Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Geek Wednesday: A New Vista Yawns

Starting...theWOW ...Wow... oww... ow... ow... owgh...

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that dull echo you faintly heard Monday night and Tuesday morning was the sound of the Vista release parties—half a billion dollars' worth of marketing glitz met with relative silence—where, according to the geek press, one might have found more reporters than customers attending. On the east coast, in New York:

the launch itself was a quiet affair in a midtown CompUSA store (the chain had organized midnight events at several of its stores), where it seemed like there were just as many reporters and camera crews as there were customers hoping to take home a copy of Vista.

...And even where Steve Ballmer was gracing the retail stage, the indifference was only cloaked by the presence of reporters:

The event, ostensibly aimed at showing the retail excitement around the new products, drew a crush of reporters.

That made the considerably smaller number of store customers at 10 a.m. PST on Tuesday nearly as popular as Ballmer, with video crews lining up to get their thoughts on the new software.

C-Net concludes its coverage of the big event with two warnings: Don't buy Vista for the security; and Don't delete XP. Wow.

Here at the Donohue Camp for Unemployed Geeks, I spent a few minutes Monday night removing XP from my MacBook. Honest, I didn't even realize the timing of what I was doing until much later. It's just that I wasn't using those precious 12GB of hard drive space, and finally decided to re-run Boot Camp and remove the partition (that's all you have to do to get rid of a Windows install on a Mac, by the way: it takes about five minutes and the Mac then restarts like a rocket, as if it had just thrown a gorilla off its shoulder). Then I saw the C-Net poll featured in this graphic. My only question about those results is: "where are the Linux users represented?" (for more on that, see below).

So much for Vista, except more thing. About three months from now, or even less, Mac OS X Leopard arrives to take another bite out of XP/Vista; after a year in which sales of the Intel Macs helped shoot the value of Apple stock well beyond Dell's.

Curiously, the only question mark for Apple's future is another really stupid, Martha Stewart-style piece of corporate greed. The Apple stock dating scandal is yet another example of how wealth can turn smart people into absolute idiots. If Steve & Co. survive that bit of folly, their products and their geekery will only grow in popularity, even--gasp--in the enterprise realm, where MS dominance is already being weakened by another UNIX-based OS, Oracle-Red Hat. Gartner is already calling this one for Larry Ellison, and the uncertainty over Vista will only make it easier for Oracle. Your average enterprise desktop lacks standalone video, sound, and sufficient RAM to run Vista, and the cash required to upgrade thousands of boxes to accommodate Vista will be nixed by most corporate bean counters.

But people like having MS-friendly hardware and software, and Red Hat might not be the best solution for many. Enter the Mac Mini running off an xserver network, with windows XP, UNIX compatibility, PERL, Apache, Java, you name it, the Mac can now run it in 64-bit mode on Intel-powered hardware.

I know it sounds kooky, and I don't pretend to claim that Apple will take significant market share away from MS next year or the year after that. But 5 years down the line, Red Hat and Apple combined could account for 40-50 per cent of the enterprise IT base; and Microsoft resorting to its old market dominance tricks will only accelerate that trend.

The amazing piece to this Vista release is how Gates and his cronies could have missed the obvious, which is that this OS will further endanger their stranglehold on IT in the enterprise realm. But in corporate America, it is as in corporate government: dissent is considered treason, even—or especially—if it contains truth that will help the company (or the republic). Thus, executive row lines everyone up and delivers the edict: you will aggressively market this impactful new product (note to all corporate dweebs: "impactful" is NOT a word); and if you have any questions, there's the door and here's your pink slip.


Finally for this Geek Wednesday, a few more gems from my Webby Award reviewing pile.

Activism Down Under: This is a terrific site with a focus, spirit, and research base that makes it the equal of any MoveOn or AfterDowningStreet on this hemisphere. I've now got it bookmarked, and I would recommend you do too.

The Global Dialogue Center is another activism site, but with a more highbrow image. However, once you get into the guts of this site, you'll find audio and text content from the likes of John Perkins (Confessions of an Economic Hit Man), Dr. Masaru Emoto (The Hidden Messages in Water), and a memorial to Viktor Frankl.

I also went through a few science sites, and this one stood out: BBC's Science of Memory. Take the test yourself and see how you do; you'll learn a lot in the process.

And if you'd like to learn about population and living standard trends on a global, 3-D matrix that offers a lot of perspective, try Google's Gapminder tool.

Now as long as I'm not painfully employed for the moment, I'll probably have lots of time to survey more Webby entrants, so there may well be more to come of these.

One last note to all our readers: January brought us 2,000 unique visitors and some 14,000 pageviews (one of these Geek Wednesdays, we may take some time to explain how to accurately interpret web usage statistics, which is a wildly twisted and abused metric, especially in the corporate realm). For us, that's a really solid month, and I'd like to once more thank you folks for coming by and reading our stuff. I'd probably do this on a deserted island with not a soul to see it, because I'm just that kind of nuts about writing, but knowing that you're all out there makes it a lot more fun.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Mending the Dick Cheney Heart

In my transient passages through corporate America and my distant observations of corporate government, I am occasionally reminded of the oft-spoken lament of Commissioner Gordon of the Batman TV series (the old one with Adam West, one of the funniest shows ever on the tube). Contemplating the criminal genius of the Penguin, Riddler, or Joker, the Commissioner would mutter, "if only that mind could be used for good, and not evil..."

Take a look at some of the dramatis personae of our post-9/11 world, and you get the same impression. Dick Cheney: very smart guy. Saddam Hussein: also intellectually gifted. Don Rumsfeld: sharp as broken glass. I'm betting even Osama's pretty smart, though I don't know that much about him. Every one of them is, of course, black-hearted, soul-dead, bloodsucking evil.

These psychotic and murderous tyrants have one common trait: a tumor-like sense of supremacy that is based exclusively on their intellectual grasp of people and events. So when Time Magazine proclaimed earlier this month:

SCIENTISTS HAVE EXORCISED THE GHOST FROM THE MACHINE NOT because they are mechanistic killjoys but because they have amassed evidence that every aspect of consciousness can be tied to the brain.

I had to wonder what kind of a devil's bargain had been made, especially considering that there is another stream of research that tends toward a different, more holistic conclusion. If we are going to conceive of our brains as "machines," as Time Magazine would have it, or of our hearts as mechanical pumps, then cynical tyrants like Cheney and Hussein will continue to dominate us.

Now the brain is no more at fault in this than is my cat: the problem is a matter of perspective, or how we use (and abuse) the physico-psychological tools we are born with. To declare brain the King of Konsciousness is to misuse it, because then it is no longer an organic part of a living whole, but a separate and distant tyrant of the body. This is how every tyranny is started and perpetuated: through a declaration of supremacy—the same kind of supremacy-speak that says, "my country, right or wrong," and "dissent is treason."

So if we're going to rid the world of tyranny, we will have to clear it out wherever we find its ideological substrate. At the same time, we will have to affirm a more truly modern and quantum view of ourselves and the universe: that feeling is as valid as thought; that a poet can see reality as clearly as a physicist; and that the organic unity of being is a more practical metaphor on ourselves and the universe than some anatomical hierarchy. If we can reach for such an understanding, and teach it to our children, then science will be deepened; thought itself will be given the freedom that comes with equality; diplomacy will more frequently be considered over war; and tyrants, when they appear, will be easier to recognize and dispel.

Dick Cheney's heart is physically rotting not because of age, poor diet, or inadequate medical care: it is rotting from neglect, from a deeply cynical subjection. Demons are not born; they are made through the deviant belief in supremacy: one species' supremacy over Nature; one country's supremacy over the world; one man's supremacy over his nation; or one organ's supremacy over the bodily whole. If enough of us can overcome that belief, and keep those who are poisoned with it away from positions of leadership, then we may reach the day when Commissioner Gordon will never have to wonder again.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Monday with McKenna: Making War on Health

Click the graphic to watch Jon Stewart reveal everything you need to know about Dick Cheney. Then look here to watch Ted Kennedy bring it to the GOP for their "filibuster by delay" approach to the minimum wage increase.

See no alternative, hear no alternative, speak no alternative: If we deny that there is an option in Iraq, then there is none (even if there is one). And just in case anyone does have an option, it's treasonous—called it.

