Saturday, March 31, 2007

Practicing Inner Elimination: The Way Beyond Guilt

Yesterday, we suggested that guilt is error's dark companion, and is responsible for most of the resistance to the admission of a mistake, especially from people who have made so many of them, like the members of the BushCo team.

Well, as luck would have it for us, Bush did issue an apology yesterday, on behalf of "the system."

"The system failed you and it failed our troops and we're going to fix it...I apologize for what they went through and we're going to fix the problem."

Apology accepted, Dub. Now, "fix the problem"—fire your VP, your AG, and your rap-dancing marketing director, and then leave office yourself. Then, all of you, get out of the public eye and work on expelling the demons that have driven you and our nation to this desperate point of geopolitical chaos, murder, domestic waste, and pervasive corruption. Get treatment for the disease that has so long afflicted you.

Apple Store

It all begins, as it can for many of us, with a recognition of the falsehood of guilt as a principle of human nature. As I say in The Tao of Hogwarts: there anything, anywhere, in Nature that experiences guilt, except humans? Do animals or plants or rocks or stars or the earth itself feel guilt—do any of these things subject themselves to the punishments and the hideous self-torment of one who perceives himself as inherently flawed and poisoned by Nature with Sin? Or is guilt what makes us who we are—original, uniquely human, the Lords of the Earth and the fullness thereof? If guilt is what makes us special, what distinguishes us from all other forms of creation, then I would suggest that it is time to renounce the distinction and return to our pre-human evolutionary roots.

Fortunately, that last bit is quite unnecessary. We can, in fact, "fix the system," by committing ourselves to a program of "inner elimination." We all value good habits and practices of physical elimination, because we know that if we couldn't shit, pee, sweat, fart, or belch properly, toxins would build up in our bodies and make us very sick. But we often fail to apply the same principle to our minds. That's where the "inner No" comes in. Here is another excerpt from my book, which includes guidance on some basic principles of "inner elimination:"

Say an inner No to the validity of guilt as a principle of human nature. In a brief, daily meditation, ask for help from the hidden world and firmly, yet without bitterness or hatred, say the word "No" three times to the idea of guilt as a natural aspect of your being. Say a further No to any group ideology, pseudo-scientific theory, religious belief, or social doctrine that arises to your consciousness as a specifically intrusive source of the belief in guilt as a natural human trait. Ask the teaching Presence of the Cosmos and the helping cosmic energy of dispersion to dissolve the notion of guilt from within you. Finish each meditation with an expression of thanks to the cosmic energies that are thus clearing you of these destructive attachments and prejudices against your true nature. Many people have found this to be an extraordinarily restorative and cleansing exercise, and the best part of it is that it costs you almost no outer effort and only about two or three minutes out of each day.

Identify the areas in your life where you are bound by group affiliation, and sever the ties on the inner plane. In Hexagram 59 of the I Ching ("Dispersion"), Line 4 has this poem:

He dissolves his bond with his group.
Supreme good fortune.
Dispersion leads to accumulation.
This is something that ordinary men do not think of.
(from the Wilhelm/Baynes translation)

Let this insight lead you to reflect on the aspects of your life—work, national affiliation, an academic, social, religious, or other group allegiance, and even family life—that need to be examined for the limitations they may be imposing on your true nature and the fulfillment of your individual uniqueness as an independent moment within the Cosmic Consciousness. Many of us have spent much of our lives trying to live up to the group self-images projected upon us by collective ideologies—the obedient child, the good and sacrificing husband/wife/parent, the loyal, hardworking employee, the patriotic citizen of a particular nation. The fact is that children naturally behave as adults would like them to, when obedience is not beaten into them as an ideological imperative engraved on the stone of an institution's moral code; we are all of us more natural, loving, and enduring marriage partners when we are allowed to live independently, even as we maintain the inner connection with our beloved, free of the darkly threatening decree to "honor and obey" another; we become more loyal, supportive, and nurturing parents when we give up the lugubrious self-consciousness of "sacrificial duty" towards our children; we are more productive and creative workers when we are liberated from that obsessive and vaguely paranoid attachment to the institutional ethic of "hard work"; and we are far more beneficial to our community and our nation when we consider ourselves as citizens of the Cosmic Whole, rather than as parochially allied to some tribe, clan, or state and its prevailing ideology of the moment.

So consider which of the institutionally-programmed self-images of the collective ego are most limiting you in your inner growth as an individual, and work on releasing these bonds, in the knowledge that you are truly benefiting the natural family, community, business organization, and nation by doing so.

Be led to a more accurate and personally viable understanding of error and its place in our lives. In the I Ching, there is no direct mention of guilt, because, as we have discussed, guilt has no basis in cosmic reality. However, it is understood throughout the oracle's text that error is an aspect of the way of inner growth for humans, and so the I Ching speaks in many places of "remorse" or "regret." This, indeed, is how we are meant to understand the role of error in our lives. In contrast to what the collective ego and its ideologies would have us believe, there are no spots that won't wash out: our bodies, after all, are 75% water—the basic element of the baptismal ritual is already within us in abundance! So when you have said or done something which you regret, and that you recognize as an error, a temporary separation from your true nature, try the following steps in a brief meditation:

♦ Ask for help from the Cosmic realm in understanding the cause, nature, and the correct resolution of your mistake, and apologize to the Cosmos for the error, in a free and open inner expression of remorse that is unstained by guilt, self-blame, or bitterness.

♦ If it is an interpersonal issue that has occasioned your error, then apologize to the person you believe you have wronged, on the inner plane. Simply let your consciousness speak to that person and express your regret sincerely, as if they were right beside you in the room. This practice has a far greater transformative effect than most people would be willing to acknowledge, until they experience it for themselves.

♦ Finally, ask the Sage, the teaching energy of the Cosmic Consciousness, to guide you in understanding what, if anything, must be done, in addition to the above, to resolve the effect of your mistake and return you to harmony with the principle of Te, or Modesty. You may use the I Ching or other oracle, or simply attend to the messages you receive in meditations, in dreams, or through your own reflection. If you feel that any action or communication on the outer plane would be helpful in completing the resolution of your error, ask for help in learning the correct approach in this respect. And remember this: the capacity to say from your heart, "I am sorry" reveals an ability of such greatness as the leaders of the most powerful nations on earth completely lack. As with any meditation, finish by expressing your thanks to the Cosmos for its help in guiding you through this process of self-understanding amid an awareness of remorse.

If guilt, blame, and fear are severely troubling you, seek help from a professional. The guilt and self-blame that are engendered by our futile efforts to live up to the institutional ego's monumental self-images lie at the root of many depressive and anxiety disorders. We are not born to live in an inner state of slavery, ever fearful that we will be deemed insufficient to the self-images that cultural laws, moral codes, religious beliefs, and societal norms define for us and program into us. Your need for help is not a manifestation of something aberrant or weak in your true nature, but is rather a result of cultural conditioning. You can find a counselor, therapist, or other professional through talking to family and friends, or via professional organizations that offer referrals based on your needs and resources.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday Reflection: Error's Uninvited Guest

The depth and scope of the depravity and corruption of the Bush administration—here, in Iraq, and around the world, in fact—has been abundantly documented here and in many other places on the Internet (not to mention the published literature on the same topic). It may seem difficult to understand, then, how Congress has been so ignorant of what to most of us is as plain as a drowned city in the Gulf Coast or a chaos of medieval proportions in Baghdad.

Clearly, the author of our banner quote shares the same confusion. How can these politicians, most of them Senators, even think of campaigning around the country, some 20 months ahead of the election, when the nation is under a constitutional crisis (several of them, in fact) and a losing war is being ramped up amid a tightening knot of tyranny at home?

Anyway, the author of the remarks we quoted goes by the name "The Pen," whose email dispatch I receive regularly. You can click on the "Join the Peace Team" graphic at the top of the sidebar and sign up for it yourself.

Toshiba -

Friday Reflection: Error's Uninvited Guest

Something we always try to do here, whenever we write about the BushCo tyranny or the Iraq War, is to scratch deeper at the surface of world events and figureheads of state than others do. The point is to go beyond the spin and then keep digging from there. Often, as you've seen, we only come up with more questions rather than any conclusive answers. But that's not a problem, after all: I would suggest, in fact, that if we conducted our own lives that way, we'd experience some amazing results.

