Sunday, December 31, 2006

Bangkok Bombing Update

Earlier today, I posted about the New Year's Eve bombings in Bangkok. I opined that they were probably the work of Muslim separatists taking their campaign of terrorism from the South to the very center of the nation. However, I've just read in the New York Times that Thai national police doubt that insurgents from the South were responsible. They believe or say they believe, instead, that the bombings were linked to the political unrest that lingers in the wake of the recent coup, and one fact that supports their suspicion is that all of the bombs exploded in areas not frequented by foreigners.

Am I too quick to atttibute virtually all terrorist acts these days to Muslim terrorism? Has my admitted distaste if not hatred for a religious faith that has spawned so much violence and misery with relatively little condemnation from Muslim communities at large taken unhealthy hold of me?

Maybe, but I'd still be surprised, although I'd love to be, if those bombings had anything to do with the recent coup and not with Muslim terrorists. I suspect that the Thai police may be engaging in some wishful thinking or damage control to keep the tourists coming and tourist money flowing into the economy.

Bombs in Bangkok

I feared that it was only a matter of time until it happened, and now it has. Bombs have exploded in Bangkok, and I doubt that I'm jumping to unwarranted conclusions in suspecting that Muslim separatists have now expanded their bloody violence from the South to Thailand's geographical, population, and economic center in an effort to gain through force and terror what they will almost certainly never get--a separate Muslim fundamentalist nation.

But how many people will be maimed and killed, how many families destroyed, and how much fear, anxiety, and economic loss will plague that beautiful country and its people as a result of this awful, proliferating violence? Two people apparently died in Bangkok and twelve or more were injured when bombs exploded Sunday evening (Thailand time) near a popular momument, in a fresh food market, and at other places as people were preparing for New Year's Eve celebrations.

What's next? Shootings, more bombs, and beheadings in Bangkok and elsewhere that were previously confined to the South?

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Let the Healing Begin

I oppose the death penalty. I always have, and I probably always will. I oppose it on philosophical grounds and on more pragmatic ones. But the death penalty is usually carried out against "common people." They may be uncommon in their crimes, but they are "common" in terms of their station in life.

Yet, Saddam Hussein was the president of a prominent country when he was captured. He was tried, convicted, and executed for acts he committed as president of Iraq. Those acts caused death and suffering, both told and untold, for hundreds of thousands if not millions of human beings and brought physical, economic, social, and spiritual ruin to a once relatively prosperous nation.

Despite my general opposition to the death penalty, I confess that I do not mourn the hanging of Saddam Hussein. While I also do not feel happy over his death, I do feel a sense of closure and resulting relief that a man who did monstrous things that impacted his nation and the entire world in terrible ways has been irrevocably removed from the world stage and that perhaps, just perhaps, the healing of people's souls and the slow and arduous rebuilding of a nation can finally begin.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Why Mock?

Bob Godwin allowed one of his alter egos, "Cousin Dupree," to post today's Christmas message in his blog. In that message, he says, "I would like to take this opportunity to thank Bob for taking me in after Katrina and providing me with those three precious things that make anyone's life meaningful: something to do, something to look forward to, and someone to mock."

I believe that Bob's blog is brilliant, even when I disagree with or at least doubt much of what it says. But I've never understood why so much of it revolves around mocking those with whom he disagrees. I give him credit for not conducting most of his mockery in an overtly hateful or hostile manner, even though he's frequently championed the appropriateness of hostility and hatred against various people as well as ideologies and actions.

But why does he feel the need to mock at all, much less as much as he does? Does it elevate those who take pleasure, if not delight, in his mockery, or does it pander to their baser inclinations to make themselves feel better about themselves by degrading, demonizing, and marginalizing others? Does it lead those whom he mocks to see the error of their thinking and conduct, or does it further energize and intensify their predilections?

I believe that Bob is basically a good man. I believe that he genuinely wants to do his part to uplift people and leave the world a better place than it was when he entered it. So, why does he channel so much of his formidable cleverness into mockery, and what does he or anyone else really gain from it?

Dilbert Does Free Will

Well, actually, it's Scott Adams, the creator of the comic strip Dilbert, who "does" free will in his blog that a commenter on yesterday's entry kindly points out. It seems that Adams shares my disbelief in the concept and also my penchant for thinking and writing about it. Not everyone seems to like it. Yet, he follows his bliss, as do I, as best he can.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

More on Free Will

I've posted previous entries here about free will. Here is what I posted to a message board yesterday in reponse to someone asking if we have free will:

Most people will probably say that they believe in free will. But have they ever given serious thought to what it is? I've done some thinking about it over the years, and the more I think about it, the more convinced I become that it's an illusion. Why? Because it seems to me that free will means the capacity to choose otherwise. That is, if we look at any choice a person has made, we see that he could have made a different choice under the same exact circumstances and with the same conscious and unconscious motivations. I don't see how this can be the case.

A simplified example I've often used to illustrate this is as follows. Suppose it's a very hot day and you have a craving for ice cream when you happen upon an ice cream stand that offers only two flavors--chocolate and vanilla. You love chocolate ice cream and hate vanilla. You have no motivation not to fulfill your craving for ice cream or to forsake your love for chocolate and choose the vanilla ice cream you hate instead. It seems obvious to me that in this situation and with these motivations, you're going to choose chocolate ice cream and not vanilla, that there's no way you could choose otherwise under those circumstances, and, therefore, you are NOT free to chose or will otherwise.

To my way of thinking, every choice we make is a more or less complex variation of this scenario, and all our choices are equally unfree.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Word to the Wise

You've probably done this before. I know I have. I've left my car with the engine running while I ran into the house to grab something I've forgotten. Yesterday morning, my wife's uncle was warming up his vehicle to drive to work when he realized he'd left his cell phone in the house and dashed inside to retrieve it. When he went back outside less than a minute later, his vehicle was gone. Sacramento police responded quickly to his call and immediately began to seach for the stolen vehicle, but they still haven't found it.

Fortunately the vehicle stolen was not the family Camry but a creaky old Nissan Pathfinder that my uncle-in-law bought second-hand for $1500. Yet, he is not a rich man. He works very hard for a modest income that has to pay a lot of family expenses, and he put that old Nissan to good use. The loss was not insignificant.

So, a word to the wise. Don't leave your vehicle, no matter what it is, running unattended for even a moment in even the "safest" neighborhood, or you might very well never see it again.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Beacon in the Darkness

19-year-old Jennifer Ross died on an operating room table a week after being shot while resisting a robbery attempt on Christmas Eve night last year . On Saturday, her convicted killer, 26-year-old Michael Thorpe, cursed and flipped the bird at the judge who sentenced him to life in prison plus 40 years for the girl's murder. I don't believe in the death penalty, but I do believe that Thorpe deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison for his crime.

I don't know what caused Thorpe to commit his terrible crime or to brag about it afterward. But I'd like to think that his sentence may deter others from following in his footsteps and will, at the very least, prevent Thorpe himself from repeating his crime. Yet, even though I don't believe that Thorpe should ever be released from prison, I hope that he finds a way to redeem himself in prison and to help others do the same. His outburst in court would not seem to bode well for his chances of accomplishing this. But I'd like to believe that at the core of every human being lies the wondrous possibility of a quantum leap in personal transformation. I say "I'd like to believe" because I'm not sure I really do. I've been around too long and witnessed too much human violence and depravity to feel convinced that we all possess the magical capacity to rise above the baser aspects of our nature.

However, I believe without question that at least some of us are in touch with a profound and glorious wisdom and strength that virtually no hardship or injustice can steal from us. Jennifer Ross' mother, Coren, reflected this in her remarkable statement after the sentencing. Rather than lash out in hatred and bitterness against her daughther's killer, she opened her heart to pour out her grief over her and her family's loss: "We are broken, both individually and collectively," she said. "Rusty [Jennifer's father] will not walk Jennifer down the aisle at her wedding ... I will not caress her pregnant tummy." But she proceeded to speak of how her daughter's death has at least occasioned an impending deployment of surveillance cameras in busy areas that may discourage future crimes, and she dispelled the notion that race (her daughter was white while her killer and his accomplices were black) played a role in her daughter's murder or in the conduct and outcome of the trial by sagely observing, "Jennifer's murder galvanized and energized everyone who heard about it because it showcased two mentalities, one which still believes you must work for what you want, and one which believes that you can take what someone else has worked for."

Finally, Coren Ross displayed extraordinary compassion when she said of the mothers of her daugher's killers, "We mothers have a whole lot more in common than some people might expect. My heart just breaks for them." Previously, just before the trial, she had said, "I believe these young men to be victims as much as anything else. There is part of me that would say to them, 'I'm so sorry that your life brought you to this point.'"