So nothing new has come under the Bush sun since the November mandate was delivered. He is, once again, giving the finger to the American electorate, the new Congressional majority, 95% of military experts and his own generals, and his own party's Congressional leaders. Fuck you, everybody: I'm the decider.

So the SOTU has brought us continuing war in Iraq, along with an insidious new turn in the war on the American people. For more on that, here's Terry McKenna.

In Saturday’s New York Times, Gary Wills delivered a reminder that may resonate with many of us:

WE hear constantly now about “our commander in chief.” The word has become a synonym for “president.” It is said that we “elect a commander in chief.” It is asked whether this or that candidate is “worthy to be our commander in chief.”

But the president is not our commander in chief. He certainly is not mine. I am not in the Army.”

I agree. In just a few days, the president’s State of the Union address has begun to disappear from public notice. He offered no memorable phrases, so fortunately no Axis of Evil moment. Still, the president dropped a little bomb with his proposals on health care. His ideas will never make it into law, but they are dangerous all the same!

George Bush introduced the topic by what was meant to sound like an appealing sound byte. Thus he agreed with most of us that it is the responsibility of government to provide health care to those that can’t afford it. But his words were sneaky. Just look at how carefully he worded his sentences: “A future of hope and opportunity requires that all our citizens have affordable and available health care. When it comes to health care, government has an obligation to care for the ELDERLY, the DISABLED and POOR CHILDREN (my emphasis).” He said nothing about the adult poor, especially the hard pressed working poor. Wow! So compassionate conservatism does not waste its compassion on poor adults. Double wow!

What does he mean? Well, let’s look at the proposed solution first for a clue. Again, the words were carefully chosen: “For all OTHER Americans, private health insurance is the best way to meet their needs. But many Americans cannot afford a health insurance POLICY (again, my emphasis).”Wow again!

In today’s world, prevention of catastrophic illness is the key to sustained good health. Prevention includes lifestyle decisions (like diet and exercise – also whether to smoke or drink); it also includes regular doctor’s visits. Thus, for people like myself, I watch my weight, but I also see a doctor quarterly (to monitor blood pressure) – and thus prevent kidney disease, heart disease or stroke. Unfortunately, the unemployed poor and working poor rarely receive regular care, and often have nowhere to obtain guidance regarding lifestyle choices. For them, medical care amounts to a visit to a hospital emergency room during a crisis. Best practices would replace the dependence on emergency medicine with regular and competent care. But did the president suggest a way to do this? NO! Instead, he offered incentives to purchase private health insurance.

Will these policies help? Not really. The president wants us to purchase policies that are like the old major medical policies of the pre-HMO days. These policies cover events like childbirth, a broken leg or a heart attack, but not regular preventive health care. For a fuller discussion of what the political right wants, read this article by a Cato Institute scholar. It’s somewhat dense, but useful as a guide to the president’s real plans. Embedded in the article is an interesting fact – only 10% of Americans have health policies of the sort that the president wants all of us to have. The rest of us have plans that are considered "too generous" – most of these are provided through employer or union groups – and the president wants to tax them!

Why would the president turn to private health insurance as a solution? It turns out that people like George and Laura Bush are just the sort of folks who typically purchase old fashioned private health insurance policies (when they are not in government – and before they are old enough for Medicare). Private health insurance is a specialty product that mostly serves an elite customer base: professionals in private practice, successful business owners, and the well to do. These folks have sufficient disposable income to pay for regular doctors visits without needing help from a generous health insurance plan.

So, I ask again, what does the president really mean (or want)? This is just another stealth attack on the growth of entitlements. A legitimate concern, but it should be addressed honestly (as should the question of whether the government can take on the burden of providing health care for all of us). Entitlements like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid already account for over 50% of the federal budget – and these will get larger as we age. Think tanks like the Brookings Institution have attempted to grapple with the problem – here is an excellent piece. It challenges all the sacred cows – offering something for everyone to compromise on. In contrast, the president’s ideas are dishonest. And while he’s failed to touch Social Security, his ideas have started to impact Medicaid. In the guise of allowing states to experiment with Medicaid reform, states such as Missouri and Tennessee have begun to remove hundreds of thousands from the rolls of eligible beneficiaries. And then there is welfare reform – turns out this too was a stealth attack against Medicaid. As people go off welfare, their wages push them off Medicaid, thus they earn the privilege of joining the ranks of the America’s uninsured working poor.

There you have it, the health proposal was in fact a Trojan Horse. Just another attack on the social safety net.

Before I sign off, I wanted to review a few details. Private health policies are tremendously expensive. I priced two plans on line (for New Jersey). HMO coverage for a family would cost $16,900 per year; traditional insurance would cost more than double that, at $34,900. The president’s tax deduction of approximately $4000 for a family earning $60,000 would do little to help them pay for health insurance. On the other hand, for the well to do who can already afford coverage, the deduction means just more income in their already bulging pockets. The graphic shows the results of my web search, just in case anyone thinks I’m exaggerating the cost.

Then there is the nature of the so-called standard deduction for health insurance. George Bush has slyly added PAYROLL taxes (under our current income tax system, only income taxes are impacted by deductions). Adding payroll taxes (Social Security taxes) would be an expensive drain against Social Security revenue. With a $15,000 deduction (x 7.625% - the payroll tax rate), Social Security would lose $1144 per family. Wow. Taking revenue away from Social Security at the very moment that benefits are rising. Diabolical! Thus are billions of dollars stripped away from a program already in trouble.

As usual, the president is playing to his base, and lying to us all the while. The well to do get a tax benefit and the poor (working and middle class citizens too) get squat.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Friday Reflection: What Does a Bush Conserve?

Forward March: Before we get to the Friday Reflection, UFPJ is having another get-together on the mall in Washington. It's going to be a balmy 50 degrees in the capitol tomorrow (here in New York, it's 8 right now), so if you've had enough northern cold and more than enough southern tyranny, this may be the place to go. Other protests will be going on all over the nation: check here to find one in your area. Whether or not you're marching, be sure to sign the online petition for peace.


Back when I had an agent marketing my book, The Tao of Hogwarts, we received a polite refusal from one publisher whose editor remarked, "if he could make it like Benjamin Hoff's Tao of Pooh, we'd be very interested in this book..."

Yeah, I thought, and I'd like to look like Brad Pitt or have Bill Gates' income or Steve Jobs' marketing acumen. But unfortunately, I am just Brian, a Very Small Author of a Very Minor Blog, and no amount of wishing or imitation will change that. Therefore, you will continue to find The Tao of Hogwarts available in the banner above as a pdf download, free to all who wish to read it.

After all, people with a gift like Benjamin Hoff's don't come along like cars on a rush hour freeway. What Hoff delivers is a mind teeming with imagination and a liberal insight that has been curiously overlooked by left wing pundits who might find a well of topical insight in Hoff's books. His assessment of Bush pere's Gulf War I is positively prescient in its insight. Here's a sampling from The Te of Piglet, which was published 15 years ago as the bestselling sequel to his mega-bestselling The Tao of Pooh: is not exactly Progress for our nation to have moved from the enlightened era of President John F. Kennedy into an era of scandal-ridden administrations run by Special Interests' Candidates seemingly bent on dismantling our democracy and desroying the nation's land, air, and water in the process, while wrapping themselves in the starry flag of Patriotism. For years now, intelligent, concerned activists have been Out, and self-centered, ignoramous conservatives have been In. And that is not what we'd call the Way of a Healthy Society.

Why these people are called Conservatives is beyond our understanding, as they never seem to conserve anything. They don't conserve natural resources. They use them up as quickly as possible. They don't conserve morality and the family, despite much self-righteous boasting to the contrary—boasting that falls rather flat when it comes from those who amass money through commercial enterprises that make a mockery of moral values and put impoverished families, widows, and orphans into the street. They certainly don't conserve money. Not taxpayer money, anyway. It would appear that about the only things they do conserve are the very things the human race ought to have discarded long ago: narrow-mindedness, intolerance, coldheartedness, bigotry, machismo, and greed.

How can such powerful, brutally organized corporate forces be overcome? Shall we start up an army? Set up a barricade? Make weapons of our own to counter the WMD worship-cult that the tyrants have set up?

