such as:

“It’s a proprietary platform.”

If that objection is a showstopper for you, where do you propose to go? HP, IBM, Microsoft, Novell, Red Hat, Sun Microsystems, and Apple are all in the business of selling proprietary solutions.

Contrary to popular belief, the Mac platform is more open than many. Macs will run software written for UNIX- and POSIX-compliant operating systems -- although code written in native languages must be recompiled for the Mac from source code. The Mac runs Java client and server applications directly using a Java virtual machine that Apple developed, validated, and maintained. Two Java application servers, JBoss and WebObjects, are bundled with OS X Server. OS X includes stable editions of dynamic languages, including Perl, Ruby, PHP, Python, and JavaScript. PDF, HTML, XML, and OpenGL are among standards implemented as OS X platform intrinsics, again, using designs developed in-house.

Well, if we start seeing Macs in cubicles, then pigs will fly and politicians will be honest and morally upright. And we'll all be pedaling our PC's. Just click that graphic to learn more about that: I just wouldn't expect to get much done (try pedaling and typing at the same time). I'm waiting for the server model to come out—it'll be a version of the old slave ships: the sys admins will pedal to keep the server up (hey, that $100 laptop from MIT has a crank, right?—but then again, they're also putting engines onto chips).

I'll just wait for all those wonderful things to happen...I've got 8 lives left. See ya around, folks.