I am awed and inspired by the beauty of this woman's unconditional love, wisdom, and compassion in the face of awful tragedy. May we find it in ourselves to follow her resplendent example through whatever "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" may befall us.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Having It Both Ways

Don’t ask me why, but I’ve been having a discussion on a message board about how the OT depicts God as a mass-murdering monster. The well-educated Catholic gentleman with whom I’ve been engaging in most of this discussion argues that this is only the OT God and not the NT one. I reply by asking him where the NT and Catholic Church assert that we are not to accept the OT stories in question as historical fact. He replies that this is beside his point that the NT does not portray God this way. I reply that if it and the Church do not refute the murderous acts of the OT God, then the NT and OT God are reasonably seen as one and the same God. He replies that I need to bone up on metaphorical interpretation of scripture. I reply by asking where the NT or Church teach that the OT stories in question should be interpreted only metaphorically rather than literally. I haven’t received an answer.

This points to a beef I have with Roman Catholicism. It seems to want to have things both ways. On the one hand, it counsels people to look for the metaphorical meaning of biblical stories that we find repugnant and reasonably doubt on a literal level. On the other hand, it never, so far as I’m aware, comes right out and claims that any of these stories are literally false. I surmise that this is because, if it did, it would be more difficult for it to maintain that literal biblical passages granting it the power it has over its followers and its authority to interpret biblical passages metaphorically can be taken seriously. So, like I said, the Church tries to have it both ways and hopes that nobody notices.

Most people seem not to notice, but some of us do.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Hopes and Prayers for the Missing Mountaineers

I don't know why Kelly James, Brian Hall, and Jerry Cooke tried to climb Oregon's Mt. Hood at such a perilous time of the year when weather forecasts undoubtedly predicted the hazardous conditions that were to follow. And, to be brutally honest, part of me thinks that no one should risk his life and well-being to find these men who are probably dead anyway from their own folly.

But the part of me that prefers the light of optimism and unconditional love to the darkness of pessimism and blame hopes and prays that these men will be found alive now that the weather has improved, that they and others will learn from their mistakes so that nothing like this ever happens again, and that no one is injured or killed in the search and recovery.

Beyond that, my heart goes out to the suffering families and friends of these men. May they soon find peace one way or another.

Friday, December 15, 2006

James Dobson's "Fib Factory"

Here are two letters by prominent scientists rebuking James Dobson for misrepresenting their research in his recent article in Time Magazine:

Dr. Dobson,

I was startled and disappointed to see my work referenced in the current Time Magazine piece in which you opined that social science, such as mine, supports your convictions opposing lesbian and gay parenthood.

I write now to insist that you not quote from my research in your media campaigns, personal or corporate, without previously securing my permission.

You cherry-picked a phrase to shore up highly (in my view) discriminatory purposes. This practice is condemned in real science, common though it may be in pseudo-science circles. There is nothing in my longitudinal research or any of my writings to support such conclusions. On page 134 of the book you cite in your piece, I wrote, "What we do know is that there is no reason for concern about the development or psychological competence of children living with gay fathers. It is love that binds relationships, not sex."

Kyle Pruett, M.D.
Yale School of Medicine

Dear Dr. Dobson:

I am writing to ask that you cease and desist from quoting my research in the future. I was mortified to learn that you had distorted my work this week in a guest column you wrote in Time Magazine. Not only did you take my research out of context, you did so without my knowledge to support discriminatory goals that I do not agree with. What you wrote was not truthful and I ask that you refrain from ever quoting me again and that you apologize for twisting my work.

From what I understand, this is not the first time you have manipulated research in pursuit of your goals. This practice is not in the best interest of scientific inquiry, nor does bearing false witness serve your purpose of furthering morality and strengthening the family.

Finally, there is nothing in my research that would lead you to draw the stated conclusions you did in the Time article. My work in no way suggests same-gender families are harmful to children or can't raise these children to be as healthy and well adjusted as those brought up in traditional households.

I trust that this will be the last time my work is cited by Focus on the Family.


Carol Gilligan, PhD, New York University, Professor

Here is the conclusion reached by Wayne Bensen, Executive Director of Truth Wins Out:

"Dobson’s group is a fib factory that should change its name to Focus on the Fallacies. This organization habitually lies and shamelessly mangles research to support its anti-gay agenda. Time Magazine should immediately withdrawal Dobson’s column because it is so riddled with scientific errors that it is essentially fiction."

Seems like a reasonable conclusion to me.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Afterthoughts About Wilber's Condition

I recently wrote that I was puzzled by the lack of detailed information released about the nature of Ken Wilber's medical condition immediately after he was admitted to the ICU. There has been some disclosure since then. From what I now gather, Ken is still hospitalized but recovering from seizures caused by medication he was taking for some other condition.

I agree with Joe Perez that Wilber has every right to decide how much information he wants to share with us about his health. In retrospect, I believe that I was wrong to imply previously that we had a right to more information before Ken was even able to consent to its disclosure, and I now believe that I-I did a rather good job of walking the fine line between keeping us totally in the dark and letting our concerns run wild on the one hand and telling us more than we were entitled to know without Ken's approval on the other. And now that Ken is apparently able to give consent, he has every right to disclose or hold back as much information as he wishes.

I will only say that I'm still concerned about him and that I have several questions about his health that I would love to have answered: Was he admitted to the hospital for seizures caused by a medication he was taking for another condition? If not, what was he admitted for, and what do doctors think caused his symptoms? If so, what medication was he taking and why was he taking it? If he can no longer take that medication, how will he be treated for the condition for which he was taking it? Will he be given another medication? If so, is it likely to work without soon or eventually causing the same side effects? In other words, what is Ken's prognosis?

I don't expect, much less foolishly demand, answers to these questions. They are just questions I have for which I, as a concerned member of the integral community, would like to see answers someday if Ken decides to provide them. I suspect that he will in time.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Superior Intelligence

Yesterday I watched a fascinating program in the Naked Science series about the possibility of human contact with extra-terrestrial intelligence. There's no compelling reason to believe that ET's have ever visited Earth, and some people take this as reason to believe that they don't exist. But if they do exist, why do we think they'd be able to come here in the extremely unlikely event that they knew about us or even want to come here, given the unfathomable vastness of space and the incomprehensibly large number of stars and planets that populate this awesome universe?

And if they did come here (either themselves or via robotic explorers, perhaps on a nanotechnological scale), would we ever be able to communicate with them? And if they simply reached out to us by some kind of interstellar communication, would we be able distinguish between it and astrophysical static, and, if so, could we even begin to decipher any messages it might contain? If we can scarcely understand the languages of other species here on Earth, how do we have a proverbial snowball's chance in hell of understanding the language of some alien race perhaps thousands of light years away and millions of years more advanced than us?

We might not be able to understand them, but some scientists believe that we might at least be able to estimate their intelligence by the sophistication of their language. How can we measure the complexity of a language we don't even understand? I'm not sophisticated enough to have understood the explanation too well (and, perhaps, my cat jumping up on the table while I ate played a role in my incomprehension), but it had something to do with measuring the number and size of discernible syntactical patterns in the signal.

The interesting thing is, if ET's used this same method for evaluating the intelligence of Earth species in order to direct their communications to the most intelligent among them, they probably wouldn't pick us. They'd pick the humpback whale. For if human language has a sophistication level of 9 and dolphins and chimpanzees are at level 4, some scientist has determined that humpback whales seem to be far above all of us. Does this mean that humpbacks are more intelligent than us and that Star Trek IV was prescient in its depiction of aliens communicating with humpbacks? I guess I wouldn't be too surprised if that were so, even though I wonder why, if humpbacks are so intelligent, they don't do a better job of evading their less intelligent human predators.

Yet, one of the most provocative possibilties raised by the program is that the real ET's are US in the sense that our microbial forebears may have been transplanted here from Mars or some other planet via space debris falling here and seeding this planet with life that evolved into us. I must admit that I'm not too impressed with this hypothesis. I guess it's OK if someone merely argues that this just happens to be how life came into existence here. On the other hand, if someone argues that this is the only way life could have developed here, I ask how life came into being on the other planet from which it found its way here. This is similar to the question I ask Christians who argue that God had to have made this universe because it couldn't exist by itself. I ask them how the God that had to have made this universe exits without needing to have been made by something else, and it by something else, and so on. I've never been fond of infinite regresses.

All in all, I watched an interesting program yesterday that still has me thinking cosmic thoughts instead of the usual mundane ones.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Worried About Wilber

I read this morning that, according to his personal assistant Colin, Ken Wilber was unconscious but stable in the ICU of a Denver hospital from an "extremely serious, but not catastrophically so" condition that a "whole team of wonderful doctors" was working to figure out and treat, and that Wilber's good friend Roger Walsh was flying in to be with him. Since then, I have been scanning the blogosphere and elsewhere without success for revealing updates on Wilber's condition.