No, that is not it. Hoff reminds us instead that our greatest strength is in our supposed weakness: we have to be small, together. This is a theme that I mention in Tao of Hogwarts, where I quote from Te of Piglet:

We find that the children themselves, when faced with something monumental or gargantuan, are able to overcome the disparity in size through speed, grace, and the lightness of being that comes from being free of the ponderous burden of ego. Thus, the children can overcome the troll of Book One; Harry is able to outwit the dragon in the first task of the "triwizard tournament" of Book Four; he is helped by a bird (Fawkes the Phoenix) in overcoming the enormous basilisk of Book Two; and Hermione's tiny "time turner" of Book Three brings deliverance to two unjustly condemned beings (Buckbeak the hippogriff and Sirius Black, Harry's godfather). It is as Benjamin Hoff describes in one of his two extraordinary books on the "Tao" of another well-known work of English children's literature:

To the typical mind of the West, Bigger is Better: The large man is a better fighter than the little man, the huge corporation is superior to the small company, the adult is wiser than the child. The Taoist attitude is: Not so....
As we are told in school, the dinosaurs were the most successful creatures on earth—for a while. But geographic and climatic changes eliminated them because they couldn't Adapt, and couldn't compete with the smaller, faster creatures that superceded them. Their most plentiful descendants alive today, scientists tell us, are birds—small, adaptable, and mobile. (pp. 191-193).

Lao Tzu applied the same common sense logic in his poetic advice to the leaders of nations:

Small and great are mutually fulfilling:
Set them into opposition,
And you have made your first and final error.

Therefore, let your nation follow Nature’s way:
If it is big, let its actions be small.
If it is small, it is already complete,
So it need not strive for greatness.
(from Chapter 61 of the Tao Te Ching)


Tomorrow, we'll see, all around the nation and the world, an illustration of this principle of the strength of the small: millions of small bodies will stand and march; countless voices will be raised in the face of Power. Make yours one of them: if there's an event you can attend, go and let off some steam. You can also be heard by your legislators or by the media. As Hoff, Lao Tzu, the I Ching, and many other wise observers throughout history have reminded us, there is success through the small.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Firing a Lugar

Our demon of the week (it's not who you might think):

Senator Richard Lugar, the senior Republican on the foreign affairs committee, opposed the resolution [to condemn the notion of troop surge].

"This vote will force nothing on the president, but it will confirm to our friends and allies that we are divided and in disarray," he said. But he added: "I am not confident that President Bush's plan will succeed." (The rest of this is here).

Let's be very, very clear about what Sen. Lugar is saying: it's OK for other people's children to die as long as we avoid the appearance of "disarray"—even if the plan is sure to fail, as all the others have to this point. So Moms and Dads around America, take heart: if your son or daughter is one of the 21,500 to go to Iraq and come back in a bodybag, it's for a good cause—harmony on fat cat Capitol Hill; the unity of Congress behind a failed president and his psychotic delusion. Senator Lugar will, I am sure, be willing to send a nice sympathy card to that effect.

Sen. Lugar, please accept the DR horns of the week—you've earned them.

Our runner-up for the horns is Laura Mallory, the Potter-hating priss who won't quit. By the time she gets her appeal through, the last story will have been published and who knows, she may get her most ardent wish fulfilled: the death of Harry Potter.

In the meantime, my response to her remains the same.

Tomorrow, our Friday author will offer an even better answer to such ideological totalitarianism.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

SOTU, Brute? It's Geek Wednesday!

So what's a soon-to-be-unemployed geek do on SOTU night?

Bemoan the state of the economy? Well, according to the Center for American Progress:

Tax cuts "have been the single largest contributor to the reemergence of substantial budget deficits." The Congressional Budget Office reports that tax cuts enacted from 2001 to 2006 were responsible for 51 percent of the deterioration in the budget. "Between 2001 and 2006, the passage of the Bush tax cuts without the offsetting savings have cost $1.2 trillion in lost revenues, or more than 80 percent of the cumulative deficit during this period..."

The President's bloated budgets have reflected skewed priorities and have not stimulated economic growth. Economic growth fell to 2 percent in the third quarter of last year, following 2.6 percent growth in the second quarter and a surprisingly strong first quarter growth of 5.6 percent.

Well, I could worry about all that and more, but instead I'll spend SOTU night writing...

Geek Wednesday

First and foremost, one erratum to report: last month, we reported on the new MacBook, and one of my few beefs with this marvelous machine was its lack of a right-click mechanism in the trackpad. Well, I found out in a rather roundabout way that I was wrong. I went over to investigate Alex Harper's Sidetrack utility, which adds right-click functionality to all Mac laptops, to see if it would work for me. I found out it didn't (it's not compatible with the new MacBooks), but I did discover that Apple has already set up the desired feature: you can program your trackpad to right click with the trackpad button whenever you have two fingers on the pad. Just open System Preferences, click Keyboard and Mouse, and then click the check box beside "place two fingers on trackpad and click button for secondary click". There—you've got yourself a right-clicking trackpad, and it's easy to learn and operate.

So I retract that criticism of my new, month-old MacBook, and now I have nothing substantive to complain about with this machine. I had a chance to compare it with a Lenovo Thinkpad, which I had to take home for work. As you can see, the Mac wins out for looks (what a difference!), display size and quality, keyboard (big advantage for the Mac there, especially for clumsy typists like yours truly), and, of course, the operating system. In fact, having spent lots of hours on the Thinkpad these past two months, the only area where it may appear preferable is in the weight department. It's about a pound lighter than the MacBook, but what I give up for that pound amounts to a ton of convenience, functionality, durability, and efficiency. American Express can take its Thinkpad and stick it where the moon don't shine.

I know I am frequently critical of Apple, and they deserve plenty of critical attention (more than they get from the often slavish Mac media). But when it comes to design genius and techno-wizardry, Apple hardware is the best in the world, hands down. Their operating system is the best commercial OS out there, though I still think Linux offers vast promise.

Oh, and speaking of operating systems, did you know there's a new one coming out next week? Pardon me while I yawnsta and go take a pista. Can't wait to see those midnight lines and Keith Jarrett roaming the streets singing "Start Me Up".

Now, time for a Webby Awards report. As you may know, I've been in the midst of my second consecutive year of reviewing sites for the Webby Awards. I've seen a lot of very bad websites, but a few beauties. Here are my favorites so far:

Keeping Score with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. Web design and geekery just doesn't get better than this. This is the very first site I've ever given straight 10's (we mark on a 1-10 scale for elements such as functionality, visual design, interactivity, structure and navigation, etc.). You have to go see it to appreciate it, but it's the most creative use of Flash media I've ever seen: there is history, insight from Tilson Thomas, inline performance video, and beautifullly crafted sheet music "playing" in real time with the audio. Ingenious stuff. The design and geekery of the site have been done by Rolling Orange, and if the Webby folks set any store by what they've got from me, this site will be bringing home the trophy this June.

Gee Guides: This is a site that I actually tested on my daughter. It is a web-based set of modules in art instruction, featuring original cartoon characters, stories, and some remarkably creative teaching sets in color, design, history, movement, and more. The kid loved it for the fun and interactivity; I loved it because these people are teaching art in a non-pedagogical, dynamic way. This should also be a big winner this June.

Exploring Learning with Gizmos A terrific site that delivers interactive instruction in math and science. It's designed for kids, of course, but believe me, lots of adults will benefit from this stuff as well. Check out some of the sample "gizmos" they've put up for preview. I also like how they provided a workaround for those of us using Safari on Intel Macs: this shows that the geeks there care enough to sweat the details, and the results prove it.

I'll have more next week, because the entry deadline has been extended to Jan. 26, and that means there will be more to review! Last night I started getting some activism sites to look at, so I'm looking forward to seeing more of those.

What these sites show us is the promise of the web—to teach, communicate, and entertain. Technology often gets a bad rap, and for the same reasons that government, religion, and media do: because they're controlled by rapacious, greedy, shortsighted, narrow-minded people who look at it and see only profit and glory for themselves. But if you can cut through the thin veneer of fame and wealth, and seek out the people who do these things for the love of them, then you'll find truth and beauty both together. Search the media and you'll find journalists who haven't sold their souls for a seat on Air Force One or an embedded ringside jeep at The Big War; you'll hear the voices of spiritualists who have no thought of exclusivity or glory, but only an attention to the hidden world; you'll meet activists and local officials and even an occasional Congressman who loves his country and the world so much that he'll chase truth rather than power. And you will meet the geeks of the Open Source Society—the people who write the code and make the machines that help connect us all.