But this time, I think I have an answer to offer to a nagging question that is contained in what was discussed in the first part of this post. Our question today is: "Why can't Bush, Cheney, and their ilk admit error? Why do these guys continue to preach their own perfection to a narrowing chorus of ignorance?"

The answer, as I often say, lies within ourselves. I think the question is important because it reveals truths about our culture that the mass media entirely ignore, and that we ourselves often overlook.

In our culture, the admission of error rarely happens in isolation: you don't just say "I was wrong, I'm sorry" and move on. Something else happens instead: to confess to a mistake in our society is to accept guilt. It is this uninvited guest, this dark companion to error, that causes all the trouble and incites all our inhibitions to admitting error.

I personally sense this in Bush's famous and frequent malapropisms, word salad speech, his stiff and skittish mannerisms, and his blatant distortion of both facts and their meaning. I sense the insidious, toxic influence of hidden guilt in his persistent and flagrant acts of denial. If I had time and some grant money to do it with, I'd study this and see whether these feelings are supported by analysis of events and data.

But for now we just have our own inner laboratory to work in, and that should be enough to come to some understanding. It is difficult enough to admit one's error in a mistake at work or a misunderstanding with a spouse, because the projected stain of guilt that goes along with many such moments tends to stick our feet to the very spot that we should leaving behind. We can be thus trapped in an error that is perhaps years or even decades old, if we cannot detect the inner tar of guilt that is falsely holding us back in the swamp of a mistake that we've already confessed. As I mention in the text quoted below, this is one reason why recidivism rates for convicts in our society are so shockingly high: guilt as an inextinguishable stain, as the spot that never washes clean, is programmed into our religion, our morality, and our law.

If we in our personal lives face so much struggle with error's uninvited guest, imagine that you happened to have started a war four years ago; a war that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents; a war that is being irretrievably lost amid a vortex of human and economic waste. Then imagine that more than two-thirds of your nation's citizens now realize the extent and depravity of your error. You have been personally steeped, from childhood on, in the very ideology that we've been talking about here—the indissoluble marriage of error and guilt—and you know that the weakest admission of a mistake would bring down a mountain of guilt upon you. Well, doesn't that explain something about the positively psychotic cult of denial that has defined this Bush administration?

For more on guilt and its insidious dangers, here is an excerpt from my book, The Tao of Hogwarts, where I discuss the meaning of J.K. Rowling's metaphor on government and its institutions, "The Ministry of Magic":

The ideologies of religion, law, and institutional morality—personified in Dostoyevsky's tale as the Grand Inquisitor—offer each person who will follow them the security of their protection, the comfort of a forced order, and the glossy emolument of their entitlements, but only at an incalculable price: that of the sacrifice of one's true, autonomous, and unique self. This is, in reality, a classic inner shakedown—the original bait-and-switch scheme. The need for the sacrifice has been manufactured via advertisement; the market is concocted. There is, in fact, no natural danger, disorder, or inner failing that requires the sacrifice demanded of the individual. Of even more concern is the consequence that the price of self-sacrifice conceals: a hidden tax or surcharge which will make it inevitably intolerable to the purchaser. This tax is the precondition of guilt; it is the ideological staining of one's true being. All have sinned, so all must repent (the religious embodiment of the tax); all of us are brutal, predatory, evil animals, and so must submit to the rule of a forced Code of Law in order to live peacefully with one another (the moral embodiment of the tax); all of us are lacking, incapable of living successfully out of the inner resources that Nature has provided, and so we must gain the additional support of institutionally-provided sustenance and social standing (the governmental embodiment of the tax).

Implicit in every one of these formulations is the threat of punishment: if you don't repent, you'll be punished (and according to some religious ideologies, you will even if you do repent, though not as badly or eternally as you would be if you didn't); if you disobey or question the code of conduct prescribed by the collective, you will be punished; if you attempt to live independently, according to the inborn means and social skills that Nature has given you, and without regard to the personal restrictions established by the ruling authority, you will be punished.

But mere physical punishment, while temporarily or sporadically effective, has proven itself to be an incomplete means of oppression, so the abstractions of guilt and blame were projected beneath our hearts by the collective ego—very much like the fires of the Grand Inquisitor's auto-da-fe. Through thousands of years of deep, behaviorist-style programming, these concepts have been driven deep into our psyches, forming a vast architecture of damnation. It has evolved into quite a massive structure, so perhaps a brief walk around this monument will help us as we prepare to destroy it.

  • Guilt is a blanket of blame thrown over all of human nature, and even over Nature itself. If you are human, you are guilty—to the collective ego, the proof is in the perpetuation of the delusion: "doesn't everyone feel guilty at one time or another?" it asks. If you are alive, you are stained; if you dare to reject, or even to question, the dogma that casts this blot on your being, then you are branded as one in denial, and you are threatened with "correction"—i.e., punishment.

  • Therefore, guilt is a part of your identity—you are forced to acknowledge that culpritude is a part of your nature—as an individual and as a representative of your species. Even God, in His human transmutation, was a sinner, and he admitted it! If God Himself was a sinner and therefore guilty, how much more so are you?

  • Guilt is an admission of the fact that one deserves to be punished by a vengeful God or an indifferent Cosmos (take your pick), and its human, self-appointed representatives. Many ideologies add to this axiom the codicil that the more painful and brutal the punishment, the better—this is the doctrine of asceticism in a nutshell. Again, God got himself nailed to a cross and only complained a little, right near the very end, so we may as well accept our punishment with open arms, whenever it falls our way.

  • Guilt is not only natural to humans, but also often perfectly justified. Many therapists will ask a client or patient who is feeling guilty about something, "is the guilt logical?" What they mean by this is, "did you do or say something for which you deserve to feel guilty?" They never stop to wonder whether the client should rather be undertaking an inner revolution upon the very idea of guilt itself, because they have accepted the reified notion of guilt that has been programmed into them by their culture—and even by their "science" (Freud believed that guilt was a perfectly natural consequence of the Oedipus complex, in which a child combined a sexual desire for its opposite-sex parent with a murderous wish against the same-sex parent).

  • Guilt is one of those spots that never washes clean. In America, the recidivism rate of ex-convicts released from prison hovers around 70 percent, closer to 90 percent in many areas. Their unemployment rates are also enormous—to have been deemed legally guilty in this society is a life sentence, whether you are within or outside of a correctional facility. This derives from our religious ideologies, which presuppose that sin can never be washed clean in this lifetime (which in turn, by the way, lies at the root of many obsessive-compulsive disorders).

  • _______________________

    This weekend, I'll offer another excerpt, which discusses ways that we can clear ourselves from within of that muddy delusion, error's uninvited guest.

    Thursday, March 29, 2007

    Meat in Rove's Market, Bush on the Bone...

    I found this item in my daily email from Progress today (link with video here):

    "General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in an unarmed humvee."
-- Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), 3/27/07, on how safe Iraq is because of President Bush's escalation

    "I mean, in the hour since Sen. McCain's said this, I've spoken to military sources and there was laughter down the line. I mean, certainly the general travels in a humvee. There's multiple humvees around it, heavily armed."
-- CNN's Baghdad correspondent Michael Ware, 3/27/07

    Cambridge SoundWorks

    Mother Jones joins in on the grim fun with this quiz on the war, which is fairly challenging—I only rate at the "cable news TV pundit" level. And while you're there, subscribe, why don't ya? It's $10 for a whole year of some of the best research and journalism you can find out there.

    And while we're having fun, our buddy Norm Jenson discovered this video and posted it to his outstanding blog. Creationism, evolution, and peanut butter. Hilarious stuff—Jon Stewart couldn't have come up with anything so raucously bizarre.

    The best argument ever for vegetarianism: And what's President Meathead up to, you ask? Why, he's been speaking before the American Cattlemen's Association to talk foreign policy (now how could I make up any of this?). In an obvious swipe at his audience's competition, the pig farmers, the Meathead-in-Chief said, "the House and Senate bills have too much pork, too many conditions on our commanders and an artificial timetable for withdrawal. And I have made it clear for weeks if either version comes to my desk, I’m going to veto it."