Two things have struck me about these unfortunate events.

First, I'm puzzled over why there isn't more information available about Wilber's condition. I understand that the doctors are trying to get a handle on it, but why haven't details been released on what led up to Wilber's hospitalization? Did he suffer a fall? Was he ill (or more ill than usual here of late), and, if so, what were his symptoms? Was he found unconscious, or did he lapse into unconsciousness later on? What is his condition right now? Is he now conscious, or still unconscious? If he's conscious, is he lucid? What do doctors know or speculate right now?

Some might argue that no one's had time to write about this, but couldn't someone who's at the hospital call someone who has the time and means to write about it and give them the information we all want to know? Some might argue that this is personal and privileged information, but what is the point in holding it back from a vast, worldwide community of people who care as much about Ken as they do about their own families? If a family member of mine were unconscious in an ICU, I'd want to know as much as I could about what had happened and what was happening now. Wouldn't you? I'm struck--no dumstruck--by just how little information is available!

Second, nobody seems to be talking about what it would mean if Ken died or were permanently disabled mentally as well as physically. But it seems to me that if he is or was unconscious in an ICU, there is something pretty seriously wrong with him, and death or debility COULD result. I confess that I've been thinking a lot about this over the past few hours, and I'm talking about it now because I don't believe that thinking about it or even talking about it here is going to magically make it any more likely to happen than if I don't think and talk about it.

But what I believe it CAN do is get us freshly focused on what Wilber and integral philosophy means to us and what we as individuals and communities are willing to do, with or without Wilber's continuing contributions, to advance an integral understanding of the world and an integral life practice in the world.

I can't think of a better time to contemplate this than right now.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Doctor Buddha

Buddhism is neither pessimistic nor optimistic. If anything at all, it is realistic, for it takes a realistic view of life and of the world. It looks at things objectively. It does not falsely lull you into living in a fool's paradise, nor does it frighten and agonize you with all kinds of imaginary fears and sins. It tells you exactly and objectively what you are and what the world around you is, and shows you the way to perfect freedom, peace, tranquility and happiness. One physician may gravely exaggerate an illness and give up hope altogether. Another may ignorantly declare that there is no illness and that no treatment is necessary, thus deceiving the patient with false consolation. You may call the first one pessimistic and the second optimistic. Both are equally dangerous. But a third physician diagnoses the symptoms correctly, understands the cause and the nature of the illness, sees clearly that it can be cured and courageously administers a course of treatment, thus saving his patient. The Buddha is like the last physician. He is the wise and scientific doctor for the ills of the world.
--Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha Taught

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Goal of Vipassana

The goal of vipassana is to cultivate the mindful, non-reactive observation of bodily and mental processes so as to develop an increasing awareness--an awareness undistorted by our usual desires, fears and views of the true nature of these processes, that they are impermanent, that they are without self and therefore involve no suffering on our part until we learn to let go.It is through mindful observation of what is actually there that the delusion that makes us perceive what is impermanent and transient as permanent and lasting is gradually dispelled. Liberation consists in experiencing and understanding fully and clearly that everything is impermanent and seeing that there is quite literally nothing to worry about.

--Amadeus Sole-Leris, Tranquility & Insightfrom Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book

Worldwide Democracy?

If the leaders whom we are supposed to hate so much -- even the ones who are The Terrorists -- keep getting elected democratically, doesn't that negate the ostensible premise of our foreign policy -- that America-loving allies will magically spring up all over the world where there are democracies and they will help us fight The Terrorists?...Perhaps we can soon come to the realization that it may not be such a good idea for a country which is intensely disliked by much of the world's population on every continent to urge that leaders be chosen democratically, since, by definition, that will likely produce leaders who are hostile rather than friendly to the U.S.
--Glenn Greenwald

Greenwald makes an excellent point. This doesn't necessarily mean that we should try to please every nation with our foreign policy. But it does suggest that we can't, contrary to what some politicians and so-called pundits would have us believe, ultimately separate our national interests from the perceptions the peoples of other nations have of us, especially if we're going to promote democracy throughout the world. For it stands to reason, and recent events bear it out, that if we act in ways that the peoples of other nations resent and detest, they're going to democratically elect leaders who oppose us. Does this mean that we should abandon our principles and suck up to everyone so that they'll like us?

On the contrary. I'd like to suggest that what it REALLY means is that we should act in accordance with wholesome, higher principles that acknowledge that what's best for America is, in the long run, what's best for the entire world because we are all, increasingly and ultimately, one people and one world.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Friedman Update

In a previous entry, I presented Glenn Greenwald's criticism of Thomas Friedman and essentially agreed with it. However, I have since learned that Friedman apparently no longer supports our involvement in Iraq. For he wrote in his August 4, 2006 column: "Whether for Bush reasons or Arab reasons, democracy is not emerging in Iraq, and we can’t throw more good lives after good lives."

Some might say it's a case of too little too late. But I say better late than never.

Worst President Ever?

Historians are loath to predict the future. It is impossible to say with certainty how Bush will be ranked in, say, 2050. But somehow, in his first six years in office he has managed to combine the lapses of leadership, misguided policies and abuse of power of his failed predecessors. I think there is no alternative but to rank him as the worst president in U.S. history.
--Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton professor of history at Columbia University

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Tom Friedman Disease

Glenn Greenwald argues that the famous New York Times columnist Tom Friedman bears heavy responsibilty for "selling the [Iraqi] war to centrists and liberal 'hawks' and thereby creating 'consensus' support for Bush's war." But Greenwald goes even further and accuses Friedman of being "truly one of the most frivolous, dishonest, and morally bankrupt public intellectuals burdening this country" not just because he has steadfastly supported the war, but, more importantly, because he has supported it even when he knew that it was wrong.

Greenwald characterizes Friedman's position as follows:

(1) If the war is done the right way, great benefits can be achieved.
(2) If the war is done the wrong way, unimaginable disasters will result.
(3) The Bush administration is doing this war the wrong way, not the right way, on every level.

(4) Given all of that, I support the waging of this war.

Greenwald accuses others, including David Frum and John McCain, of the same "repugnant game." He represents the "logic" of McCain's position thusly:

(1) It is immoral to stay in Iraq if we don't send in more troops.
(2) We are not going to send in more troops.
(3) I oppose withdrawal and think we should stay in Iraq.

Greenberg argues that no politician or so-called pundit is likely to be taken seriously by the mainstream media and therefore the public unless he, at least initially, supported the war even if he now favors withdrawal from it. Chuck Hagel is one such person, and the Baker Commission is stocked with them. Greenberg says:

"It is not merely the case that having been pro-war doesn't count as a strike against anyone. That is accurate. But far worse, the opposite is also true. It is still the case in Establishment Washington that having been pro-war in the first place is a pre-requisite to being considered a "responsible, serious" foreign policy analyst. And having been anti-war from the start is the hallmark of someone unserious. The pro-war Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden are serious national security Democrats but Russ Feingold, Nancy Pelosi and Jack Murtha are the kind of laughable losers whom Democrats need to repudiate."

Greenberg argues that this is because:

"Establishment Washington really is not interested in how to end this horrendous and despicable debacle we unleashed in Iraq. They are not interested in how to maximize U.S. interests. They are only interested in how to find a way to bring this disaster to some sort of slow resolution that looks as though it is a respectable and decent outcome -- anything that makes it seem like it wasn't a horrendous mistake in the first place."

I believe that not everyone who opposed the war in the beginning or supports withdrawal now was or is motivated by a clear-eyed perception of the facts and by strong principles. Some may do so simply out of reflexive hatred for George Bush and the Republican Party. But it's as difficult for me, as it apparently is for Greenwald, to believe that those who supported the war in the beginning and, certainly, those who oppose withdrawal now could do so with open eyes and strong, commendable principles. How could anyone look at the facts and embrace decent principles and believe that the Bush administration would and will ever pursue the Iraqi war in a manner that won't bring the disaster to America and Iraq that it clearly has?

I applaud Greenwald for penetrating the verbal artifice of "public intellectuals" like Friedman to expose the twisted logic that underlies their support for the unsupportable, and I agree with him that those we should REALLY be listening to with the utmost respect are those who opposed the war from the very beginning for good, solid reasons.

(Cross-posted to Thoughts Chase Thoughts)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Worries About My Own 3 LBS

3 LBS is a new CBS drama that focuses on a superstar neurosurgeon who sees his patients as mechanical vehicles driven by brains that are nothing more than 3 lbs of "wires in a box" and has a bedside manner to match, and his new apprentice who, in addition to being an outstanding neurosurgeon in his own right, sees and warmly treats his patients much more holistically.