I will, in a few weeks, be 50 years old—that's AARP eligibility age, kids. So I imagine I may be eligible as well to deliver a few crumbs of advice for the younger ones. Of course, I have nothing useful to offer in that way, except perhaps this: find what you love to do, and hold it, follow it wherever it draws your heart along. Don't let anyone or anything separate you from it—not a lover, not an authority figure, not power, not money, not fame. Just stay with the pulse of your love, for that is your destiny. The money and the recognition will inevitably follow you down that path of light; just hold to it, for that is your treasure. Do this, and you will never know regret, and rarely sorrow. I have no better advice to offer.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Alternatives to SOTU

Having just been canned by a credit card company, I should keep quiet about them for now, to avoid the appearance of sour grapes. Let's just say, then, that I fall into the Bob Herbert camp on this topic:

It’s one thing to reach for your Visa or MasterCard to pay for a Barbie doll or flat-screen TV. It’s way different to pull out the plastic because you’ve just learned you have cancer or heart disease, and you don’t have any other way to pay for treatment that would prevent a premature trip to the great beyond.

A society is seriously out of whack when legalized loan sharks are encouraged to close in on those who are broke and desperately ill.


I am tempted to encourage everyone who visits here to skip the SOTU tonight and watch the Moyers speech at the Media Conference in Memphis instead. Unfortunately, the video stream of it that made it onto YouTube is of such lousy quality that it's perhaps better read. Here's an excerpt:

In those days, our governing bodies tried to squelch journalistic freedom with the blunt instruments of the law - padlocks for the presses and jail cells for outspoken editors and writers. Over time, with spectacular wartime exceptions, the courts and the Constitution have struck those weapons out of their hands. But now they've found new methods, in the name of "national security" and even broader claims of "executive privilege." The number of documents stamped "Top Secret," "Secret" or "Confidential" has accelerated dramatically since 2001, including many formerly accessible documents which are now reclassified as secret. Vice President Cheney's office refuses to disclose, in fact, what it is classifying: even their secrecy is being kept a secret.

Beyond what is officially labeled "Secret" or "Privileged" information, there hovers on the plantation a culture of selective official news implementation, working through favored media insiders, to advance political agendas by leak and innuendo and spin, by outright propaganda mechanisms such as the misnamed "Public Information" offices that churn out blizzards of factually selective releases on a daily basis, and even by directly paying pundits and journalists to write on subjects of "mutual interest." They needn't have wasted the money. As we saw in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the plantation mentality that governs Washington turned the press corps into sitting ducks for the war party, for government and neo-conservative propaganda and manipulation.

Another option for tonight is the Democratic rebuttal from the new Senator from Virginia, which should be a doozy.


Now, as the Monty Python guys would say, for something completely different. I know we don't do this kind of stuff here often, but this is one of those stories that's hard to resist. The pictures speak for themselves, and the tale behind them is even more extraordinary:

In a zoo in California, a mother tiger gave birth to a rare set of triplet tiger cubs. Unfortunately, due to complications in the pregnancy, the cubs were born prematurely and due to their tiny size, they died shortly after birth. The mother tiger after recovering from the delivery, suddenly started to decline in health, although physically she was fine. The veterinarians felt that the loss of her litter had caused the tigress to fall in to a depression. The doctors decided that if the tigress could surrogate another mother's cubs, perhaps she would improve. After checking with many other zoos across the country, the depressing news was that here were no tiger cubs of the right age to introduce to the mourning mother. The veterinarians decided to try something that had never been tried in a zoo environment. Sometimes a mother of one species will take on the care of a different species. The only orphans" that could be found quickly, were a litter of weaner pigs. The zoo keepers and vets wrapped the piglets in tiger skin and placed the babies around the mother tiger. Would they become cubs or pork chops?? Take a look....... you won't believe your eyes!!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Impeaching Helplessness

For a supposedly liberal newspaper, The New York Times is traditionally respectful to institutions and their leaders. So when you see a quote like this in one of their editorials (this is not the op-ed page, mind you, but an editorial), it gets your attention:

Nor is there likely to be an explanation of why the White House could not have sought the court’s approval in the first place. The White House’s claim that the process is too cumbersome doesn’t ring true. The law already allows the government to wiretap first and then ask for a warrant within three days. The real reason is almost certainly that the imperial presidency had no desire to share power even with the most secret part of the judiciary.

We've been talking here about the imperial presidency for over two years now, but this is the blogosphere, not the Paper of Record. For the Times to be switching to language like this in a Sunday editorial is a sign of how clearly decadent our government has become.

Also in Sunday's Times was a more familiar voice of cut-the-crap sanity: Frank Rich, who has been calling them clear and straight for years now.

In reality we’re learning piece by piece that it is the White House that has no plan. Ms. Rice has now downsized the surge/escalation into an “augmentation,” inadvertently divulging how the Pentagon is improvising, juggling small deployments in fits and starts. No one can plausibly explain how a parallel chain of command sending American and Iraqi troops into urban street combat side by side will work with Iraqis in the lead (it will report to a “committee” led by Mr. Maliki!). Or how $1 billion in new American reconstruction spending will accomplish what the $30 billion thrown down the drain in previous reconstruction spending did not.

A program of lies rarely accomplishes anything beyond a narrow and limited agenda: this is the reality of the modern corporation in a nutshell. The problem we're living with today is that our government has studiously modeled itself after the corporate, adopting all of its delusions and fabrications; pursuing the five-year plan of destruction, perpetual downsizing and firing, and short-term profiteering as if it were the golden fabric of a new social order, the outline of a new constitutional model.

That, too, is, of course, a lie. Indeed, an entire tapestry of lies—what I have elsewhere referred to as a monument made of shadows.

But for a fellow like me, the question really is this: "can it all be about mere greed?" Or is there something else feeding the greed, filling the hungry demon with the vapid sustenance that only increases its desire?

I had cause to work on these quesions a little over the past week. The circumstances are quite unremarkable for our time: I was fired again by another corporate entity (this time the credit card monolith, American Express). On the morning after I'd received my notice (I'm to be officially discharged this Friday), I woke up with the sensation that a sea of time had drained between the night before and the morning after. It was as if a vast gulf had suddenly opened in the space between that then and this now. On the way into work, the sensation only intensified, all the way to the point where I became fearful—that I was going crazy, that I was sick, or even that I was about to die.

So I said an inner No to that fear, and to the self-consciousness that created it, that made me think in terms of an image or a perception rather than about what was really happening within me. It was at that point that a certain realization came about, and it came in the form of a fresh meaning to Hexagram 1 of the I Ching.

This is the hexagram that has been traditionally referred to as "The Creative". The understanding that arose to me on the subway ride to work that day was "The Awakening". Here is the rest of it, as it came through me:

The Awakening:
The sun of the self arises,
Fearless and free.
Where could the darkness have gone?

It occurred to me then that it is fear that feeds all destruction, all delusion. Fear fuels every dogma of fundamentalism. What Bush and his co-conspirators, for example, have done in Iraq is only superficially driven by greed. For the hidden agent of greed is fear.

Greed is itself commanded by fear. Why else would someone grab and accumulate, spiraling down all the while through layer after depraved layer of murder, corruption, and falsehood, so far beyond the point of satiety? What makes greed run so far out of control as to defeat its own purpose?

It must be fear—a terror of such conditioned, corporate intensity that it makes a slave out of the tyrant. What other kind of fear could make a person die within, to his very core of being, rather than face his inner torment and call for the help needed to overcome it?

The psychologist Joan Borysenko offers one description for such a fear in her book, Fire in the Soul:

The most basic fear of every human being is rooted in the helplessness of childhood, the time before we are capable of surviving on our own and must depend on the protection of powerful others. It is the fear of rejection and abandonment. This instinctual terror arises from the part of the mind that thinks not in words but in feelings and images. The common nightmares that children have about being chased and devoured by monsters—nightmares that occur even in children who have never been exposed to the idea of a monster—are the expression of a primitive fear that has its roots at the dawn of human history when abandoned children were, indeed, chased and devoured by wild animals.