    And then came his old warhorse: “The best way to protect this country is to defeat the enemy overseas, so we don’t have to face them here at home.”

    Now if I were a conservative pundit, I'd have been all over this one long ago. Check out the stats: every war we've ever fought on our own soil, we've won*. Overseas, we've won a few, lost two, and had a number of ties. So if I were a true conserva-hawk, I'd want to fight 'em over here! Bring 'em on!

    But since I'm just a liberal blogger, I'll simply say that this is yet another example of the disconnect with reality so recurrently typical of this Prez. In fact, I'm working on a Mental Status Examination based on recent speeches and press conferences, which I'll be able to present next week sometime. So come back then to learn a little about psychiatry and the certifiable leader of the free world. Meanwhile, a word from Bob Herbert in today's Times:

    The executive branch is under the control of a belligerent and often amateurish group that has hacked away at civil liberties and is adamant about pursuing a war that neither Congress nor the public wants.


    *"we," of course, refers to the armies led by the person or government of Washington. So Washington's army won the Rev War, and Abe's squad carried the day nearly a century later—albeit at the loss of virtually an entire generation of the country's male youth. We also won the war of 1812, beat back the Mexicans, and of course genocidally annihilated dem pesky Injuns. A proud domestic military history, indeed.

    Wednesday, March 28, 2007

    Morons With Bats (and Geek Wednesday)

    Before we start the WOW with Geek Wednesday (go ahead, sue me, Bill), can we all please take a moment to stop these kooks beating the seals? Is there anything that people won't fucking do for money? This shit just gets my ass every bit as red as Iraq and Gitmo and NSA wiretapping and NYPD spying and tax breaks to the mega-wealthy while New Orleans drowns. All right, I'd probably stop short of spray painting old ladies in fur coats (though I also wouldn't lift a finger to stop anyone who does), but those PETA people have it right.

    Geek Wednesday

    Sliding right into our Site of the Week selection, PETA also has an outstanding collection of websites. The design, content, multimedia, server power, and smooth navigation of these sites makes them models of their kind. Like movie stars? Check out some of the videos at PETA2. They also know that, in our culture, sex sells anything and everything: check out their pictorial listing of vegan hotties. The fact is, the kids are right: they're hot mainly because they're healthy, and they're healthy because they've made some good choices, and research backs them up. And they get to strut their stuff on one of the cooler pieces of HTML on the web.

    When Unions Get Dangerous: I'm all for the Employee Freedom of Choice Act, now stuck somewhere in Congress, because workers need the right to organize, they deserve it. Where unions get sleazy is when their lips get stuck to the corporate tit. The CWA has done just that in its opposition to Net Neutrality. In the interest of protecting its workers' jobs, which are tied to Big Telcom and its rampant monopolism, the CWA has spouted the same corporate trail of projectile lies that AT&T and its ilk have shot by us.

    I've written about this plenty of times here, so I won't bore you with a rehash, but Net Neutrality is a people's issue, and it must remain so if we are to have any hope of salvaging democracy and some semblance of a free press from the corporate hegemony that rules us all today. Click that Save the Internet graphic in the sidebar and add your voice.

    Apple Store

    You buy a Dell, You Go To...: So I was starting to soften on Dell lately. They've had their butts whooped hard on Wall Street and in the open market by Apple and HP, and they're taking a good long look at bundling Linux in their boxes. So I got onto my Linkshare page and thought I'd get into their ad program and—gasp—start posting ads for Dell. Here is their response to my application (by the way, the bullet points showed up in my email exactly as you see them):

    Dear Brian Donohue:

    We regret to inform you that Dell Home Systems has chosen not to accept you into their affiliate program at this time. We reserve the right to reject your application if we determine your site is unsuitable. The most common reason for being declined acceptance into the program is that the site falls into one of the following categories:

    ¿ Sites that are unavailable or are under construction

    ¿ Site classified as Personal Home Pages

    ¿ Sites that do not contain a computer or electronics category

    But it can also be for the following:

    ¿ Aesthetically unpleasing sites

    ¿ Sites with mature/adult content

    ¿ Sites with hate/violent/offensive content Sites containing sexually explicit materials Sites promoting alcoholic beverages or excessive drinking/drug use

    ¿ Sites promoting discrimination based on race, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, or age

    ¿ Sites that promote violence or illegal activities Sites containing extreme religious content Gambling or lottery sites

    Well, none of that made any sense (well, I think DR's "aesthetically pleasing" for a blog). Then I saw the real reason:

    ¿ Political sites that endorse one party or extreme political sites

    Well, that explains everything...that is, if you have a little background info. I get mine from, which is a site that everyone here ought to have bookmarked. Here's their rundown on Apple (left) and Dell (right). Any questions?

    What's strange about this is that I bet if I got onto Dell's site and set myself up to buy one of their boxes, they wouldn't reject my credit card because I'm a lefty. But they won't let me run their ads. Hmm, it took Apple all of one day to approve my application; they didn't seem to have any of the long list of concerns that Dell has with DR.

    So if you're in the market for a great machine that won't make you pay for the Vista bloatware, click that link up there and get a Mac. Or if you don't wish to support a company that has allied itself with the likes of Nike (perfectly understandable, which is why I don't do iPod ads here), then go to System76. They've got a very cool-looking ultra-portable added to their lineup, and all of their boxes sport that marvelous OS that we've praised here before, Ubuntu Linux. And in about three weeks you'll be able to upgrade (for free) to the next version of Ubuntu, the Feisty Fawn. Fear not, Windows-freaks: upgrading Ubuntu is nothing like the nightmare of moving from XP to Vista. I've tested it through three versions (Hoary Hedgehog to Dapper Drake to Edgy Eft): you write a line of code into a command line, hit enter, wait about half an hour, restart, and you've got yourself a fresh, updated, working OS. Try that with any two flavors of Windows—I dare you.

    There are other wonders of the Open Source world to explore, once you've got that gleaming new Linux box on your lap. I'm working on another book (this one's a guide to living a decent human life amid the domination of corporate oppression and the tyranny of corporate government, a theme we may have casually touched upon here and there in this space). I'll be writing it in Ubuntu on Open Office. How is that possible on a MacBook, you ask?

    Nothing to it: that's the beta2 of VMware Fusion. Since it's beta software, it's free for now (and Parallels, by the way, has brought its price down $20). As you can see, I have Ubuntu running smoothly on the MacBook now. It takes one of the processors to itself, along with 512MB of RAM, and runs very nicely on it, too, as long as I don't have a lot of Mac stuff running in the background. On a box with a Core Duo processor and a gig of RAM, with Linux as the only OS, it would absolutely fly.

    Game Corner: We don't do this sort of thing very often, but I've found a couple of games that are worth recommending. I play when I'm waiting for something to happen inside me that will get me writing. The game takes me out of that semi-panicked, worrisome mode of consciousness most commonly associated with writer's block, so that after an hour or so, I'm ready to flog away at the keyboard with a reasonably clear head. Try it sometime.

    Anyway, I found a terrific word game over at Big Fish (link in sidebar): it's called Haiku Journey (for the two or three BeOS fans among you out there, that should strike a chord), and it reveals what a production team must be required to create one of these games. They obviously needed poets for the actual haiku that comprise one of the puzzles of the game; researchers to deliver the history of haiku that appears throughout as you pass between levels; graphic designers and artists for the lovely panel artwork; wordsmiths for writing the rules to the various word puzzles; and of course some kickass geeks for writing the code to make the whole thing work. The game loads a bit slowly on my Wintel box (a Gateway P4 1.3GHz with 640MB of RAM and an nVidia GeForce 128MB video card), but after a few minutes of loading the graphics, sounds, dictionaries, and file caches, the game appears and runs smoothly from there. And take it from a fellow who's a fairly adept word geek: after a dozen levels or so, it starts to get fairly challenging.

    The other game I've been playing is the Mac version of Reflexive's brick-basher, Ricochet. What I like about this one is the combination of design, engaging play, flexibility (it comes with a level editor), and perhaps most of all, imagination and humor. The geeks who made this game obviously had fun with it themselves: there are metallic brick "walls" in the shape of everything from Elvis' guitar to Kirk's Enterprise. And for the breakout psychotics among you, there are multiple levels of play: easy (my usual choice), average, hard, and "insane." The latter features an aspirin-tablet sized ball rocketing around at speeds that could only be mastered by a character from an opera by The Who.