In last Tuesday's episode (it's on opposite Fox's "House," and several critics have lambasted it for being an insipidly unoriginal amalgam of "House" and Grey's Anatomy"), a woman with no history of epilepsy begins convulsing from a grand mal seizure in the middle of a store and is subsequently diagnosed as having a tumor on the left side of her brain. Her doctors don't want to operate because if they do, the woman will lose her language ability. They want to zap the tumor with radiation instead to minimize damage to her language faculties, but she refuses because she's pregnant and doesn't want to irradiate and destroy the fetus. When her doctors discover that she has uncommonly strong language capability in the right side of her brain, they offer to do the surgery. They tell her that she'll never be able to speak afterward but might well be able to process language to some degree in her right brain to make up for what she loses from the surgery to her left brain, and that if she doesn't have the surgery, she'll surely die.

I've long worried that I might be struck someday by an injury or disease that severely damages my left brain, permanently depriving me of my modestly superior language ability, and leaves only the grossly inferior non-verbal abilities of my defective right brain in its wake. If this were to happen, I would surely want to die, for what would I have left to live for? I would be of absolutely no use to myself or to anyone else. I would be little more than a mute or incoherently babbling idiot.

I pray that this fate never befalls me or that, if it does, I will have the strength and means to do what needs to be done. But, more importantly, I pray for the willpower to do my best with the abilities that I have for as long as I have them.

Friday, November 24, 2006

How Did it Happen?

How interesting! I just went into Rhapsody and clicked on its review of The Who's album Who's Next, and at the precise instant that I began reading the review, I heard the closing moments of "Baba O'Riley" in a commercial coming from the TV in the other room. Was that a remarkable coincidence or the result of divine causation or something else? It was almost certainly coincidence and not necessarily remarkable given the extreme popularity of that legendary album and song with the baby boomers who currently rule this part of the world's culture. But, still, I'm struck by the virtual simultaneity of looking at the Rhapsody page on Who's Next and hearing "Baba O'Riley."

If I have too many of these kinds of experiences, it just might shake me up a little.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Milton Friedman and Scandinavia

I think his [Milton Friedman] belief in the superior efficiency of free markets to government as a means of resource allocation, though fruitful and largely correct, was embraced by him as an article of faith and not merely as a hypothesis. I think he considered it almost a personal affront that the Scandinavian nations, particularly Sweden, could achieve and maintain very high levels of economic output despite very high rates of taxation, an enormous public sector, and extensive wealth redistribution resulting in much greater economic equality than in the United States. I don't think his analytic apparatus could explain such an anomaly.
--Richard Posner

I wonder how Friedman would have explained Scandinavia. I wonder how anyone does who unwaveringly champions the free market, small government, and low taxation. If Posner's correct, Friedman couldn't explain it, and he felt bothered that he couldn't. I feel bothered that economists and politicians with Friedman's influence continue touting a system--ours--in which there's such a gross and unfair distribution of wealth and so much suffering among the young and not-so-young when nations such as Sweeden seem to point to a better way that combines the best of the free market with the best of big government to foster opportunities for the greatest degree of happiness for the greatest number of people.

Isn't this what a nation should primarly be about?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Buddhist Nonviolence

Nonviolence belongs to a continuum from the personal to the global, and from the global to the personal. One of the most significant Buddhist interpretations of nonviolence concerns the application of this ideal to daily life. Nonviolence is not some exalted regimen that can be practiced only by a monk or a master; it also pertains to the way one interacts with a child, vacuums a carpet, or waits in line. Besides the more obvious forms of violence, whenever we separate ourselves from a given situation (for example, through inattentiveness, negative judgments, or impatience), we kill something valuable. However subtle it may be, such violence actually leaves victims in its wake: people, things, one's own composure, the moment itself. According to the Buddhist reckoning, these small-scale incidences of violence accumulate relentlessly, are multiplied on a social level, and become a source of the large-scale violence that can sweep down upon us so suddenly. One need not wait until war is declared and bullets are flying to work for peace, Buddhism teaches. A more constant and equally urgent battle must be waged each day against the forces of one's own anger, carelessness and self-absorption.
--Kenneth Kraft, Inner Peace, World Peace

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Monday, November 06, 2006

If I Won the Lottery

I just completed the following assignment for my new class:

You just won the Sucker's Lottery, and will receive a payment of $100,000 a year for the next thirty years. The catch can only collect the money if you volunteer to work somewhere 40 hours a week. Where would you choose to work, and why?

This is what I wrote:

If I won a lottery that guaranteed me $100,000 a year for thirty years so long as I did "volunteer work" somewhere for forty hours a week, my wife and I would immediately move to Thailand and live extremely comfortably on that kind of money. There, if possible, I would work many of those forty hours per week publishing a website that explored the integration of philosophy, religion, science, and other disciplines in ways designed to entertain, enrich, uplift, and maybe even enlighten my readers as well as myself.

If it sounds presumptuous of me to imply that I could benefit anyone by "working" at writing articles on the Internet in place of more traditional labors, I would suggest that perhaps the best thing we can do for others, if we can afford to, is follow the late, great mythologist Joseph Campbell's advice and "follow your bliss." For when we are genuinely happy with our own lives by doing our best at what we love most and do best, we can inspire others to follow our example as fully as they are able. And if what we do best is communicate in speech or writing our passion for engagement with life, deep inquiry, and transcendent wisdom, that is proverbial icing on the cake. I believe that any volunteer work I might do should help others in some way, and I can think of no better way for me to help others than to do what I've just described.

However, I would also want to devote some of my forty hours per week to helping poor people in whatever ways I could. Perhaps I could teach English to adults and children or help distribute food, clothing, and other necessities to them. And If I had or acquired any other skills beyond the meager ones I possess now, I could teach or share them as well. I'm sure that between this and maintaining my website, I would have no trouble keeping busy for at least forty hours per week doing things that could make a positive difference, however modest, in this world. And I can think of nothing better to do with the rest of my life than that.

Now all I need to do is find a lottery and a way to win it that offers the same prize as the "sucker lottery" in this exercise.

What would YOU do if YOU won the lottery?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Better Bowling Through Confidence

I have recently been bowling far worse than I believe I'm capable of bowling. These days, I rarely score higher in a single game than my league average of all last season. I don't believe that I've necessarily gotten that much worse. The lane conditions where I bowl have definitely changed from what they were last year and have challenged me more. I'm also deliberately altering my backswing and release to achieve a more consistent and effective release and faster ball speed, and I think I'll probably be less consistent and effective than before until I master these changes, at which time I hope to be more consistent and effective than before.

Nevertheless, I'm really struggling, and I've noticed that my bowling confidence has sunk lower than it's been in years or even decades. Part of this is no doubt due to the way I've been performing. Part of it appears to be the result of more technical bowling articles I've been reading lately that have shown me how woefully ignorant I am of the finer points of what is actually a far more complex game than most people would ever imagine. But whatever is compromising my confidence, I'm convinced that my decreasing confidence is sabotaging my game.

I must learn many skills and make many improvements in my game if I really want to get significantly better. Sheer practice is not enough. But one of the things I must also do is boost my confidence. Some might argue that this is putting the proverbial cart before the horse. That is, I should not expect to be more confident unless and until better bowling gives me something to be more confident about. However, I believe that feeling more confident is one of the most direct and quickest routes to bowling better, which can then boost my confidence and performance to even higher levels. And the confidence that I initially cultivate to spark this process can be realistically based not on my current level of performance but on my capacity or potential to improve upon that level. Here is my formula for generating that spark.

If I want to bowl better, I must bowl with confidence.

If I want to bowl with confidence, I must walk, talk, and act as though I'm confident whenever I'm in a bowling center.

If want to walk, talk, and act as though I'm confident whenever I'm in a bowling center, I must walk, talk, and act as though I'm confident everywhere at all times.

In other words, "act the way I wish to feel, and feel the way I wish to act." In Star Trek, there is something called the "Rules of Acquisition" that act as the guiding principles of all self-respecting Ferengi in their daily conduct, aimed, as it is, at building wealth and power. I'm tempted to construct my own personal list of guiding rules or precepts with the maxim above at or near the top of that list.

In any case, I discovered while bowling the other morning that when I acted more confident on the outside, even if I didn't initially feel more confident on the inside, I came to feel more confident, to bowl more confidently, and to execute and score better. This, in turn, boosted my confidence even more. I'm not going to implausibly claim that this instantly transformed me into a world class bowler. But it did help me to perform at a less mediocre level. It was a quick and easy way to feel better and perform better. I'm now striving to do this in all aspects of my waking life.

I'll let you know how it works out.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Filling the Grand Canyon

It is the mind that makes one wise or ignorant, bound or emancipated. – Sri Ramakrishna

Mental habits are like ditches in the mind. They have to be dug laboriously. But they can also be filled in and new channels can be dug. Take resentment for example. It does not burst full-blown into the mind; it grows. At first you simply expect people to behave towards you in a particular way. If they behave in their own way instead, you get surprised, then irritated. You are digging a little channel in consciousness.

