Monday, February 19, 2007

Monday with McKenna: You Reap What You Sow

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm betting that if you had enough eyes or time to read the 30 million or so blogs there are out on the world wide web, you'd never find another offering like what you're getting today from my blogging partner here at DR. I'll just say that Mr. McKenna discovered a parallel in last week's news that reaches a little beyond the pale of weird. Before we find out what that is, first a few site notes:

  • Monkeys at Photoshop: another President's Day, another banner. And yes, the pdf download of Tao of Hogwarts is gone. The book's now for sale (see below). You can blame it all on American Express for slipping me the pink last month. In case you want to register a complaint, their CEO is Mr. Kenneth Chenault, and he makes around $20M a year. At the rate they were paying me, it would take me about 300 years to make that much dough. Or put another way, Amex could afford to keep me and 149 other employees if Mr. Chenault settled for $10M a year instead of $20M. Now tell me there's nothing wrong with corporate America.

  • Another book for sale: Anyway, The Tao of Hogwarts is now for sale. You can click the graphic in yesterday's post or find the link in the sidebar to order a copy of this or any of my other three books. For real, they're pretty good, or else I wouldn't be selling them. By the way, for Geek Wednesday this week we'll have a review of the site that offers this brand of self-publishing, You may be surprised.

  • The petition on Iraq: The form at the top of the sidebar can be completed without leaving the page. If you think it's worth 30 seconds of your time to sign it, I'd encourage you to do so.

    And now, Terry McKenna arrives to climb out on a limb where there may not be any tree...
    And as you lose control
    You'll reap the harvest you have sown.
    And as the fear grows
    The bad blood slows and turns to stone.
    —Roger Waters/Pink Floyd, "Dogs"

    This week’s theme comes from an old saying. Although we are no longer an agricultural people, the phrase about planting retains its currency. Most of us have heard it and probably used it too. Thus, the concept is embedded in our culture. It goes back to the Hebrew Bible, to the Book of Job: “Even as I have seen they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same.” The idea may be universal: it certainly exists in Buddhist and Hindu culture – for what else is Karma, but reaping what you sow? Of course, Karma has its own baggage – reincarnation is part of it, but if you focus on the kernel of the idea, you can see the similarity.

    That we look back to old sayings for useful truths is one of this blog’s recurring themes. For how can we move forward unless we allow ourselves to benefit from the ideas and experiences of past? The set of shared ideas and experiences, along with our shared artistic heritage, forms our cultural heritage. By culture, I’m thinking in the broadest terms; much more than ladies in evening gowns at a Kennedy Center gala. More too than our great museums and universities. Our culture does not reside in any one place or even in all of them, but rather in all of us, within our shared consciousness. So our cultural institutions (the museums, concert halls and universities) are but a small part of our culture. Our culture is our comic books and our movies. So yes, it includes Shakespeare but also King Kong and our folk tales. It includes the Bible and Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, but also the shared memory of tricky Dick (Nixon) and the Amazing Mets.

    We reflexively recall elements from our shared culture to help us understand the present. Think of how we understand Iraq. Most of us have never been soldiers, and fewer still have fired a shot in anger, so we look to memorials of soldiering in order to better grasp the soldier’s sacrifice – perhaps we’ve been to Gettysburg, and reflected on Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s 20th Maine, and their bravery at Little Round Top. Maybe we’ve seen Mia Linn’s groundbreaking Viet Nam War National Memorial. Thus we can appreciate the sacrifice of our current day soldiers. On the other hand, despite the sacrifice, the Iraq war turns out to have been an exercise in folly, and our understanding that it is so, and of what to do next, is shaped by the simple admonition used by gamblers not to throw good money after bad. Yes, gambler’s phrases too are part of our cultural heritage.

    So who will we examine this week, in terms of reaping and sowing?

    I picked an unlikely pair of Texans: Anna Nicole Smith (really Vickie Lynn Marshall nee Hogan) and George W Bush (this time examined for his Iran policy). An odd couple at first blush, but maybe not so odd when you think about it. Ms. Smith was a pneumatic concoction of our current day celebrity culture; a dissolute stripper pretending to the glamour of a movie star. That she slurred her words like a drug addict, and that her weight ballooned and fell, did nothing to diminish her peculiar fame.

    Then there is George Bush. A pretend Texan, he was raised there, but to wealthy New England parents. His education was eastern and patrician (Phillips Academy and Yale). He summered in Maine in a family compound (it takes an awful lot of inherited wealth before one gets a family compound – we don’t have one, do you?). So where did this scion of eastern wealth come up with his down home accent? I’ve listened to other Texans, and selected one for demonstration purposes. Writer Mary Karr is no patrician. Raised in a troubled household by a bright but disturbed alcoholic mother, she is a modern poet and memoirist, and she speaks just fine. Listen to her voice on Terry Gross’s Fresh Air program, and then contemplate the fraud which is George Bush’s country manner.

    So what bad seed did Anna Nicole Smith sow? Born to a 16 year old mother and 20 year old father, she was raised by her grandmother and a collection of aunts (the father didn’t stay long). Anna herself dropped out of school with at best an eighth grade education, and moved on to a career in places like Wal-Mart and Red Lobster. She found her calling in stripping. It’s impossible to know what she expected out of her chosen field, but at best, a stripper is a user of men, who is herself used. Embedding in a world of alcoholics and drug users, her early death is no surprise. Her demise is a sad morale tale of misbegotten dreams.

    Unlike Anna Nicole Smith, George Bush arrived at his Iran policy by an act of intention. Yes, he did inherit a long history of bad policy; thus, from Eisenhower, he inherited the legacy of our interference in Iranian affairs (starting with the coup against Mossadegh); from Nixon and Carter, he inherited the legacy of our strong support for the brutal Shah (very similar to Reagan’s support for Iraq’s brutal Saddam Hussein). Also from Reagan came the legacy of our blind eye toward Sunni extremism – we and our Saudi surrogates armed various warriors against the Soviets in Afghanistan; and we encouraged Saudi support for Madrassas around the world, especially in Pakistan.

    But even with such a bad inheritance, George Bush was given a golden opportunity to reverse course. When the September 11, 2001 tragedy happened, alone among Muslim peoples, the Iranians showed widespread and sincere sympathy for our loss. And surprisingly, their government did not suppress their demonstration. Thus we had an ideal opportunity for our president to come back to Iran with a gracious expression of respect and mutuality. But nothing came of it, and by the winter’s State of the Union speech, Bush damned Iran as being part of an axis of evil.

    Who knows what we will reap with Iran. Fortunately, history is still waiting for our final answer, but with George Bush in the White House, it does not look good.

    A final note about the much ballyhooed EFP’s (Explosively Formed Projectiles). These supposed Iran weapons have been described in breathless terms as nearly invincible tank busters, able to shoot hot copper through 2 feet of tank armor. On the other hand, when we are shown pictures of what they have destroyed, mostly we see mere Humvees, not Abrams Tanks. Of course, George Bush is like the boy who cried wolf, so pretty much no one believes him anymore.

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