    Finally today, highlights from my latest hour at StumbleUpon:

  • Al Gore's hilarious SNL skit. Worth another look.

  • Orwell's brilliant essay on politics and English.

  • Aesop's Fables. All of them, with the morals.

  • LocalHost80: a great compendium of resources for web geeks.

  • Tips for Writers. Simple, most of them, and just the ones that we all tend to forget.

  • Frankfurt's icono-classic, On Bullshit.

  • The Nightmare Project. Sweet dreams.
  • Tuesday, March 27, 2007

    To Youth: A Forward Payment

    When I got my first job in corporate America, I was pretty excited. It was a low-level management job for a big developer, supervising construction crews in the field—the field being the construction of a massive skyscraper in New York City. But when I told my old man, he smiled and took me aside. "Brian," he said, "congratulations. Now remember one thing: as long as you're working for the Company, it's going to demand your loyalty, 100% and full throttle. Just keep in mind that it doesn't work in both directions. The Company will never return your loyalty. Whatever you give them of that will be your gift, so don't expect anything in return except your paycheck, and keep your eyes open, because the Company will always drop you like a hot rock as soon as they can profit by losing you."

    iUniverse, Inc.

    So here's my "pay it forward" moment for members of the younger generation, perhaps getting their first jobs in corporate America. Everything my father warned me about in that moment, everything he said, turned out to be the unvarnished truth, verified by my own hard experience. The Company owes you nothing but your paycheck, whatever measly benefits it might have, and the tools of your trade—a desk, a computer, whatever. It doesn't owe you its loyalty.

    Sure, you'll meet some great people in your journey through corporate America; maybe people who, like you, missed the bus of their natural calling and wound up pushing the paper and the gears of insurance or banking or the retail sector. Maybe one of these folks will be your boss (lucky you); and you'll be tempted to think that the Company really is your friend, that it loves you and will always be there for you.

    Bullshit, I tell you. The Company is owned and operated by myopic, leering bean counters—people who would scratch you off a ledger sheet and out into the street faster than you could say "outsourcing", if doing so translated into an extra dime's profit for The Company. And that cool boss who takes you out drinking after work and looks the other way when you show up late the morning after a really hot date—he won't be able to do a blessed thing to save you when that bean counter has made that scratch on his ledger.

    You're never out of the job market in corporate America today, my young friends, remember that. And it's never too late to check back regularly at that bus stop where your destiny passed by without you once before. Whether you once thought you could be a filmmaker, a writer, a journalist, a builder, a mechanic, or a housewife (that's what I always wanted to be, from the moment my kid was born)—keep coming back to it. See how it has changed, that old dream; find out what you now have to give to it; listen for the sound of its voice, its call. Because no matter how deeply you bury it amid work and business and family and circumstances, it will still be audible; its heart will keep beating for you. The more you try to forget it, the more insistently, pervasively will it call.

    Though it may seem as remote and untouchable as a distant nebula, Destiny will never drop a pink slip on you. It is waiting, dancing on the single point in the vastness of space where the quantum particles of will, energy, coincidence, opportunity, and effort will meet in a single radiant moment.

    Monday, March 26, 2007

    Deathco's Gift to Society

  • A. Median Salary for a CEO of an American corporation: $680,077

  • B. Average CEO salary for an S&P 500 company: $13.51 Million

  • C. Starting salary for a New York City Police Officer: $34,970

  • Ratio of A to C: 19.5 : 1
    Ratio of B to C: 391 : 1

    Many of the corporations headed by the characters in categories A and B pander slow death to an ignorant public. Death on a bun, death in a fizzy plastic bottle, death in a vat of deep fried gluten. In a recent column for SF Gate, Mark Morford wonders how these guys can look themselves in the mirror:

    It all raises the perennial question, one I've often wondered at as I see CEO after CFO after nasty politician after corrupt misogynist Supreme Court justice march across the face of the planet without so much as a glimmer of a hint as to the pain they so casually, effortlessly inflict.

    Here is the question: How can they not know? How can you stomp through life and attain a position where you provide a product or service to the nation that literally poisons its very heart and still go home and play with your kids and smile and not beat your dog or drown yourself in Prozac and cheap whiskey and bloody ritualistic self-flagellation?

    The fact is, Mark, that these guys generally will live an entire fat and wealthy life off the lives (and deaths) of countless others until, one day near the end, the great moment of inner reckoning occasionally arrives, and they attempt to wash away their karmic rot in one fell financial swoop of remorse—the modern version of the medieval practice of purchasing an indulgence. History is strewn with such efforts at cosmic reconciliation.

    Alfred Nobel is perhaps the most famous of them all: a techno-genius who built an armament empire during his life and gave the proceeds away to the foundation that bears his name and awards its Peace Prize. Another instance of such johnny-come-lately moments in ambivalent philanthropy came from one of the most despotic corporate tyrants of American history. He was a man who made a massive fortune on the lives, sweat, and blood of untold numbers of nameless people. One of the most feared and hated corporate predators of his day, Andrew Carnegie is remembered today as one of the great benefactors of society.

    Does it work? I mean, is the karmic balance sheet squared by such munificence after death, following a life defined by the pursuit and practice of the most decadent, soul-chilling evil? Can we then look forward to an era when the wealth of the CEOs of Exxon, Coca-Cola, Nike, McDonalds, Union Carbide, Monsanto, Bechtel, KFC, Halliburton, and so many other corporate killers and global agents of oppression have their own day of contrition and decide to purchase their indulgences?

    Perhaps these are questions that have no answer, though I suspect that Morford is right on target with his:

    It's a question that's occasionally worthwhile to dip back into now and then, if for no other reason than merely to check our progress, to see if there's been any change in the spiritual barometer. And the bad news is, in most cases, the needle has barely twitched.

    Friday, March 23, 2007

    Friday Reflection: Courage and The Road Not Taken

    Before we get to the Friday Reflection for this week (from a great American poet), a few notes on where we stand at this moment re. Iraq and the funding measures before Congress.

    Now what follows may be difficult to digest, because we of the left are once again at odds with one another. Moveon is supporting the "Iraq Accountability Act," which is basically a blank check for the Bushies, maybe with a little of that non-binding whining that we've already heard from Congress thrown in there. UFPJ and many others on the left (and in the so-called center, for that matter), are opposed to more no-account "accountability," and are asking Congress to show some balls. Here's UFPJ's message that arrived in my email yesterday:

  • Bring the troops home now;

  • Vote NO on the supplemental (the "Iraq Accountability Act");

  • Support military funding only for the safe withdrawal of the troops (the [Barbara] Lee amendment).


    Here are some of the reasons we oppose the supplemental spending bill (also known as the "Iraq Accountability Act") the House will be voting on:

  • It funds both the continued occupation of Iraq and Bush's escalation of the war.

  • It allows Bush to decide when U.S. troop withdrawal should begin -- possibly not until Sept. 1, 2008 -- a full 18 months from now.

  • It is silent on the question of attacking Iran. (Language requiring Congressional authorization for military action against Iran was removed from the bill.)

  • It allows an unspecified number of troops (10,000? 30,000? 50,000?) to remain in Iraq indefinitely.

  • It would bring spending on the Iraq war to more than $500 BILLION!

    Democratic members of Congress may tell you, "this is the best we can do." No, this is not the best they can do! The voters of this country didn't elect a new Congress to give us excuses; we elected them to use their power to end this war -- to stop the flow of money for war and to set a specific, short-term timeframe for bringing the troops home.

    To put this into perspective, perhaps a read of a recent panel discussion featuring a group of geopolitical and military heavy hitters, assembled by Rolling Stone, would help. Here's a sampling:

    Richard Clarke: All the things they say will happen are already happening. Iraq is already a base for terrorists; there is already a civil war. We've got 150,000 troops there now and we can't stop it.