Borysenko goes on to point out that the destructive effects of emotional abandonment are every bit as devastating and life-threatening as physical abandonment: isolation sickens and eventually kills its host. Lonely children fail to grow naturally; adults trapped in isolation have significantly greater incidence of heart disease, depression, and immunological illness. Borysenko is referring directly to the fear of abandonment within the family or human society, but her description also implies a related and equally primal fear—that of the abandonment, through repression or denial, of one’s true self, one’s unique individual connection to Tao, or the Cosmic Whole. This, too, is isolation—the loneliness that comes of separation from the Source of our being and the unified totality of our personality. This is the isolation that befalls us when, under the influence of a group ideology, we project an inextinguishable stain or intrinsic fault onto Nature, and thus onto ourselves.

This fear, this isolation, is what I saw in Bush's face during his last speech; it is what I heard in his voice. The demons have trapped him; the nightmare is real; and he can't move in any direction except to let them drag him further into death. When it is all over, he will need treatment, a lot of help. But now it is his very illness, his utter rootlessness, that will make him and his cronies all the more dangerous if they are allowed to remain in their positions one moment longer than is absolutely necessary by the time required for the process of the consolidation of the evidence and the procedural necessities of impeachment.

Now is the time.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Friday Reflection: For the Heart of the Sun

click the graphic to listen to the end of "Pigs"

Perhaps the first point we should make clear about this week's banner quote is that it's not about Bush or any other inhabitant of the presidential residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave (though it might as well be). In fact, Roger Waters was describing—or perhaps assaulting would be a more accurate term—Mary Whitehouse, a morality campaigner favored by the Margaret Thatcher government, that fish-n-chips neocon hegemony of the '80's.

Apparently, Mary was quite the tight little priss—think of her as the James Dobson/Brent Bozell of her day. Anti-gay, anti-violence, anti-sex, anti-liberal, anti-fun—anti-everything, in fact, that didn't come wrapped in moral shades of Hallmark card bland. She was, of course, quite effective in her shrill damnation of everything in the media or the arts that was sensual or at the mildest variance with her narrow view of family values. Unfortunately, her success encouraged a lot of copycat acts, right unto this day, in which we have Rush, Coulter, O'Reilly and the like stirring the most violent hatred against any movies, music, and media that offend them.

So Waters chose as one of the "three different kinds" of pigs, this Mary Whitehouse. Here's the complete verse, which closes the song:

Hey you, Whitehouse,
Ha ha charade you are.
You house proud town mouse,
Ha ha charade you are
You're trying to keep our feelings off the street.
You're nearly a real treat,
All tight lips and cold feet
And do you feel abused?

You gotta stem the evil tide,
And keep it all on the inside.
Mary you're nearly a treat,
Mary you're nearly a treat
But you're really a cry.

What follows this is one of the musical highlights of Animals: David Gilmour reminding us why they called it an "electric" guitar. "Pigs" concludes with a guitar solo of spine-tingling virtuosity. Gilmour's art illustrates a guiding principle of musicianship, which is well known among classical artists: if you'd like to be a great soloist, learn accompaniment first. Listen to Gilmour's lyrical, trickling notes during Dick Parry's saxophone solo in Shine On You Crazy Diamond, and you'll hear his eminent skill at accompaniment. Or check out the second part of Dogs, where he simply strums some brooding chords on the acoustic instrument, while the howling and barking of the dogs begins: it is one of the most simple and chilling moments in modern musical history. Unforgettable stuff from a pure artist of the guitar.

The Floyd were great not because they broke all the rules of successful music-making; but because they had learned them first. Every member of that band came to it as an accomplished artist; growing still, as all true artists always are, but whole and grounded in their technique. Thus, to write them off as an LSD-band or some electro-freak show that got by on gear and sound effects alone is to betray a very superficial understanding of their music, and of music in general. These guys were pros.

At one point during the interview segment of the Pompeii film, Waters grimly invites anyone who thinks they can do better to come on along and try: here's the gear, have a go. If you think just having the techno-goodies makes you an artist, then don't let the lack of them stop you. Perhaps it's a sarcastic point, but one that probably needed to be made.

The musicians of Pink Floyd weren't a pack of drugged-out little boys hacking at electronic toys; they were professionals who quietly worked at their art, perfected it, and in the process rewrote the history of music, leaving behind a body of work that will be heard and loved by generations still to be born.


Pink Floyd: recordings

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
A Saucerful of Secrets
Atom Heart Mother
Obscured by Clouds
The Dark Side of the Moon
The Wall
Wish You Were Here
A Collection of Great Dance Songs
The Final Cut

Pink Floyd on DVD

Live at Pompeii
The Wall

Pink Floyd: concerts

Fillmore West, April, 1970


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ticking Away: The Doomsday Clock

You got to be crazy, gotta have a real need
Gotta sleep on your toes, and when you're on the street
You got to be able to pick out the easy meat with your eyes closed
And then moving in silently, down wind and out of sight
You gotta strike when the moment is right without thinking.

And after a while, you can work on points for style
Like the club tie, and the firm handshake
A certain look in the eye, and an easy smile
You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to
So that when they turn their backs on you
You'll get the chance to put the knife in.

Dogs: if this music doesn't raise the hairs on your neck, best see if your head's still attached. It's one of the more moving, shattering songs that PF created over the course of their decade of creative maturity. Waters' metaphor is savagely poignant: the corporate hound, in a career of backstabbing, life-sucking, money-hungry depredation, finds that his blood has congealed--calcified with the weight of his accumulated crimes--and it drags him down to inner death, drowns him in the pool of his own poison.

Guitarist David Gilmour, one of the purest musicians of our era, is also at his heart-stopping, inspiring best on this track, in which he combines acoustic and electric sequences in music that raises Waters' verse to a level of sublimity that is rarely touched in modern music.

There are amazing discoveries to be made throughout this album: Gilmour performs further wonders in his solos on Pigs and Sheep, and even the tiny snippets that open and close the album (Pigs on the Wing) are moving in their irony--parodies of the top-40 love songs that were (and are) the radio rage while PF continued their practice of creating long, carefully constructed pieces of music that could be explored rather than merely enjoyed.

Animals, on the whole, is perhaps the last great collaboration of these outstanding artists (and I include Wright and Mason there, whose contributions throughout the PF era have been generally underestimated). True, there is some great music on The Wall, but by that time Waters and his runaway ego had taken over the band, and it was no more the seamless unit that changed the history of music with Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and Animals.

Personally, I wish they'd included Dick Parry on the recording sessions (he did accompany the band on the Animals tour). Parry is the saxophonist whose sound had become so central to the PF aura in Dark Side and Wish You Were Here. Yet even without him, Animals is one of the high points in the entire history of modern recorded music.

Click the graphic above and listen to the first few minutes of Dogs, and then remember, there's more after that. When most musicians are wrapping up a song, the Floyd are just getting warm.

Yet in the context of the themes of our blog here, the reason we honor Pink Floyd is for their message as well as their artistry. Isn't it cool to hear a band sing of things other than a wounded heart and a hardened cock? Isn't it refreshing to hear musicians with a sense for politics and social awareness? Well, back when the Dixie Chicks were twinkles in their Daddies' eyes, the Floyd were out there, singing a relentless lyric of truth to power.

As the planet heats up, we move a few steps closer to nuclear winter. In a week where the UN informed us that over 34,000 innocents were murdered in Iraq last year; when a vile new term entered public discourse ("troop surge"); when further evidence was piled onto what we already know about the rush to planetary genocide known as global warming; then perhaps it is time we had more artists like Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Nick Mason, and Richard Wright to inspire us, entertain us, and rigorously remind us of who we are and where we are headed. The scientists have done their best in their own way, and today they were joined by Stephen Hawking:

"Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no nuclear weapons have been used in war, though the world has come uncomfortably close to disaster on more than one occasion," Prof Hawking said. "But for good luck, we would all be dead.

"As we stand at the brink of a second nuclear age and a period of unprecedented climate change, scientists have a special responsibility once again to inform the public and advise leaders about the perils that humanity faces.

"We foresee great perils if governments and society do not take action now to render nuclear weapons obsolete and prevent further climate change."