In the early stages, this channel may be only an inch or so deep. Thought may flow down it, but it may also flow somewhere else. Also, the walls are still soft and crumbly; they may cave in and fill the channel a little – for example, when someone you dislike says something kind. There is an element of choice. But every time we respond to a situation with resentment, the channel gets a little deeper. Finally there is a huge Grand Canal in the mind. Then anything at all is enough to provoke a conditioned resentful response. Consciousness pours down the sluice of least resistance.

We can dig new mental channels – kind ways of thinking instead of resentful ones, patience instead of anger. Every time you try to return good will for ill will, love for hatred, you have dug your new, beneficial channel a little deeper. Transforming character, conduct, and consciousness is not a moral problem. It’s an engineering problem.
--Eknath Easwaran

I have dug a virtual Grand Canyon of self-doubt in my own mind over the years. Indeed, the chasm is so deep and wide that I wonder if I can ever fill it in. If I can, I wonder how long it will take and what I must do to accomplish it.

I am doing two things today to begin the project. I won't say what they are now, because I have previously announced things I was going to do and not followed through. It's as though saying here that I'm going to do them dooms them with the proverbial kiss of death. But I hope to write about them in time. I hope to write about many things in time, when I have more to say and better ways to say them. And I hope that some of you will still come here to read it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

So Close And Yet So Far

I went for a walk this morning and lost my cell phone somewhere along the way. It fell right out of the case attached to my belt. This is the second phone I've lost this way. Do they make cases that are safe? I'd like to find one. But first I'd like to find my phone.

I called Cingular to have the service to my phone blocked. Afterwards, I realized that I should try calling my phone to see if anyone answered. I called back and spoke with a CSR at Cingular, and he volunteered to restore my service and call the number for me. He did and a little kid answered. The kid gave the phone to his grandmother who spoke mostly Spanish. But she did manage to provide an address that happened to be very close to where I live and said she'd be there in about fifteen minutes and then again after six this evening. I asked the CSR to leave the phone active until I tried to recover it. I tried calling my number, but no one answered. I walked to the address I was given or, rather, tried to, but it didn't exist. I tried a couple of other houses with similar addresses, but no one answered at one of them and the guy who answered at the other was clearly not the person I was looking for.

When I walked home, I tried calling my phone again. No answer. They've probably turned it off. My only hope now is to wait until after six and hope that someone who speaks better English calls "Home" from my phone or turns on the phone so that I can call it and speak to someone and get the right address enabling me to go pick up my phone instead of needing to buy a new one.

I'm grateful, I guess, that someone recovered the phone who may be willing to give it back to me. But I feel frustrated that I can't find her even though she's probably very close by. In this case, it might have been better if she'd left the phone lying on the street, because I might have found it on the way back home before anyone else did. If I can't contact them this evening, I guess I'll need to go door-to-door with every house on the block until I hopefully find my phone. Shy little me doesn't look forward to that prospect. But if that doesn't work and nothing else does, I guess I'll have to buy a new phone.

Glory be! I just got a call from my phone from somone who speaks clear English. Her mom found the phone and babysits for her at her house while she works. The lady who called me is home for lunch. She lives farther away than the address I was given, but her mom lives at the house where I knocked and no one answered, and she'll be home with my phone after six this evening.

I'm relieved. I'll be even more so when I get my phone back. In the meantime, I'm grateful that there are still people around who will do the right thing when they find lost property. There are too many people who either can't be bothered or who will try to take advantage of the situation.

Tomorrow, I think I should go looking for a new case.

Attentive Speech

Speech is a powerful force. But how much attention do we pay to our speech? . . . Do we actually bring some wisdom and sensitivity to our speaking? What is behind our speech, what motivates it? Does something really have to be said? When I was first getting into the practice of thinking and learning about speech, I conducted an experiment. For several months I decided not to speak about any third person; I would not speak to somebody about somebody else. No gossip. Ninety percent of my speech was eliminated. Before I did that I had no idea that I had spent so much time and energy engaged in that kind of talking. It is not that my speech had been particularly malicious, but for the most part it had been useless. I found it tremendously interesting to watch the impact this experiment had on my mind. As I stopped speaking in this way, I found that one way or another a lot of my speech had been a judgment about somebody else. By stopping such speech for a while, my mind became less judgmental, not only of others, but also of myself, and it was a great relief.
--Joseph Goldstein

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Eating a Cookie

When I was four years old, my mother used to bring me a cookie every time she came home from the market. I always went to the front yard and took my time eating it, sometimes half an hour or forty-five minutes for one cookie. I would take a small bite and look up at the sky. Then I would touch the dog with my feet and take another small bite. I just enjoyed being there, with the sky, the earth, the bamboo thickets, the cat, the dog, the flowers. I was able to do that because I did not have much to worry about. I did not think of the future, I did not regret the past. I was entirely in the present moment, with my cookie, the dog, the bamboo thickets, the cat, and everything. It is possible to eat our meals as slowly and joyfully as I ate the cookie of my childhood. Maybe you have the impression that you have lost the cookie of your childhood, but I am sure it is still there, somewhere in your heart. Everything is still there, and if you really want it, you can find it. Eating mindfully is a most important practice of meditation.
--Thich Nhat Hanh

Monday, October 16, 2006

A Grand Experiment

Gagdad Bob proposes this grand experiment:

At this point, I wish we could have two separate countries, Red America and Blue America. Then, once and for all, we could have a true test of which ideas are the more functional and create more economic prosperity and moral goodness. In Blue America they would have high taxes, a huge, intrusive federal government, marriage for any two or more people who wished to do so, socialized medicine, economically crippling Kyoto-style restrictions, government enforced racial discrimination, open borders (except into our country--to preserve the integrity of the experiment we’d have to have a big fence to keep them from escaping into our beautiful Red America), a permanent ban on vouchers to ensure the stranglehold the Teachers Union has on education, a religious test to keep people of faith out of public life, no guns, no smoking, lots of abortions, even more special rights and protections for criminals and terrorists, a ban on evil places like Walmart which provide vital goods to people of modest means at rock bottom prices, free college for everyone no matter how stupid, and a high minimum wage to suppress employment, spur inflation, and keep tax revenues down.

Bob's provocative proposal gives me pause. For I have to admit that even though I've traditionally supported many of Bob's "Blue" American policies--especially socialized medicine--piecemeal, I can well imagine that if they were all implemented together, they would produce anything but the earthly paradise I desire.

However, I have to wonder how much happier I'd be in Bob's "Red" America. Not that Bob describes the social and ecocomic polices of his ideal Red country, but I'd surmise that they would need to be polar opposites of his "Blue" American policies and would include such things as only enough taxation to support our military's policing of the world; marriage restricted only to fertile heterosexual couples bound by a religious and legal oath to "be fruitful and multiply;" medical care only for men, women, and children who could pay for it out of their own pockets or were lucky enough to recieve the private, charitable contributions of those who could; no public schooling; no government restrictions on toxic emissions or resource depletions; no government "intrusion" into racial segregation and the majority supppression of ethnic, racial, or religious minorities; a "religious test" to allow only people of Judeo-Christian faith into "public life;" no government restrictions on the private ownership of whatever weapons one can afford to purchase and deploy; no government bans of smoking in any workplace or public venue; no abortions for any woman for any reason; no "rights and protections" for anyone merely suspected of criminal conduct or terrorism; no restrictions whatsoever on megacorporate monopolies of goods and services; and no minimum wage, child labor laws, or other workplace regulations.

I'm not sure I'd find Bob's Red America a whole lot more appealing that his Blue one. Come to think of it, I'm not sure that he would either, despite his superior intelligence and other talents and privileges that give him and his family a leg up on a lot of the rest of us. I'm SURE he wouldn't like it too much if, God forbid, he was suddenly incapacited by his diabetes or some other terrible medical problem or by a crippling accident and he quickly exhausted his savings to where he could no longer afford to feed, clothe, and house himself much less his precious young son. Nor do I know how much he'd enjoy not having the paved roads to drive on and police, firefighting, and countless other public amenities and services he enjoys now that are financed by tax money.

To Bob's credit, he concedes that he's not a complete "libertarian." For even though he "frankly" admits that he wouldn't care what horrible things happened to other people if they didn't also harm him and his family, he believes that the "force of [death instinct] envy is so strong in human beings, that the culture absolutely must have some means to channel it in an officially sanctioned way, or the society will explode from within." Thus, we must "appease" envy to some extent, not because we should give a damn about others per se, but because we need to protect our own asses.