    Nir Rosen: There is no best-case scenario for Iraq. It's complete anarchy now. No family is untouched by kidnappings, murders, ethnic cleansing -- everybody lives in a constant state of terror. Leaving aside Kurdistan, which is very different, there's nobody in Iraq who is safe. You can get killed for being a Sunni, for being a Shia, for being educated, for being part of the former regime, for being part of the current regime. The Americans are still killing Iraqi civilians left and right. There's no government in Iraq; it doesn't exist outside of the Green Zone. That's not only the government's fault, that's our fault: We deliberately created a weak government so that we would have final authority over everything in Iraq.

    Michael Scheuer: Even in the best-case scenario, the disaster we're seeing now is nothing compared to the disaster that we'll see after we leave. The real issue here is American interest: The longer we stay, the more people we get killed. I don't think the longer we stay, the better we make Iraq. Probably the reverse.

    Any questions? The direction now is simple: Congress needs to hear that the only money to be spent in Iraq is funding for getting American kids out of there, pronto, and closing down all US military bases and presences. This is not rocket science: in other words, Congress is suffering not from a failure of understanding, but from yet another failure of nerve. We are going to have to be their backbone for awhile at least.

    Now as for the splintering among the left on this issue, that disturbs me far less than it delights the neocons. They're laughing at us, and are no doubt wondering why we can't march in lockstep like them. Well, that's not what a democracy's supposed to be about. Click that graphic up there and watch the video from the Stewart show, and you'll get a graphic and very funny example of what I mean.

    Now the left is understandably anguished over all this seeming division within it ranks. After all, it's tough enough to stand against your political opponents; it is nearly unbearable for many to be in conflict with your allies. So let me once again ask the gentle forbearance of the non-Harry Potterphiles among you and recommend a teaching from Professor Dumbledore. It comes from the closing feast of the first year, when the old Perfessor is awarding house points for Gryffindor. He singles out the timid orphan of brain-dead parents, Neville Longbottom, and says, "It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to our enemies; it takes a great deal more to stand up to our friends."

    Yet as Stewart demonstrates in the video, Lincoln encouraged a culture of debate and dissent within his own administration. True courage is not, after all, about choosing an in-group and then taking an attitude of "my country/party/church/etc.—right or wrong." For that isn't courage; it's merely affiliation, slavish obedience.

    Courage, on the other hand, is an individual, not a group virtue. It is characterized by strength of heart rather than firmness of mind. Among human virtues, in fact, courage may be quintessentially "the road less traveled." This brings us to our banner quote of the week, which I'm sure many of you recognized. Let's bask in the entire poem from this great American artist, Robert Frost:

    The Road Not Taken

    Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    And sorry I could not travel both
    And be one traveler, long I stood
    And looked down one as far as I could
    To where it bent in the undergrowth;

    Then took the other, as just as fair,
    And having perhaps the better claim,
    Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
    Though as for that the passing there
    Had worn them really about the same,

    And both that morning equally lay
    In leaves no step had trodden black.
    Oh, I kept the first for another day!
    Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
    I doubted if I should ever come back.

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

    There is a certain art to choice, to deciding what is right or what accords with our inner truth. It can't be done successfully in an intellectual boardroom. No: the choices that are the "sticking posts" of courage (to borrow a Shakespeareian expression) involve the heart, and thus call upon creative energies within us that we normally may not credit ourselves with possessing. Let me assure you: they are there; you simply have to call upon them, and step out of their way.

    Poets understand this as well as anyone, and better than most. In their poetic anthology, The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart, Robert Bly, Michael Meade, and James Hillman point out:

    we live in a poetically underdeveloped nation....There's a lack of spirit, of vision. The loss in the heart appears as a loss of heart to take up the great cultural challenges that are part of citizenship. It is in this sense that we have come to think that working in a therapy of the culture at its psychic roots.

    Every great poem is an expression of autonomy. Therefore, poetry is the original music of independence and dissent. Thousands of years ago, a blind poet wandered Greece, singing the history of another vain war founded on ego, opportunism, and the lusting after appearances. After him, Aristophanes wrote satiric verse that ridiculed the government and keelhauled every form of institutional demagoguery. Further East, an old government official wrote 81 poems that revealed the possibility of life beyond the pale and limp grasp of ideology. It is a continuing tradition to this generation, in the work of activist poets such as Ginsberg and Alice Walker.

    Poets, of course, have long tended to become political outcasts. Homer sang from the fringes of his world until, long after his death, his work was recognized—and, we can be certain, edited—into the mold of "classic." Lao Tzu's work was written on a journey of exile. Frost himself, after a brief tenure as favored artist and poet laureate of the Kennedy Camelot, was forced out and abandoned; ignored even on his deathbed.

    Perhaps it is the price an artist pays for choosing "the road not taken." But if we listen to the message of Bly, Meade, and Hilton (quoted above), then we understand that it shouldn't be so. When a culture lacks poetry, it loses vision. The Bush administration is an anti-poetic government, whose only nod to song is a doggerel kind of advertising jingle, characterized by adherence rather than freedom.

    What we need today are poets everywhere—trading floor poets on Wall St.; satirical poets on Capitol Hill; corporate poets in the boardrooms where the real power of this society lies; media poets who dig at the surface of received opinion and belief. They don't have to sing, make rhymes, or write in verse; but they will need to be present, to be heard, and most of all, to consistently reflect for us the artistic vision for choice that resides in each of us uniquely.

    Pundits and think tank scholars will probably, like corporations and the gossip media, always be with us. But their scope is narrow, their range often too weak, and their voice is usally a stultifying bore. These are the chanters of appearances that obsess over the pomp of power and the conflict of division. A poet casts the net of vision wider, catching more light, more opportunity, more potential. In an era of global war, genocide, and an impending peril to the planet itself, we are going to need that vision, to hear the voices calling back from "the road not taken."

    Starting Monday, I return to a road that's been perhaps too frequently taken. I'll be going back into job mode for yet another American corporation. But I have found (mostly from the examples of others rather than from any merit of my own) that when you take your light with you, any darkness can be dispersed. As you have seen from my recent posts, I am of the opinion that corporate America, perhaps even more than our government and our media, is most desperately in need of an awakening. Neither shifting things around at the top (as happens frequently anyway) nor any other superficial, institutional adjustment is likely to incite such an awakening. It can only happen from the presence and influence of individuals who have uncovered the light of transformation within themselves. Goodness knows you don't have to wait until you've reached some state of psycho-spiritual perfection or enlightenment—nothing will ever happen if we wait that long. All each of us has to do is to make the choice for a vision and a destiny that transcends the cubicle boundaries of corporatism, and to allow our action to express that vision.

    In any event, the blog will no doubt be impacted. This may come as a relief to many of you: the posts will be shorter and more focused than they have been lately. But we'll try to keep it going as best we can. Meanwhile, a happy Spring to all—may it be a time of growth and awakening for all the poets within us.

    Thursday, March 22, 2007

    Corporate Conduct, De-coded

    We pay a lot of attention here to the exposure of fundementalist religion and corporate greed because, under a fascist tyranny such as we have now in the White House, these two demons tend to march in lockstep (just check out the salaries that the godly pull down). The motivation that fuels both is the compulsion for control and conformity, which is in turn powered by a cynical fear of natural human freedom. Call it, if you will, the Dick Cheney syndrome.

    We had a glimpse of this yesterday when our rightful, elected President appeared in Congress to speak about global warming. He told his former colleagues, “There is a sense of hope in this country that this United States Congress will rise to the occasion and present meaningful solutions to this crisis.”

    Naive? Maybe, but I think we can forgive the man: after all, he's been out of politics for awhile. He was reminded of the myopic reality of Capitol Hill soon enough, when the Republicans were allowed to take their potshots. Rep. Barton of Texas told Gore, “You’re not just off a little, you’re totally wrong,”

    Congressman Barton will be dead and gone (though not for long) by the time the cosmic bill for greenhouse gas emissions comes due. His attitude is a typically corporate one: let's keep the profits going strong now, and if there are long-term consequences, that's why we have children. They'll deal with all that. Meanwhile, let us tell ourselves and the people some comforting lies. (Our friend Tom over at Current Era has more on the delusion being received and perpetuated by people like Barton).

    In corporate America, the impulse for profit and conformity today and the hell with whatever comes of it tomorrow has never been more ascendant than it is now. I was recently reminded of this myself, when I had to go and pee in a cup for my next job. It's a requirement: no urine drug screen, no job. No job, no rent for April. No rent for April, I'm out on the street by May, June at the latest.