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

When Pigs Fly (and Geek Wednesday)

Click the graphic to hear Roger Waters on Trump and Storm Thorgerson on flying pigs

Before we get to Geek Wednesday and another contribution from Nearly Redmond Nick, here's another slice of Floyd memorabilia for our Animals 30th Anniversary observance. This is an excerpt from drummer Nick Mason's book, Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd:

Much of the material for Animals already existed in the form of songs that Roger had previously written. "Dogs" had been performed even before the Wish You Were Here album, on the Autumn 1974 tour of the UK, as a song called Gotta Be Crazy, and elements of Sheep had appeared on the same tour as Raving and Drooling. The music had thus been in gestation for well over a year and had benefited from some toughening up in front of the audiences on the tour.

Towards the end of recording, Roger created two pieces called Pigs On The Wing to open and close the album, designed to give the overall shape of the album a better dynamic and enhance the animal aspect of it.

My memory of this period is that I enjoyed making this album more than Wish You Were Here. There was some return to a group commitment, possibly because we felt that Britannia Row was our responsibility, and so we were more involved in making the studio and the recording a success. Given that it belonged to us, we really could spend as long as we wanted in the studio, and there was no extra cost involved in unlimited frames of snooker or billiards.

Some critics felt that the music on Animals was harder and tougher than anything else we had done. There were various reasons why that might have been so. There was certainly a workmanlike mood in the studio. We had never encouraged a stream of visitors to our previous recording sessions, but at Britannia Row, the lack of space meant there was really only room for the crew in the cockpit.

Any harder edge might also have been a subconscious reaction to accusations of "dinosaur rock" that were being thrown at bands like Led Zeppelin, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and ourselves. We were all aware of the arrival of punk -- even anyone who didn't listen to the music could not have failed to notice the Sex Pistols explosion in the media spotlight. Just in case we had missed this, locked in our Britannia Row bunker, Johnny Rotten kindly sported a particularly fetching "I Hate Pink Floyd" t-shirt.


Geek Wednesday

Geek Quote of the Week: Think those suits at Microsoft have a firm grip on reality? Well, check out what this guy has to say:

"We're really recognizing the fact that homes now (have) four or five PCs, an Xbox, music player, a Zune," Microsoft entertainment unit president Robbie Bach said...

When you come back from your home planet, Robbie, maybe you should check out what's happening down here.

This, of course, comes from the company that slaps a new skin onto an old warhorse like Office or IE and then pronounces it a revolutionary new product. Believe me, folks, I turn on IE 7 just about every evening, with the popup blocker at full bore; and I still get multiple adware popups within seconds of starting the miserable thing.


...and when you lose control / you'll reap the harvest you have sown...


Now just so you don't think I'm some sort of Mac drone who has nothing critical to say of Apple, check out their home page now: there are no computers there anymore. There's a phone that won't be sold until June, a TV box that won't be sold until next month, movies, and more TV commercials. In fact, they took the word "computer" out of their official company name!


...and as the fear grows / the bad blood slows and turns to stone...


I also have this story from NR Nick: Apple intends to charge folks who purchased their new computers a fee for 802.11n access! All right, Steve will need the money to pay those fines to the SEC (and maybe he'll need some bail cash too). But shit, I've already spent $1300 for my MacBook and the 802.11n card inside it—how much more will it cost me, Steve?


...and it's too late to lose the weight you used to need to throw around...


So there you have it: wealth makes you both delusional (MS) and arrogant (Apple). Now do you wonder why we're spending this week talking about a record from a psychedelic rock band that sings of the brutal realities of a world filled with pigs and dogs and sheep?

Now finally, for what we had meant to feature on Geek Wednesday this week, until other things distracted us. Here's Nick on the future of IT in the enterprise:

DailyrEvolution 2.0
As we begin the new year, I want to know what my job is going to bring me. It's not that I don't care about anything else, but I need to see if I'm wandering down the right path. Wishing one day to be a CTO or CIO, I need to put on my Future Vision goggles every once in a while and evaluate the up and coming technologies. Here's NC Nick's take on IT in the Enterprise.

As you pore over all the industry rags, you see this 2.0 and that 2.0 and hear all the usual buzzwords, like SOA, SaaS, Social Computing, etc. I think it's unfortunate when really cool buzzwords get lumped in with buzzwords that mean crap. This whole everything-2.0 drives me nuts. Especially when it hides the real importance of the original version 2 - Web 2.0. This whole AJAX thing has some legs. I know you're saying to yourself, "Sure, it's cool stuff, but it'll never fly in the enterprise".

Well, that's where you'd be wrong. Try to name an enterprise app that doesn't have a Web 2.0 product (and a damn good one in most cases). Just take a look at Dion Hinchcliffe's Web 2.0 blog for a ton of companies delivering wonderful apps, and for prices that make most vendors look like crooks.

"Hey Nick, I'm hearing a lot about SOA? Should I jump on board?" Well, unless you're working at Ginormous Megacorp, Inc. I say "no". "But Nick! All the trade magazines think it's the best thing since sliced bread!" And my answer to that is, "Of course they do!" Have you seen the companies advertising in those rags? Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, BEA, Sun. It reads like a who's who of the software world. Let's hypothetically say Microsoft was giving me a free laptop to write nice things about a certain delayed operating system. Most likely, I would play nice and hope that MS came knocking when they were about to release another piece of crap software package. Of course, that would never happen.

When you have a company that can gain efficiencies by reusing tons of their software, adopt an SOA. If you have an army of programmers and need a library of services for business users to consume, adopt an SOA. Otherwise, stay nimble and just write decent code. You'll get your products out the door faster because you won't be developing all the overhead. This also means less money spent on development. Plus, you won't need all the expensive applications offered by Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, BEA, Sun - have I completed the circle yet?

So this whole cost-savings/efficiencies thing brings me to SaaS - Software as a Service. We are definitely seeing a major shift towards this purchasing paradigm. No longer do we want to buy the next release of Office, with its 1.3GB footprint, and all its security holes, and its required $399 upgrades, and dependence on SharePoint Server in my infrastructure... I want to pay $9.99 a month and get just the functionality I want. And I want to stop paying when I stop using it. Oh, and it should fix itself so I don't have to do it. And I don't want to buy a server to host it on. And, umm, can it have a really cool interface? And is it OK if I never have to pay for an upgrade? OK, cool. It's pretty easy to see why everyone and their mother is looking at this pricing model as a viable alternative to traditional upfront purchase + maintenance fees as a way of life.

Take a look at They got it long before anyone else did, and it shows. It will continue to show, as they build out their infrastructure, and acquire more clients. Not to say things are perfect over there - they definitely need to tighten things on the security end, and work on their uptime - but they are the closest to an ideal SaaS company.

Lastly, lets not forget to mention the Time Magazine 2006 Person of the Year - you! Congratulations! All those defamatory posts to MySpace, uploads of blackmail videos to YouTube and submissions of bookmarks to (not to mention your personal blog) make you incredibly important! Yes, yes, I know - we need to focus on the Enterprise, and the last time you checked, your company wasn't too happy with you browsing MySpace at work.

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum (the user forum, that is) - what used to be called Knowledge Management has slowly transformed into Collaborative Computing. And because of it, all these neat social applications have been given a shave and a haircut and sent off to work. Wikis are replacing corporate intranets. RSS feeds are replacing paid news feed services. Blogs disseminate information instead of company newsletters. User forums are replacing town hall meetings. All of a sudden, "you" are in charge of content development. You, you, and yes, even you. All of you!

So what does this all mean? It means things are getting smaller and faster. Overhead will not be tolerated. And neither will slow reaction times. Customers continue to demand faster updates to their software - as things are fixed, not when a huge release is ready. They want capacity when they need it - and only when they need it. They don't want to do things unnecessarily - just enough to get a working product out the door. Vendors that can move with their customers will survive. Others, will not. Join me next week for a vendor shakedown!

—Nearly Redmond Nick

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Dogs: A Lyric For Our Time

In less than two weeks, it will have been 30 years since Pink Floyd released Animals in January, 1977. It could not possibly be any more topical than it is today.

This, of course, is one defining mark of true art: it speaks to each succeeding generation with a uniquely renewed force and immediacy. Click on that graphic (it is not, of course, the original album cover: it's actually a building in Jersey City, an old dead power station) and listen to the excerpt from "Dogs," and think about the past six years. Then read the following, from John Rolfe.

