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.