    So I consented to what is truly, at best, a practice of questionable ethics, and in reality, a form of tyranny in itself. The issue is something I've been thinking a lot about lately, since I'm working on a new book about maintaining one's human integrity amid a corporate culture. The following is to appear somewhere in that book; it's a reflection on the Bill of Rights and its absence in those places where most of us spend a third of our lives—the workplaces of America.


    Many of us wonder and lament, "where has our democracy gone?" It is, to be sure, a legitimate question in an era of abusive, profit-drunk, deceit-driven government. Yet perhaps we might be further asking, "where else have we lost democracy?" For example, at work. Have you ever seen a Bill of Rights—or anything like it—at your workplace? We have mission statements, employee handbooks, codes of conduct, corporate vision documents, and security manuals in our corporate workplaces; but we have no such thing as a Bill of Rights.

    Let's review a few of the Constitution's principal articles and see how or whether they are followed in a typical corporate American workplace.

  • Article [I.] Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

  • Well, do you feel free to speak your mind at work? Is there a free press at your company, where people are allowed to write critically of management or its policies? The proverbial watercooler aside, is there anytime or place where you are free to gather with others on company time to evaluate and discuss corporate leadership, strategies, or employment practices? Are those compulsory staff meetings a forum for debate and free expression?

    So much for Article I.

  • Article [IV.] The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

  • In corporate America today, we have thought police, speech police, email police, and click police. Every movement you make on the Internet, every email you write, every word you say, is monitored and recorded. Your identity is captured in a laminated badge; your movements tracked; your communications watched and heard. I was once fired from a company over an email containing a fairly bland criticism of management—an email that I presumed at the time was confidential to the person I'd sent it to. Perhaps you have your own stories in this vein. In short, there is no such thing as being "secure in your person" in corporate America. Once you walk through those revolving doors and swipe your badge at the gate, you are owned; you are a property of the corporation; and everything you do, say, write, and even think can be monitored.

  • Article [V.]...nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself...

  • This is the language of the famous Fifth Amendment, which protects individuals from providing testimony against themselves. Even when you are arrested for a crime in this nation, you must be informed by the police or other arresting officer that you have a right to remain silent. The law compels no one to deliver information against himself, no matter the circumstances.

    But does this apply at the workplace? Well, it all depends on who you are, what you do, what position you hold, and who you know. Article V, in fact, is probably the most blatantly abused item from the Bill of Rights in the American workplace.

    We could go on (how about the 13th Amendment—you know, the one that says, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude...shall exist within the United States..."?); but the point, I think has been made. The foundation of our democracy, the Bill of Rights, is arrogantly ignored or blatantly violated in the corporate American workplace, every single day. Why, then, should it be such a shock to see a definitively corporate government, the Bush administration, consistently violating both the letter and spirit of the Bill of Rights? After all, it happens every day at the workplace—why not make it official?

    Wednesday, March 21, 2007

    Geek Wednesday: Enabling the Open Source Society

    Protesters walk past Bryant Park in New York in Sunday's UFPJ Peace March (click to enlarge)

    Before we get to Geek Wednesday and our feature piece on open source software, another word about this past weekend's protest marches and the organization behind them, because it represents what we here call "The Open Source Society."

    United for Peace and Justice is a loosely-organized body of dissenters drawn from every point on the political continuum. If you're a Harry Potter fan like me, just think of "Dumbledore's Army" or "The Order of the Phoenix" and you'll have an idea of what UFPJ is all about.

    But for those of you who don't read stories about boy wizards, allow me to clarify: UFPJ is an organization that furthers the kind of natural social order that is rarely seen in our rigid, lockstep corporate society. UFPJ doesn't ask how famous or wealthy you are; they don't want to know your sexual orientation, political party, or personal background. They simply offer themselves as an orienting force to support anyone who feels that peace is a more practical way of living than war; who sees that occupation and plunder have failed throughout history, as they are failing now (as the historians themselves now acknowledge); who knows that peace makes better policy than destruction.

    From that grounding point, UFPJ marshals its considerable organizational resources and talents, and brings diverse individuals and groups together in the sort of events we witnessed and participated in this weekend past. The effort, vision, and sweating of the details involved to make these things come off as successfully as they do can scarcely be overestimated. UFPJ is, in short, an inspiration to every freethinking person who understands that dissent is both our national history and our personal birthright; that no person, group, or nation can truly evolve without an active spirit of dissent and a commitment to peace. If I were forced into a corner and commanded to offer a model for government, business, and social organization in general; I would say, "do it like UFPJ, and you won't easily go wrong."

    You can donate to UFPJ here.

    Geek Wednesday

    Strange doings at MS: The self-implosion in Redmond continues apace. Steve Ballmer, heir apparent to Uncle Bill himself, and a multi-billionaire like his boss, shoved his foot as far down his throat as it could reach in this rant (video) last week, in which he proclaimed Google's business model "insane," and a one-trick pony with no staying power. No wonder the students at Stanford Business School were laughing at him.

    It all makes me wonder why I spill ink and waste time bashing MS in this space: they do it so well themselves.

    In any event, Robert Scoble, MS's appointed blogger, has summed it all up for us in an expression long familiar to us Mac users: Microsoft sucks.

    Stephen Manes of Forbes adds his two cents in a column titled "Dim Vista":

    Vista is at best mildly annoying and at worst makes you want to rush to Redmond, Wash. and rip somebody's liver out. Vista is a fading theme park with a few new rides, lots of patched-up old ones and bored kids in desperate need of adult supervision running things. If I can find plenty of problems in a matter of hours, why can't Microsoft? Most likely answer: It did--and it doesn't care.

    Ouch...and that's the fairly polite part of the piece: read the rest of it for all the gory details.

    All the more reason why we as tech consumers need to pay more attention to the open source model—both for its potential in making computers more useful (and less expensive) and for its application to the realms of government and business. But first, a few links of the week:

  • Firefox speed tricks: I found a nice advice page here that has four fairly simple and well-explained tweaks involving the Firefox about:config page that will help speed up page downloads and general browser behavior in FF. You can't do this kind of stuff in IE.

  • Networking for Non-Geeks: I like offering options for technophiles who don't have time to learn the intricacies of the more technical aspects of geekery but would like to have the freedom they often bring. Networking is one big topic in this area: to create even a simple home network of two or three PCs requires some technical know-how and a fair degree of patience. Enter the geeks at Network Magic. They have a proven winner for ease of use, simplicity of setup, and reliability of results, in their Windows networking product, and now they've added a Mac version (still in beta). I've tested both, and made a mini-network between my Wintel box and the MacBook, and found that, by and large, it all works. File sharing and movement from one machine to the other went flawlessly, and there was only a scarcely noticeable performance dip while I had the network actively working. Printing is still a little buggy on the Mac side: I had to keep the printer plugged into the Mac's USB port for printing to be possible from both machines; it didn't work the other way. But if you've got PCs to network and would like ease, reliability, and security in the experience, NM is a good buy. I'm carrying their ad in the sidebar and below, so if you're interested, click it and see how it works for you; there's a 30 day free trial before you have to pay them anything.

  • Pure Networks

  • Making Apple Mail fly: If you have a Mac and use OS X's proprietary email client, you'll be interested in these two pages: Macworld's Apple Mail tips page and Hawk Wings, a very nice blog that collects tips, news, and add-ons for Mail. I use Mail as my client here, and it's fast, versatile, and simple, with a nice, clean UI and a really solid junk filter. You can set up Gmail and even AOL accounts very easily in Apple Mail, so you can benefit from OS X's Spotlight feature for finding that needle in your Gmail haystack, and you'll never have to look again at AOL's truly horrible interface, or use its mangy browser.