Well, I happen to believe that there are other reasons for taxation and government regulations and programs than that, but the point that needs to be made here is that even Gagdad Bob realizes that we need some kind of balance of "liberal" and "conservative" policies if we are to flourish as a society. While I agree with him that we don't want to reach a "tipping point" of socialistic or communistic excess that causes a society to "spiritually rot from within," we must bear in mind that the point can also tip the other way into a social and spiritual rot accompanied by terrible suffering that stems from libertarian excess.

As I become more mindful of the potential perils of "liberal" ideology, I should hope that people like Robert Godwin would become more cognizant of the potential perils of the "conservative" ideology they trumpet, and that they join with me and others who are looking to integrate both perspectives in a manner that optimally nurtures human happiness and minimizes human suffering.

(Cross-posted to Thoughts Chase Thoughts)

Joe Perez's Dilemma, and Mine

Joe Perez is facing a dilemma. It's one many of us share. He's looking to join an established religion where he can be part of a "nurturing" community following time-tested beliefs and practices. Since his roots are Christian, he'd like it to be a church. He's giving special consideration to the Episcopal Church because he believes that it's "one of the most progressive and enlightened of all the communions."

However, he's beginning to read its catechism, and, so far, he's not too impressed with its anchorage in "premodern" theology and a "mythic belief structure" that threatens to separate the faithful "from the Source or Ground of our Being" while wedding them to the "gooey green" misapprehension that harmony is "the greatest value imaginable and elevating a neutered, lovey dovey, warm and fuzzy message out in place of the Gospel." He also disagrees with the catechism's "shaming" teaching that virtually all human suffering is the result of sinful disobedience, and that pride is the worst sin of all.

"As Christian feminist theologians have ably pointed out, focusing on the sin of pride in an imbalanced fashion has been a tool to oppress women and others, reinforce social inequalities and dominator hierarchies, and inflict damaging psychological harm for centuries. Foolish pride and low self-esteem are equally important sins and which to emphasize depends entirely on the context. Preaching to a woman who has never developed adequate self-esteem that she needs to be more self-sacrificing, self-effacing, and compliant with others is absolutely unacceptable. Telling a self-loathing homosexual that his greatest sin is loving himself too much just makes me want to puke. It's spiritual violence."

Joe plans to continue his reading of the catechism, but his initial impression is that it asks him to "check my modern and postmodern brain at the door and think like a premodern/child, it pushes me away." His "inner voice" tells him, "I can do better than this... I can experience Christian community in ways that are deep, meaningful, loving, and respectful of the brains and hearts of all, not just a few." But then he wonders if "other Christian denominations or sects [are] really any better," and he laments the "painful, sad state of affairs" in which it appears that they may not be and that he may be left out in the cold.

I empathize with Joe. I too would like to find a religious community that can guide me to God, wisdom, and happiness with a time-tested approach. But I provisionally concluded years ago that I would never find such a community in ANY Christian church, or, for that matter, in any synagogue, mosque, or temple.

I feel some resonance with Thich Nhat Hanh's "Order of Interbeing." I like its blending of mindfulness and social engagement. But I spent a week with Thich Nhat Hanh at a retreat a few years ago, and I experienced the slightly disquieting sense that there was a little too much self-repression and cultishness going on there, and I also found some of the psychological and spiritual teachings archaically premodern.

I feel even more attraction to Eknath Easwaran's Vedantist-Buddhist-Christian amalgam of "perennial philosophical" teachings and "eight-pointed" practices, but its community is small and scattered, and its teachings and practices strike me as simplistic even if they are appealing.

Then there is Ken Wilber's "integral" approach. I haven't exhaustively studied it, but I like much of what I've seen and understood so far of its preliminary "map" of the Kosmos. Yet, this is really more of a movement than a large, intimate, and supportive community that one can be a part of, unless, perhaps, one lives in Boulder. And then I have serious and growing reservations about what strikes me as I-I's increasing cultishness and smug sense of superiority to those with worldviews and values its members have "transcended" more than they've "included."

I was very turned off by the infamous "Wyatt Earpy" episode and by the way not only Wilber himself but also many in the Integral community handled it. I don't buy the notion that this is simply because I'm not evolved enough to have appreciated the "genius" of Wilber's words. I would be the first to concede that I'm not particularly evolved spiritually (or in any other way). But I don't think this explains my distaste for "Wyatt Earpy," and I have to honestly say that if being enlightened means embracing Wilber's conduct, I'm not sure I ever want to be enlightened.

But then what DO I want, and how do I propose to find or get it? Like Joe Perez, I don't seem to know. But I suspect that whatever it is, my quest for it will always be more solitary than communal.

Bigger Threats to Our Children than Mark Foley

If you think the worst thing Congress doesn't protect young people from is Mark Foley, wake up and smell the burning planet. The ice caps are cracking, the coral reefs are bleaching, and we're losing two species an hour. The birds have bird flu, the cows have mad cow, and our poisoned groundwater has turned spinach into a side dish of mass destruction. Our schools are shooting galleries, our beaches are cancer wards, and under George W. Bush -- for the first time in 45 years -- our country's infant mortality rate actually went up...The fact is, there are a lot of creepy middle-aged men out there lusting for your kids. They work for MTV, the pharmaceutical industry, McDonald's, Marlboro and K Street...And recently, there's been a rash of strangers making their way onto school campuses and targeting our children for death. They're called military recruiters...More young Americans were crippled in Iraq last month than in any month in the past three years. And the scandal is that Mark Foley wants to show them a good time before they go? When will our closeted gay congressmen learn? Our boys aren't for pleasure. They're for cannon fodder. They shouldn't be another notch on your bedpost. They should be a comma in Bush's war. If I hear a zipper, it had better be on a body bag.
--Bill Maher

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Alienation From Vital Man

I’ve been thinking about this category of “vital man,” and for some reason I’ve been having difficulty putting it into words, even though I am quite familiar with the type of person we are talking about. I can tell in an instant if I am dealing with a vital man, but it happens on such an intuitive level that I’ve never really put words to it. But the more you develop spiritually, the more you will recognize a gulf between yourself and this kind of person.
--Robert Godwin

I believe that I intuitively understand something of what Dr. Godwin means by "vital man," and I share his growing sense of separateness and even alienation from individuals, groups, and even entire subcultures steeped in this orientation toward life. I also share his dismay with the coarsening (he might call it the de-subtilization of emotions) effect of this orientation at sporting events, in the media, and in the arts. But I wonder if it's really true that the "more you develop spiritually," the more you feel separated and alienated from "this kind of person."

Something deep within tells me that real spiritual development, at least at its highest levels, does not entail these feelings of separation and alienation. Quite the opposite actually. And what this suggests to me is that I have a long, long way to go. But what I wonder is whether I must first increasingly feel more separate from others before I can feel spiritually united with them, or whether a genuinely spiritual path never fosters this feeling of separateness or, at least, never regards it as any kind of virtue.

Satisfying James Dobson

With the bulk of the nation's political attention devoted to the Bush administration's radical terrorism and war policies, the relentless domestic invasions into the private realm of adult Americans usually go unnoticed. But underneath the media radar, the administration and its Congressional allies have been actively placating the religious "conservative" wing of the Republican Party through all sorts of liberty-infringing and highly invasive measures. On every level, it is difficult to envision a political party more hostile to individual liberty than the current Bush-led Republicans...FBI agents are not being used to search for IslamoFascistJihadists sleeper cells because they are too busy satisfying James Dobson by searching for poker players and spending the day at the homes of single-person pornographers ensuring that their record-keeping is in compliance with the Byzantine requirements of Mark Foley's new law.
--Glenn Greenwald

Friday, October 13, 2006

Colmar's Regression

Colmar won't let anyone post comments on his blog anymore. I guess he doesn't want us to interfere with his angry detachment from the so-called "mean green meme" or with anyone else's. Why else would he suddenly delete previous challenges to his posts and disallow any future ones?

It can't be because he was swamped with comments, challenging or otherwise. He barely received any, and most of the few he did receive were mine questioning his exclusive reliance on profoundly conservative sources such as Instapundit, Ann Coulter, and Thomas Sowell for indubitable political, economic, and social "truths," and his caricatures of liberals and Democrats.

For instance, he insists that the Republican Party is the party of truly progressive ideas of people like Newt Gingrich, while the Democratic Party has been "hijacked" by Al Sharpton and Harry Belafonte. My comments questioning these claims are gone. So is my more recent comment taking issue with his likening of protest against the Iraq war and occupation with protesting against policing crimes and fighting fires because they cost too many lives and too much money. Also gone is my comment that challenged his implication that Thomas Sowell and his fellow Republicans are above focusing on the relative trivialities of sex scandals while the Democrats are unable to focus on anything else.