Animals is very likely the most overlooked, underrated and underappreciated album by the classic Floyd foursome of Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason, certainly when judged in the context of their success after Dark Side of the Moon. The album is brilliant on a number of levels – as Orwellian commentary on the sorry state of humanity; as a Floydian tour de force of mood, atmosphere and sound (particularly all those ghostly dogs barking and sheep bleating); and as a cheeky response to the punk rock movement that despised Pink Floyd as a prime example of all that was wrong with rock in the 70’s: bloated, ponderous, pompous, self-important and collapsing under the weight of its theatrics. The Floyd turned the tables by putting out a relatively spare record that contained the most consistently forceful playing of their career – from the sheer, mad rush of Dogs to the roaring power chords at the end of the Pigs (Three Different Ones) to the rampaging stomp of Sheep with its explosive climax. Even the cover itself – a power station with a pig floating over it – was a sly nod to the music that lay within.

Live, the shows on the 1977 In The Flesh tour were very likely the most commanding of that lineup’s career – and I saw them twice on their 1975 tour before taking in two ’77 shows at Madison Square Garden. Accompanied by second guitarist Snowy White and trusty saxophonist Dick Parry, the Floyd tore through all of Animals and Wish You Were Here with breathtaking power and clarity, not to mention some of Wright’s most transporting keyboard soundscapes. It was also fascinating to see and hear how Dogs had evolved from You Gotta Be Crazy and Sheep had been begotten by the even more menacing and careening Raving and Drooling. The Floyd had debuted Crazy and Raving on the ’75 tour before finally committing them to record two years later.

But as I said at the top, Animals got lost in the shadows of what came immediately before – Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here – and after – The Wall. But, like those other masterpieces, it holds up well 30 years later. It’s a bracing listen and, sadly, Roger Waters’ bilious appraisal of mankind’s ghastly behavior in the pursuit of power and fortune is still spot-on. The record still stands as his most bitter commentary on the subject – all bare knuckles where Dark Side of the Moon was shrouded in a succinct and gentle melancholy. Wish You Were Here targeted the ravages of fame and the insidious, coldhearted machinery of the recording industry. The Wall had more to do with psychosis and alienation, and The Final Cut was steeped in personal anguish over the death of Waters’ father in World War II and mankind’s inability to stop waging war. But Animals is just a simple, loud, angry, damning indictment of the human race. Best of all, it rocks like hell.

—John Rolfe

Who was born in a house full of pain
Who was trained not to spit in the fan
Who was told what to do by the man
Who was broken by trained personnel
Who was fitted with collar and chain
Who was given a pat on the back
Who was breaking away from the pack
Who was only a stranger at home
Who was ground down in the end
Who was found dead on the phone
Who was dragged down by the stone.


We'll have more on this extraordinary album and the band that made it as the week progresses.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Impeaching Failure

I feel that we are more truly led forward by our errors than by our triumphs, and that when we listen to the teaching voice of a mistake, while our error is still small, then there can be no such thing as failure. This, to me, is a matter of mere practicality: imagine if our government or our corporate entities were guided by such a message; imagine how things might be today if it were included in a constitution or a mission statement.

The first step in going beyond the bipolar realm of success and failure is to encourage a climate where error is recognized and exposed as early and as often as possible. This is to practice what the Karl Rove / FOX News crowd labels "negativity" or "treason." It used to be called "democracy." And I can't think of a better day to celebrate it.

To that end, then, here are two voices that have been pointing out our government's errors for two years and more: Eric Alterman and our own Terry McKenna. We begin with Dr. Alterman:

Bush is like a man who is dealt two kings in blackjack (after 9-11) when the dealer is showing a nine, doubles down instead of playing his winner hand, gets two twos, and continues to double down over and over and over until he loses his family's life savings and insurance policy. Kristol, Krauthammer, and Kaplan, et al, are like the Vegas floozies with fake boobs telling him what a big man he is the whole time, stroking his thighs while picking his pockets ... (Oh, and John "Maverick" McCain is the long-suffering wife ...)

(By the way, observe also how Alterman freely admits a technical error in his metaphor, thus illustrating my premise about error and failure).

And now, Terry McKenna, on last Wednesday night's pathetic presidential speech:

Was the speech worth the wait?

For weeks we have been hearing about it, and even if you never pay attention to politics, you cannot have missed the build up. Sadly for the president, the speech flopped. Within an hour of its conclusion, the community of talking heads pronounced its verdict: dead on arrival. (No, I did not pay attention to the Fox News folks so I might have missed the single source for positive comment.)

The response got even worse the next day. Two cabinet officers and a general went before Congress. Condoleezza Rice was manhandled by the Senate foreign relations committee. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and General Peter Pace were treated somewhat better over in the House, but the bottom line was that the president's message did not succeed.

This blog has made much of the corruption of political speech by corporate modes; this speech was a model of corporate distortion. Acting like a CEO in industry, George Bush delivered a version of the facts that made everything come together in support of his message. It is not that he was overly optimistic, he wasn't. Still the speech omitted any serious analysis of the president's failure – yes he said any failures were his, but then what? Bush's recommendations are just more of the same failed policy. Another instance of truth bending to the needs of a spin - marketing over content. The conclusion was especially ironic given the now discredited Mission Accomplished photo op. It is a tribute to his ability to mislead that George Bush was able to keep his eyes straight ahead and his mouth even when he delivered the following sentences … "Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship." Hmmm.

In the run up to the speech, cynics speculated that the president had two goals. The first was to make us forget the work of the Iraq Study Group. The second was to downsize the definition of success to something much less than victory, thus allowing the president to select some favorable event as the pretext to declare success and thus start his own version of cut and run. (They tried this once before, remember when Paul Bremmer turned over power to the so-called Iraqi government – the whole process was a sham and a failure.) The long delay between the release of the Baker-Hamilton report and the Wednesday speech did much to mute the ISG's original impact. The president did more harm by his willfully misrepresenting the conclusions made by the study group. Yes, just as the president reported, the Iraq Study Group did suggest that failure in Iraq would be a disaster, but (please read the executive summary) their report pointed to diplomacy as the key to resolution – the president did not mention this at all.

So, the Iraq Study Group's message is history. And victory has been downsized to god knows what. Rest assured, George will find a way to delay the denouement till the next president is in power.

It never fails to amuse me that Republicans continually refer to how much better the private sector performs than does government – and they may be right. If George Bush were a CEO in industry, his speech would have been the last straw. The board of directors would have asked for his resignation, or perhaps sworn out a complaint for malfeasance. With such being the case, you would guess that Republicans would try to reflect a higher standard of conduct. But no, as represented by Bush & Company, they have taken the low road.

There is a peculiar disconnect between the fairly measured tone of the speech and that of a "fact sheet" presented on the White House's website. It's an astonishing document. To begin with, it is a one-sided political instrument, meant to justify right wing aims. And in its details, it remains steadfastly true to the past three years of spin. It presents as its primary objective the defeat of Al-Qaeda (in Iraq!). As a corollary, Iraq remains the central front in the Global War On Terror. Wow!! You can't match the Bush administration for perfidy. It describes Iraq as governed by a freely elected government, with a permanent constitution and democratic institutions. Astonishing! Iraq is hardly governed at all; its people live in sectarian enclaves, protected by militias or gangs. Those who can, flee to Syria and Jordan. If Iraq represents the value of constitutional government, then I'd choose autocracy any day.

Still, the marketing plan failed. It reminds me of the launch of New Coke in the mid 1980's. It took less than 100 days for New Coke to fail. And it may have taken less than 100 hours for this marketing initiative to come a cropper.

So, what's next? In the few days since, the US political world has split into two camps, on one side we have George Bush and a few neo-cons – and both Joe Lieberman and John McCain; on the other side, we have EVERYONE else. As long as George Bush remains commander in chief, it's really his way or the highway.

So, if we leave Iraq, will "they" come over here? Not tomorrow. The Sunni's and Shiites will no doubt go at each other, and some manner of ethnic cleansing will continue. And in a few provinces, terrorist camps may flourish. But the Iraq war has already become a terrorist training ground. IED's were perfected in this war. It turns out, US battle tanks, though well armed for standard combat, have notable weak points that the terrorists NOW know how to exploit.)

Let's remember that Al-Qaeda's power is limited to single targets of opportunity. In the West, no two attacks have been the same. Western transportation security and police surveillance may be enough to prevent most harm, especially in the US. Europe has a little more to worry about, since they have an indigenous Muslim population of Al-Qaeda wanna-be's. But the war in Iraq remains irrelevant to managing this threat.