  • Speaking of Apple, one reminder for computer shoppers out there: we're probably about a month away from OS X 10.5 Leopard, so if you're thinking about a new Mac, it may be best to wait until the new OS is out. The rumor mill's also hot with talk of new iMacs and Mac Pros around the corner, so all the more reason to hold on a bit. Next week marks the 6th anniversary of the initial release of OS X, and Cupertino may celebrate with some fresh hardware and software releases. As critical as we are here of Apple, there can be no question that OS X deserves every honor it has gotten from the geek press: best commercial OS on the planet, hands down. Lot of experts agree, and the compatibility issues are all dissolving in the Intel-powered mist of the new Mac era. Google's got a Mac blog, now that Eric Schmidt is on the Apple board; and the latest word on the last major software updates needed for the new Macs is that MS Office for Mac should be universal binary this year, and Adobe Photoshop's UB is already in beta.

    The Open Source Vision

    So if Macs are the best thing since sliced bread in geekland for now, why would we consider anything else? I asked myself the same thing last week, as I was installing Ubuntu Linux onto a couple of old P2 Dell laptops; and the main reason has to do with choice and with sustainability. We need choices in geekdom, because computers are so central to ordinary living now; we also need to know that the geek tools we use reflect our values, just as the foods we choose to eat (and avoid) reflect them.

    The term "open source" is a reference to the source code in a piece of software. Source code is what makes the product do what it does—browse the web, play games or songs, create spreadsheets or documents, or even serve as the operating system for a computer or a network of them.

    Typically with commercial software, all or part of the source code is closed, or as they say, "proprietary." For example, the Darwin kernel that is the core of the Apple Mac OS X system is freely available; but the code for Apple's overlay to Darwin—the part that enables all the cool graphics, great features, and marvelous applications bundled with the OS—that is owned and protected by Apple.

    Same goes for MS Windows: you can't even get the source code for MS-DOS, though there are "Free-DOS" alternatives out there. Corporations like Apple and MS spend millions to encrypt and protect their source code because it's their intellectual property—the stuff that makes their products unique and generates their profits.

    But open source software such as the Firefox browser, the Open Office productivity suite, or Ubuntu Linux, is freely available as complete source code, which can be obtained and modified by anyone with the training and geek skill to understand it and alter it to some useful purpose.

    Open source software is not the product of corporations, but of communities that are usually funded by grants, endowments, and both public and private funding. This means that both professional and amateur developers can connect to the development community during an open source product's life cycle (which is ongoing, since there is always a need for enhancements, new features, and bug fixes even to a finished product).

    Open source communities do have a management structure, especially in the cases of large-scale projects like the examples given above. But there the similarity with the corporate model ends, for management in the open source realm is more like the kind of leadership I mentioned earlier in the discussion of United for Peace and Justice. These guys are typically development professionals who have been involved in the project from the beginning and act as guides and organizers for the community that is creating or expanding the product. You rarely hear their names, and they don't make loads of cash for their efforts, because in open source, the emphasis is on the interactive, synergistic whole rather than on an oligarchical hierarchy whose topmost layers make all the decisions and derive nearly all of the profit.

    Ubuntu, for example, is an African word meaning (roughly) "I am because you are". It is an inclusive and receptive model that works to make geekery fits the needs of all people, regardless of socio-economic or national characteristics. Thus, MIT's $100 Laptop project uses Linux, and I am able to install Ubuntu on a pair of 10 year old machines that might otherwise be put in the garbage to wind up being taken apart by little Asian kids who are oblivious to the carcinogens and environmental toxins that are hidden in the guts of a PC.

    Next month, the third major consumer release of Ubuntu will appear ("Feisty Fawn"). Dell Computer has already committed itself to providing Linux-based PCs, and the Open Office organization has contacted them about the prospect of providing the OO suite on their machines as well. The open source world is about offering alternatives to a short-life, expensive, and fad-driven consumer culture; and it is taking hold enough that even massive corporations like Dell, Oracle, and Microsoft are taking notice.

    For now, we can no more kill corporate culture than we can completely eliminate corruption in government. But we can constantly question both, and share among ourselves the alternatives to Big Brother government and myopic, greedy corporatism, until they begin to look at themselves and see the decadence there. This will be the beginning of a change that could lead to a total transformation of society, but we have to demand it, to make it happen, through our choices and by our refusal to be fooled by appearances. We have to tell Coke and Pepsi that putting vitamins into their poisons will not make them any the less toxic, and choose safer and cleaner alternatives. We have to let Microsoft know that we won't pay hundreds of dollars for a poorly tested product with a bright new skin slapped over it, just because their marketing machinery proclaims that it is revolutionary or "new". We need to get the message to the meat-producing corporations and the burger joints that we can't live on food that is made from tortured animals on factory farms that are a major source of environmental destruction. We must show Apple that we can't listen to iPods when they are produced through an alliance with a sneaker company that is a global slave-labor machine.

    In short, we as individuals can't make corporations go away; but we can force them to change.

    And now, for the three of you who have read this far, a Geek Wednesday reward: the 1984 Macintosh ad, with a slight political twist.

    Tuesday, March 20, 2007

    "War is Over, If You Want It"

    The Collateral Damage Dance Troupe performs prior to the start of the UFPJ NYC Peace March on Sunday (click to enlarge)

    Well, I looked around the American mass media for awhile today, just to see whether citizen protests mattered as news; apparently they do not—that is, on this side of the pond. But over in England, the BBC had it on their front page, here.

    Backstage - Backstage Passes and Laminates

    But our media wouldn't be interested in this past weekend's marches because, (a) aside from some verbal shit-slinging from a few disordered Bush supporters in Washington, there was no conflict, no violence; and (b) no star appeal. It appears as if either the weather or the limelight potential didn't suit the Hollywood peace glitterati or anyone else among the rich and famous this time around. Which, after all, is fine with most of us.

    This was very much our march, our statement. There was no flowery rhetoric, no makeup trailer, not a speck of glamour, at the march I attended here in New York. Boy, it was great: old folks, young folks, baby strollers, toddlers, teenagers, gays and straights, Communists and Democrats (and, I suspect, a few Republicans), walking side by side. Nameless to the network media or the rest of the National Enquirer set. Just ordinary people; small but strong.

    For those of you who don't live here, New York is not a glamour, culture, or fashion capitol for the vast majority of us who call the city home. Who can afford to do Sardi's or the Hard Rock or Tavern on the Green or Elaine's or Broadway? Nah, that stuff is for the wealthy minority and tourists who have probably saved for years to get tix to The Producers and a table at SPQR or Sparks. I've lived here 25 years, been to one Broadway show and little else besides. For us, New York is more about a sun-splashed afternoon on Strawberry Fields or a pedal boat on Prosect Park Lake or the top deck at Yankee Stadium (not lately, though) or a long walk on the Piers or a bike ride over the Brooklyn Bridge and up the West Side Promenade. Or a protest march in midtown. It's inexpensive, fun, refreshing, and gives you the chance to meet your real neighbors. But again, it's not exactly stuff for the Cindy Adams set, which is fine by us.

    Favorite sign seen at the protest: "Hillary is Bush with Tits". Really, it was there.

    Speaking of Hillary-with-a-penis, guess who might have noticed the protests this weekend in Washington, New York, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago, and elsewhere? Yep, you guessed it: why else did he whine to Congress today about getting his escalation funding bill passed? Think maybe he heard all those tens or hundreds of thousands of people yelling all weekend in the streets "no more money for war!"? Now he wants to play rough with the blue Congress, turn the screws on them a little, show them who's still boss.

    Well, will they let him get away with it? Probably: Democratic majority or not, cojones are still decidedly in the minority on Capitol Hill.

    Here's Bush's nod to reality in this moment: “There will be good days and bad days ahead as the security plan unfolds.”

    Let's clarify for a minute what he's talking about, because when we normally talk about "bad days," it usually involves a deal at work not going through, or your kid getting an F in math, or a fight with the spouse or significant other...that sort of stuff. But when Dub talks "bad days," he's saying, "there will be hundreds, probably thousands more deaths...there will be massive amounts of human life and taxpayer treasure wasted in the carnage, soaked up by the desert sands...there will be more terrorists, more bodies, more widows, more orphans, more desolation." That, folks, is what we have to look forward to if Congress does the jelly-spine act again (we know the mass media will).

    I would suggest that, whether or not you voted with your legs and your voice this past weekend, it's high time to:

  • get on the phone

  • write some letters

  • send some emails to the fat cats in DC and let them know what you voted for with your ballot last November.

  • And remember..."War is over, if you want it."