Yes, after a promising debut insightfully discussing spirituality and Ken Wilber, his blog has degenerated into a daily exercise in liberal-bashing employing skewed facts and interpretations drawn exclusively from moderately to radically conservative sources. He implies such things as that Democrats are a bunch of radical Marxist traitors to this country while Republicans are our salvation, that McCarthyism was actually a good thing because there actually was a communist threat, and that the environmental movement is wrong because some of its chief supporters allegedly don't practice what they preach. And so convinced (or insecure) is he of the correctness of his sources, "facts," interpretations, and conclusions that he no longer even sees reason to entertain comments that call any of his dogmatic pronouncements into question.

I empathize with Colmar's professed desire to transcend the "mean green meme" that he angrily says held him in its sway for a long time. But it seems to me that he's regressing to a mean orange meme rather than progressing to the second tier orientation at which he claims to be aiming. As for me, I'm paying attention to many more conservative commentators than I used to and considering their arguments with a far more open heart and mind than I did a short time back. For I believe that truth is to be found in a perspective that honors and integrates both the "left" and "right" bands of the political spectrum. Colmar won't achieve this integration by reading, quoting, and endorsing only the writings of the likes of Instapundit or Ann Coulter.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Bush Day

I propose that we change Columbus Day to Bush Day, a cautionary holiday, like Halloween, a day to meditate on the hazards of ambition. We could observe it by going through the basement and garage and throwing out stuff we don't want or need. Also by not mortgaging the house to pay for a vacation, and not yelling at the neighbors, and not assuming that the law is for other people. A day to honor kindness, industriousness and modesty.
--Garrison Keillor

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Exposing the Republicans

Until now, the only thing I've said about the Mark Foley scandal is that there are more important things to talk about, like North Korea. But thanks to Andrew Sullivan, I've just read an article by Glenn Greenwald that seems so astute in its take on this sordid story that I just have to say something about it. It comes to the same conclusions I would if only I had made the effort to think things through, and it expresses those conclusions with a straightforward eloquence beyond my ability.

Greenwald's thesis is:

"The perfection [in its seeminly divine revelation of Republican shortcomings) of this scandal lies in its substance, not its theatrics. The Foley scandal is not -- as even some Bush opponents have asserted -- an aberrational, isolated, inconsequential melodrama that is unrelated to the substantive and important critiques of the Bush movement and which just coincidentally emerged as a cynical weapon that can be used to defeat the Republicans. The opposite is true. This scandal has resonated so powerfully because it is shining such a powerful light on the towering hubris, utter lack of intellectual and ethical integrity, and deeply engrained corruption that accounts for virtually every other Bush disaster -- from Iraq to law-breaking scandals to torture to Abrahmoff-type corruption schemes and everything in between."

Greenwald makes the following points in support of his thesis:

(1) Most people are too busy facing the demands of everyday life to follow politics closely. So they depend on the media to let them know when something is seriously amiss. But Republican politicians and "pundits" have been so successful at obscuring the truth that it takes something like the "relative simplicity" "crystal clarity,"" involvement of emotionally-charged issues," and "salacious sex aspects" of a story like the Foley scandal to confront the public so squarely with unpleasant truths that no amount of political and propagandistic tricks can camoflauge them. In fact, the more these "obfuscation tactics" are used, the more clearly the public sees through them and rejects not only the tricks but also those who employ them. As Greenwald expresses it:

"The absolute refusal ever to admit error. The desperate clinging to power above all else. The efforts to cloud what are clear matters of wrongdoing with irrelevant sideshows. And the parade of dishonest and just plainly inane demonization efforts to hide and distract from their wrongdoing: hence, the pages are manipulative sex vixens; a shadowy gay cabal is to blame; the real criminals are those who exposed the conduct, not those who engaged in it; liberals created the whole scandal; George Soros funded the whole thing; a Democratic Congressman did something wrong 23 years ago; one of the pages IM'd with Foley as a "hoax", and on and on. There has been a virtual carousel -- as there always is -- of one pathetic, desperate attempt after the next to deflect blame and demonize those who are pointing out the wrongdoing. This is what they always do, on every issue. The difference here is that everyone can see it, and so nothing is working...It is as though Republicans are being punished for all of their serious political sins at once, in one perfectly constructed, humiliating scandal designed to highlight their crimes and exact just retribution for them. The Foley scandal is shining a very bright light on their conduct, not just in this one incident but with regard to how they have been governing the country generally over the last five years."

(2) Contrary to what Republican politicians and pundits would have us believe, it doesn't matter in the least whether the Drudge Report article alleging that one of the victims of Foley's cyber-advances led the congressman on as a hoax, any more than it matters in the least whether a husband who pays money to someone to kill his wife has actually paid money to a cop posing as a hitman. Foley is every bit as guilty as the would-be widower.

(3) It rings awfully hollow (and blatantly hypocritical) for Republicans to be attacking others for focusing so intently on a sex scandal instead of more serious issues when Republican politicians and pundits and the media in general seemed to be able to talk about nothing other than "the spots on Bill Clinton's penis, Hillary's affair with Vince Foster, and semen stains on a blue dress" throughout much of the 1990's.

(4) Contrary to what Republican "pundits" would have us believe, the allegations against Foley are much more serious than those regarding Clinton's behavior with Monica Lewinski. The latter involved consenting adults; the former involved a congressman "engaged in a pattern of sexual pursuit of numerous [underaged] Congressional pages over many years," and I would add that the Republican congressional leadership clearly averted their eyes from Foley who, irony of ironies, co-chaired a Congressional committee investigating the sexual exploitation of children via the Internet.

To be honest and fair, I don't know that Democrats haven't engaged in many of the same tactics for which Greenwald exposes the Republicans, or that they wouldn't do so if they found themselves implicated in a scandal similar to the one involving Foley. However, I believe that Greenwald is correct in pointing out that the Republicans have been using these objectionable tactics with Machiavellian ruthlessness for the past several years and that the Foley scandal has become the story it has and had the negative impact it appears to be having on the Republican Party right now because of the transparency of these tactics. I also hope that whoever--Republican or Democrat--tries to exploit these obfuscatory tricks in the future will be duly exposed and dismissed the way Republican politicians and pundits are being exposed and dismissed by a public on alert today. Perhaps, just perhaps, the Foley scandal is worthy of all the attention it's recieving after all.

(Cross-posted to Thoughts Chase Thoughts)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Am I The Only One?

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill has reportedly warned North Korea: "We are not going to live with a nuclear North Korea, we are not going to accept it." He has also reportedly told North Korea that "it can have a future or it can have these weapons. It cannot have both."

Am I the only one who thinks that this sounds exceedingly ominous and wonders why the media isn't devoting most of its attention to this instead of to Mark Foley?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Power, Passion and Beauty

In March of 1972, I went to San Francisco's famed rock venue Winterland to see my favorite music group Emerson, Lake & Palmer play their enticing and popular brand of progressive rock. But opening for them was a group I had never heard of called the Mahavishnu Orchestra. I had no idea what to expect from this group and frankly didn't care, since I was there strictly for ELP. But when famous rock promoter Bill Graham came to the stage and introduced the MO as "the tightest assemblage of musicians in the world today," I was intrigued. I was even more so when five musicians took the stage who, with the exception of the long-haired and bearded violinist Jerry Goodman, didn't look anything like the rock musicians I was accustomed to seeing in that era. The boyish looking guitarist, John McLaughlin, had very short hair, was clean-shaven, and was dressed in white pants and a white, short-sleeved T-shirt that said "Mahavishnu Orchestra" on the front. He was also holding the first double-neck guitar I had ever seen. The keyboardest, Jan Hammer, and bassist, Rick Laird, were also clean-shaven, and the black drummer Billy Cobham looked like a bodybuilder.

I had a feeling that something extraordinary was coming our way, and when McLaughlin asked for a moment of silence, my level of anticipation grew. I don't remember what they played first, but it was loud and like nothing I had ever heard before. As they continued, I went from struck to dumbstruck with the music they were playing. It was breathtaking in its awesome complexity, virtuosity, and intensity, and there was something of an odd and otherworldy spiritual nature to it that reached deep into my soul like no music ever had before or has since. This magical music grabbed hold of me and wouldn't let go. From that night through today, the Mahavishnu Orchestra (in what turned out to be its first of four incarnations) became my favorite musical group of all time, and John McLaughlin became my favorite musician. In fact, they were my virtual musical obsession for the better part of three decades.

And I wasn't alone. The MO revolutionized both rock and jazz, and John McLaughlin became one of the most influential electric and acoustic guitarists in history. People were blown away by the MO, other groups were soon refusing to follow them (ELP never wanted to follow them again after that concert at Winterland), countless musicians, including Carlos Santana, were inspired by them, and countless more anonymous music lovers like myself were never the same after hearing them.