—T. McKenna


Site Note:Tomorrow starts our tribute to the 30th anniversary of the release of Pink Floyd's Animals. Aside from the sound files of the music and the interviews with the band members we'll have, I think you'll find that this all fits rather nicely into our general themes here—the exposure of fundamentalism and the corporate presidency. So come back and check it out.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Friday Reflection: The Praise of Folly

Who could have known last weekend that, by the end of the week, The Praise of Folly would be a most topical subject for our Friday Reflection?

All right, you've got me—it was a fairly safe bet, knowing what we know of our leaders and our media, and their reassuring constancy, their imperviousness to change.

But before we go back in time to Wednesday night and the early 16th century, check out this comparison between the leader of the free world and The Black Adder. And if you're too young to remember that show, give yourself a New Year's gift of the dvd and get ready to split your sides laughing.


Man's mind is much more taken with appearances than with reality. This can be easily and surely tested by going to church.

Desiderus Erasmus wrote the above words nearly 500 years ago in The Praise of Folly. He may have been writing yesterday in the New York Times.

I would only amend his remark about where one might easily test the obsession with appearances. For those of us living today, the easiest way to make such a discovery is by going to work. For there, particularly if your work is done in corporate America, Appearance is a deity, the only god worth worshipping. When you enter the corporate realm, you have left fairness, honesty, decency, and truth--and practically everything else of substance--behind. You have delivered yourself over to the mercy of a lie, the worship of an illusion.

In a corporation, everything is defined around and devoted toward the Corporate Person: all effort, every resource; the sum of all money and the totality of belief—all directed toward and sacrificed for the greater glory of the collective god. As with any religion, no depredation is too extreme or inhuman to forego, if it is committed in the name of the chosen deity. And so it is as well, with our Roveian corporate government.

This, in fact, is the folly that Erasmus describes through the mouth of the very god that is the target of his satire. For Erasmus, a lifelong Catholic, much of this involved an attack on the superstitions and falsehood of his own church (the Catholic Church could use a fellow like him now, in fact). But the satire of The Praise of Follly extends beyond the arc of Catholicism. Let us enjoy another excerpt from Erasmus' classic, as we remember our President, the leader of the free world:

If Folly is any judge, the happiest man is the one who is the most thoroughly deluded. May he maintain that ecstasy...[He is] most pleased by stories that are farthest from the truth. Such wonders are a diversion from boredom, and may also be very profitable...

But wisdom makes men bashful, which is the reason that those wise men have so little to do, unless it be with poverty, hunger, and chimney corners; that they live such neglected, unknown, and hated lives: whereas fools abound in money, have the chief commands in the commonwealth, and in a word, flourish every way. For if it be happiness to please princes and to be conversant among those golden and diamond gods, what is more unprofitable than wisdom, or what is it these kind of men have, may more justly be censured? If wealth is to be got, how little good at it is that merchant like to do, if following the precepts of wisdom, he should boggle at perjury; or being taken in a lie, blush; or in the least regard the sad scruples of those wise men touching rapine and usury...

They believe they have discharged all the duty of a prince if they hunt every day, keep a stable of fine horses, sell dignities and commanderies, and invent new ways of draining the citizens' purses and bringing it into their own exchequer; but under such dainty new-found names that though the thing be most unjust in itself, it carries yet some face of equity; adding to this some little sweet'nings that whatever happens, they may be secure of the common people.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Geek Thursday: iCame, iSaw, iPhoned

My apologies to everyone who expects to see Geek Wednesday know, Wednesday. I had one of those moments that occur to all of us just before a major Bush policy speech, and I had to vent. But we've only lost a day, so let's have a Geek Thursday. But first, click that graphic and watch as the golden gaze of Jon Stewart falls on some Homeland Security mannequin who wins Jon's "Turd D'or" award for a phrase that is sure to echo through corporate boardrooms for years to come.

Geek Thursday: iStock

It just so happens I was in Frisco for Macworld on Tuesday, and I happened to run into Steve in a bar, hours after his Keynote at which he rolled out those two new products, the Apple TV and the iPhone. I asked him, "hey Steve, why didn't you have 'one more thing...'?"

He proceeded to explain: the "one more thing" this year was a new product meant exclusively for Apple management. It's a piece of software designed around the same code base as MacSheet, the new Excel-killer spreadsheet app that is being added to the iWork collection. But because of the special purpose that this application serves, even iWork had to be kept under wraps for the public show.

iStock, Steve explained, is a revolutionary app that can find the highest stock price for your favorite investment vehicle across a five-year period, down to the minute and second. "It's Time Machine, the new backup feature we're adding to Leopard, on steroids," Steve added. iStock will get you that best price backward in time and then automatically complete all the necessary paperwork for you to cash in, and it comes complete with a widget-style smokescreen device to keep the SEC off your trail.

Well Steve, what can we say except that at the Martha Stewart Penitentiary For Soft Time, the prison stripes come in black turtle neck.

Here's one of the new products that Steve actually introduced Tuesday at Macworld Expo, and once you take a look at the demo, you'll probably want one.

Yet on the whole, I think Rob Griffiths of Macworld (the magazine) hit the target dead-center on this Expo: it was disappointing. No further Leopard announcements or demos; no new Macs; no new iPods; no new software. Just a phone and a TV box. On the latter, our own Nearly Cupertino Nick has the following observations:

The Apple TV was definitely nothing to get excited about. Too expensive for what it does (which isn't much). I'm surprised Apple only went with a standard HD connection, unless they plan to upgrade to 1080i for $399 in a few months. I can't see it having a long life. At this point, why not spend the extra money and get a Mac mini that you can hook up to your TV? You get much more functionality too. The worst thing is that the AppleTV doesn't even take a cable input! It can't even act like a DVR! XP Media Center still has Apple beat here.

By the way, next week we'll be hearing from NC Nick again—who incidentally is a true geek, and with the sheepskins and the florescent tan to prove it—as we conduct a brief debate on the future of IT in the enterprise. I'll try to remember to post on Geek Wednesday this time.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

An Irrational Call for Help

The other day I wrote how ignorance can be as painful a torture as physical punishment.

Consider how we've been treated since the vast majority of us cast a vote against war and its escalation: we have been answered with disdain, with troop surge, with the broadening of the arc of destruction (into Somalia), and most of all, with ignorance. In this, we are one with the innocent people of Iraq, who risked their lives to go and vote, and were rewarded for their bravery with a puppet government ruled from behind the scenes by assassins and fundamentalist warlords. They, too, cast a vote for peace and were answered with war.

Is this what it means to practice democracy in the 21st century? A purple thumb, drowned in a sea of blood? Or a peaceful rising of the grassroots, watered with the pesticide of Roveian arrogance? Can a shred of light still flicker amid this implosive darkness?

I think it can. But we must give the new Democratic majority more than our signatures to petitions and letters to the editor, important as these things truly are. We must give them, and one another, our energy.

I have lived near 50 years on this planet, and cannot think of a moment of more urgency and transformative potential than this. Perhaps you have had the experience of being so bottomed out in your personal life—perhaps from a divorce, the loss of a job, a death in the family, or some other cataclysmic personal loss—of feeling that there was no fight left in you, not an ounce of resistance remaining. So you dropped it all; released what little was left and allowed yourself to be led, guided by forces that you had perhaps never accounted for, or even imagined. Maybe that was the time when things began to turn around, when you began to see a dawn amid the darkness.

If you've ever had such an experience, then you know where our nation, our world, is now. Ask, then, for it what you once received in your life: the ability to purge the last poison of arrogance, the final few drops of the congealed blood of destruction; to finally release its iron grip on the stone sword of rectitude and allow itself to be led by the pure energy of awareness, the light of peace.

For all the ranting and spouting and venting I do within this space, I truly have no answers—not for Congress, not for the President, not for the world. In the end, I have only questions, an unceasing examination of ego, and an urgent and desperate appeal of the heart to a universe whose living depth I have but superficially touched; whose breadth of time and space I have not traveled; whose endless life I cannot understand.

I can feel its presence, though, if but weakly, ephemerally; and so I call on it in the naked sincerity of humility to help us all, the creatures of this endangered and benighted Earth.