    Monday, March 19, 2007

    Monday with McKenna: Dissent is Developmental

    Dissent is developmental: It's one of the guiding principles of this blog, and of many like it, that dissent makes government, corporations, and society in general more alive, more responsive to the people. Therefore, they are more popular and usually more profitable, whenever they give dissenters a free voice.

    This is, to me, such a self-evident truth (to borrow an old phrase) that it always astonishes me to discover that many people can't understand it. Yet on Saturday in Washington, there were the wingnuts, insulting protesters and accusing them of treason—as they "guarded" national monuments threatened by defamatory rumors that almost certainly started from within their own disordered brains.

    Fortunately, we had no such business here in New York on Sunday. Overall, it seemed a tad smaller than last April's; yet spirited and vibrant nonetheless. I walked the whole route and saw no signs of disorder or conflict—even the cops lining the route seemed relaxed. At the very end, two lonely counter-protesters held up a sign labeling the other 50,000 or so of us "left-wing protesters bent on demoralizing our troops."

    I'll have more on the march and its meaning later this week, along with more pictures. But today is Monday with McKenna, always a celebration of dissent in itself. Today, he takes on the image of "straight-talking" John McCain, and finds little, if anything, of substance.

    A public figure caught in a lie.  Don’t you just love when that happens?  This week, the news highlighted two more such public figures, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former straight talker, John McCain
    Mr. Gonzales was in the news in a big way until out of nowhere, the US released a transcript of terrorist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s testimony.  It seems that the good Shaikh has admitted complicity for nearly every terrorist act committed against US interests, as well as many more that he may only have imagined.  So this bit of manufactured news knocked Al Gonzales and his lies off the front page.  On the other hand, John McCain’s verbal misdeeds have garnered scant interest.  Still, his faltering presidential campaign is so desperate that it has resurrected the STRAIGHT TALK EXPRESS – a campaign bus decorated with that formerly apt slogan.  But this time, the bus’s incumbent is no longer quite the reporter’s friend that he was 7 years ago. 

    It is easy to make light of Mr. Gonzales’ lies.  Who expected better from a person whose entire career has consisted of crafting false or exaggerated claims.  He is, after all, a lawyer. In his public role as the president’s counsel, we’ve all become familiar with Al Gonzales’s frozen grin (or is it a shit eating grin?).  And if Americans of ten years ago were once titillated by Bill Clinton’s Socratic dialogue over the meaning of “IS,” then we should now be in perpetual stitches over Al Gonzales’ tautological defense of our use of torture - first he defined torture out of existence, then he assured us that America doesn’t use torture… (because we’ve defined it out of existence!)  This grandchild of illegal immigrants achieved his American Dream when he became Attorney General; now it’s about to come an American nightmare.  If he survives in office, it will be as a shriveled and powerless figure.
    The lies of John McCain are more troubling.  The son of an Admiral, and the grandson of another, success was his birthright.  He graduated from Annapolis, and began his naval career as a pilot.  Shot down during the Viet Nam war, he served honorably as a prisoner of war, inspiring his fellow prisoners, and gaining fame when his inspiring story became better known.  After leaving the Navy, he attained quick political success, and until recently was known as a maverick and gadfly.    
    His troubles began after his 2000 campaign loss.  Having learned that honesty is not the best policy after all, he morphed into a strong Bush supporter, but at first he kept his independence.  As we got closer to the 2008 campaign, McCain has moved ever closer to the right wing ideologues he formerly inveighed against.    
    Am I being too hard on John McCain?  He is hardly the first person to sell his soul for the big prize.  Ronald Reagan began his presidential bid in 1981 in Philadelphia, Mississippi, heart of the segregationist south.  And even John McCain’s STRAIGHT TALK EXPRESS faltered briefly in the 2000 primary season over the use of images of the confederate flag in Southern states.. 
    But is McCain a liar? While Mr. Gonzales’ statements would probably meet anyone’s definition of lie, John McCain’s would not.  But McCain’s strange transition from giving open explanations to speaking political Newspeak is a sad one to his admirers.  Those on the right who are being persuaded to vote for him now, must somehow be made to think of McCain’s past as a lie.  The political moderates who have admired him must instead think of his current statements as untrue – and that if elected, that the old John McCain would emerge.  Thus the entire McCain campaign is embedded with deceit.  His new positions have been crafted carefully to hide the truth behind a political smokescreen.  Thus, from a big picture point of view, John McCain is lying.  His deceit started a few years ago, when he reversed course on the president’s tax cuts.  Now he can’t give a straight answer to a reporter’s simple question about HIV.
    I recommend that you go and study his website. On a superficial basis it looks harmless enough, but when you delve into the articles, you see right wing poison.  Try the article “Addressing the Moral Concerns of Advanced Technology.”  Dealing with a number of issues, the article highlights McCain’s supposed concern about "fetal farming."   This is a straw man, raised to scare voters away from a sober consideration of the issue.  Stem cells were unknown except in theory as late as two decades ago.  We still know little about them, but research on embryonic stem cells seems the likeliest avenue to gain new knowledge, since the stem cell represents an embryonic state – before cells specialize.  We are lying to ourselves if we believe that by avoiding such research, we have preserved the least shred of human dignity for the thousands of embryos locked in cold storage.  If these cells have dignity, then how dare we consign them to eternal nothingness.  But they are not human life, only potential.  Until successfully implanted in a healthy uterus, they do not deserve the least legal protection.  But troglodytes on the political right have managed to sway a media too poorly educated in the sciences to understand that they are being spun. 
    There you have it.  Two men and dreams either broken or about to break.  And you have to ask – especially with regard to John McCain: was it really, really worth it?
    A note to a few of my young friends who read the blog and often point out the seeming extremity of my arguments. The blog is a polemic.  We present short arguments with an intense point of view.  Yes, I do gloss over a few of the details, and stretch my points for effect.  And yes, lawyers are not all liars (though I stand by my characterization of many of them).  And I’m still willing to hope that if elected, which I see as unlikely, the real John McCain will emerge.

    —T. McKenna

    Site Note: Our new banner graphic is a Photoshopped selection from some eclipse photography I found at APOD. I think it's cool, and anyway, the poor cat needs a break.

    Now as this is my last free week before returning nose to corporate grindstone, there will be a content-fest here. More from the weekend protests; a fascinating look on Geek Wednesday at how a Microsoft exec bashes his company better than I could ever hope to; and some selections from a new book I'm working on about corporate America, its alternatives, and how we might go about tranforming the former through aligning ourselves with the latter. I suspect it's also going to be a fairly busy week in the news.

    Sunday, March 18, 2007

    The Week Ahead at DR

    Hey everybody, and a Happy Hangover Day to all you Irish who celebrated last night. I'm getting ready to go and join the protest march in Manhattan, as DR is a sponsor of the event (it's no big deal—you give UFPJ $50 and then help them get the word out in advance). So this week, we'll have photos and stories from the NYC march, as well as others around the country (if you have anything you'd like to share with the crass, post a link to the comments). It's all about keeping up the pressure on Power. You never know where the tipping point will come, nor how close you are to it; but if we just keep on pushing together, with the helping energy of truth behind us, then the moment will come when clarity and democracy are once again alive in this nation.

    We'll also start turning a gaze on 2008, with a focus on what we need to do as voters to prevent another disastrous administration taking hold in Washington once the current lot of tyrants, sycophants, and all-round losers have been flushed away. One thing appears certain: the American mass media will not change in its obsession with slick, vapid imagery. So it's up to us to change for them, and show them the kind of vision that they have abandoned. Therefore, we'll start the week with a Terry McKenna piece on the reality behind Sen. John McCain's "Straight Talk Express".

    iUniverse, Inc.

    After all, if you have to advertise yourself as a "straight talker" by painting it on the side of a bus, I'm already skeptical. I could just as easily promote myself as an intelligent fellow whose judgment and decisions can always be counted on, just because I scored well in that area on a personality quiz. In fact, here it is (New Hampshire, here I come):

    What's Your Best Quality?
    Your Result: Intelligence

    Your best quality is intelligence! People like you because you are smart and always make the right decision. Your intelligence also helps you handle tough situations.

    Sense of Humor
    What's Your Best Quality?
    Take More Quizzes