Here is how the great jazz guitarist Pat Metheny described his first experience of seeing a Mahavisnu Orchestra concert at the University of Miami in 1972:

Of course, as we all know, the first thing was the minute of silence with John all in white and all those guys looking kind of intense and stuff before they even started. I am thinking...something is about to happen...the tension that they set up was tangible. Then they started, and the first thing was the sound of it. I had thought Coryell was loud, but this was easily 10 times louder. It was the loudest thing I had ever heard. It was louder than loud. I think the term "face melting" would fit here. It was totally encompassing. The tunes that I heard on The Inner Mounting Flame, which kind of sounded like a few guys in a room playing--not unlike a jazz group, but one dealing with some truly unique material, suddenly took on these monumental, epic proportions. It seemed impossible to tell who was playing what. Dance of Maya, with the 12-string ostinato arpeggio, was suddenly the sonic equivalent of the ebb and flow of the biggest ocean. The unison violin-guitar stuff was like Ornette and Cherry but with this ridiculously precise undercurrent of rhythm. What time signature is that? Is that a guitar? A violin? Who cares! The tangibles of the music became the 50th thing on the list of priorities at that minute. Because for all of the incredible dexterity on display--I mean, we were watching three people (John, Cobham and Jan) completely and forever reinvent the meaning of their instruments in jazz--it was the spiritual power of it that transformed all of us that night. In the end, it was the real accomplishment of that band...It was interesting to see the reactions around me as the concert wound down. I had never seen an audience react like that to music that was that advanced. People went crazy. That included the vast majority of people who were there that had no idea about the details of the content--they just got the FEELING of it. I am certain that everyone there remembers that concert to this day.

Walter Kolosky, like me, was never the same after seeing the MO for the first time. But, unlike me, he wrote a wonderful book about the group that I am now reading. The book is titled Power, Passion and Beauty: The Story of the Legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra: The greatest band that ever was. It tells the whole story of the group by seamlessly weaving revealing interviews with all of the group members, supporting personnel, and other famous musicians into Kolosky's spare but enchanting history and commentary. If you have any interest in the Mahavishnu Orchestra or in the jazz fusion genre of music of which they, along with Weather Report and Return to Forever, were undoubtedly the greatest exponents, you owe it to yourself to read this outstanding book about the "greatest band that ever was." And check out the amazing, albeit ancient, videos of the group on You Tube, including the ones below.

One Word

The Noonward Race

You Know You Know

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Day in the Life 10/1/06

I went to sleep last night around 9:30. I woke up this morning at 1:30 and couldn't go back to sleep. I recited my mantram, but it didn't work, and I had the feeling it wouldn't from the beginning. I then thought about the private correspondence I've been having with someone I would never expected to have it with and how I would reply to some of the provocative points he raised in his most recent letter. I finally decided that it was better for me to get up and write and read now and sleep later when I feel sleepy again. I don't know why I have trouble sleeping some nights but not most others. But I'm inclined to follow the advice of sleep experts who say that it's better to get up and do something when it happens than to lie in bed for hours and condition oneself into habitually lying awake in bed in the early morning hours. I also want my wife to be able to sleep without my restlessness disturbing her. She needs to go to work this morning.

I've just read Ken Wilber's prefatory note in his new book Integral Spirituality. He says that the Integral Approach doesn't add to the content of the disciplines it studies but helps them to "reorganize" themselves by understanding better their strengths and weaknesses, and that it can be applied to spirituality with the result of revealing a "radically new role" for religion in today's world. Wilber says that he will do this by exploring five fundamental spiritual issues: (1) "applying spirituality in everyday life"; (2) proving the existence of "Spirit"; (3) the "stages of spiritual development"; (4) "the role of meditation or contemplation"; and (5) "Eastern and Western approaches to religion and their relation to currents in the modern and postmodern world." I'm excited about reading the rest of the book.

Bill Harryman says he's "back." I'm glad. He broke up with his girlfriend of over five years recently and has been going through a difficult time emotionally. But rather than running away from the pain, he's been facing it squarely and trying to work his way through it to come out the other side wiser, stronger, and more complete than before. I wish him all the best.

Yesterday he posted an entry about "how to reconcile the Buddha's teachings on non-attachment with those on love."That is, "how can we love others without being attached to them?"The gist of the answer proposed by Bill's quoting of Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron is that when we perceive others more clearly, we understand them more accurately, don't entertain unrealistic expectations for them, and, thus, can open-heartedly love them for who they are rather than for what they can give us. Furthermore, we can expand our circle of love from those with whom we're initially closest--our significant other, our families, our closest friends--to an ever wider circumference enclosing more and more people and other living beings.

But I asked if we can and should love our significant others, families, and closest friends in a different or stronger way than we do other people and how we can do this without becoming unhealthily attached to them. Bill replied that he wants to look into this more, and so do I. This reminds me of my aforementioned correspondent saying that he disagrees with Wilber's suggestion that non-dual awareness is the highest form of consciousness, because he wants to LOVE his wife rather than BE her. Is it possible to reconcile the special "warmth" of romantic or familial love with the ideals of Buddhist, Vedantist, or other "eastern" spirituality?

Tiger Woods won his sixth consecutive PGA tour event today by eight strokes under his closest competitor. How can he be so much better than the other greatest golfers on the planet that he can maintain such dominance in the sport? Statisticians talk about "regression toward the mean," implying that people who perform way above the level of the average performer in a given endeavor are likely to fall or regress toward the average over time. Yet it seems as though Woods may make it necessary for statisticians to create a new term. How about "anomalous progression beyond the mean"? How much better can Woods get? How much more freakishly dominant can he become? How can I derive inspiration and, better still, knowledge from his dominance that will help me to elevate my bowling game beyond the level of painful mediocrity? I practiced Friday morning and performed better or, at least, felt as though I was executing better than I have in a long time. But I still depend almost entirely on "feel" rather than on higher intelligence that might produce real and lasting improvement in my game. Seeing as how I seem to lack that higher intelligence, is there some way I can make up for it?

I watched a little of a program this afternoon about intefaith dialouge between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. One of the Muslim scholars said that respected Muslim leaders should issue a fatwa--a religious pronouncement--that suicide bombers and others who commit terrorist acts will be condemned to hell rather than rewarded in paradise. He said that this would dissuade many young Muslims who are not dissuaded by bullets and bombs from committing their atrocities.

He also said that education is the key to overcoming the beliefs of Muslim radicals in the generations to come. In suport of this, a young Muslim woman confessed that she used to be passionately partisan in favor of angry Muslim protests and even violence against the Israelis and Americans for their alleged trangressions against Muslims. But after being around young Jewish and Christian people and being exposed to interfaith dialogue, she had lost much of her passion for Muslim protest against the Jews and American people, and she wondered if it's possible to maintain one's passion for opposing those whose perspective and actions one can understand and empathize with. I think this is an outstanding question and one that I've pondered for quite some time.

I watched a movie tonight called Happiness. I'm too stunned too say much about it right now except that I wonder how it was ever made or how it was tolerated after it was released. Not only was it tolerated, but it gained oodles of critical acclaim instead of the vehement protest I would have expected. It was a so-called "black comedy" about dysfunctional families and individuals including a psychotherapist who serially rapes prepubescent boys and offers to show his eleven year-old son how to masturbate, a successful author of novels bearing such titles as "Raped at Eleven" who laments the fact that she hadn't actually been raped as a child and therefore couldn't write with the kind of authenticity she desired, and a morbidly obese woman who snapped the neck of the apartment doorman who raped her and then cut his body into pieces and stored them in her freezer until she could discretely dispose of him piece by piece. As I say, I'm too dumbfounded to say anything more about this film at this time.

This reminds me of the Mark Foley scandal that is saturating the media right now. I think the media should ease up on this story, but, of course, they won't. And I think Democrats should not try to exploit it to help themselves, even though they are expoliting it as much as they possibly can and will undoubtedly continue doing so. I think this story has nothing to do with political party affiliation or policies. It could just as easily have been a Democratic congressperson and neglect by the Democratic leadership, and next time it may well be. In any case, there's no evidence or even suggestion that Foley did more than send salacious messages to those pages who were, after all, young men and not prepubescent boys. Yes, they were still children, but bright older teenagers under close supervision who were probably not in any way injured by Foley's actions. So, wouldn't it be nice if the media talked about something else and the Democrats focused on developing a clear and compelling platform that differed significantly from that of the Republicans?

Finally, I watched a CNN special tonight about "Donald Rumsfeld, Man of War." It reinforced my impression that he is a very bright, determined, and formidable man who may be on the right track in trying to reform the military to make it more effective in today's world, but he made serious miscalculations in Afghanistan and Iraq. I just hope that he's learned valuable lessons from his mistakes since it appears that he's resolved not to yield to pressure to step down from his job.