Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Sirota's right: Stossel is a two-bit propagandist

Via Huffington Post:

You may have noticed that Stossel is out hawking a book called "Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity" purporting to debunk those things. Instead, what we see is that Stossel is spewing them - and using his media platform as a megaphone of dishonesty. Stossel, in many ways, is exactly why I wrote my new book Hostile Takeover - to strip bare the opportunists, shills and half-wits who dominate our political debate and show them for what they really are: pathological liars.

Here's what I mean. According to the right-wing, Scaife-owned Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Stossel appeared on ABC's "The View" to talk about his book's assertion that the minimum wage supposedly hurts low-income workers. The host was surprised that someone could make such a ludicrous claim. "Why does raising the minimum wage -- this one I don't get -- actually hurt poor people?," she asked Stossel. "I don't understand that one at all."

Stossel replied with a straight face: "The truth is that people on the margins lose jobs when minimum wages go up. We used to have people washing windshields at gas stations. We don't anymore because of the minimum wage. There's no opportunity for kids, for entry-level workers."

This is simply looney tunes, as anybody who searches through this blog can verify.

There simply is no evidence that minimum wage laws hurt workers; in fact, the evidence is that it helps the economy, because these workers have the lowest marginal propensity to squirrel away money. They spend it, and stimulate the economy.

Two Must Reads from Alternet, surrounding a Chomsky

One is an excerpt of Michelle Goldberg's book on the religious right, subtly titled, "Tyranny of the Christian Right":

If current trends continue, we will see ever-increasing division and acrimony in our politics. That's partly because, as Christian nationalism spreads, secularism is spreading as well, while moderate Christianity is in decline. According to the City University of New York Graduate Center's comprehensive American religious identification survey, the percentage of Americans who identify as Christians has actually fallen in recent years, from 86 percent in 1990 to 77 percent in 2001. The survey found that the largest growth, in both absolute and percentage terms, was among those who don't subscribe to any religion. Their numbers more than doubled, from 14.3 million in 1990, when they constituted 8 percent of the population, to 29.4 million in 2001, when they made up 14 percent.

"The top three 'gainers' in America's vast religious marketplace appear to be Evangelical Christians, those describing themselves as Non-Denominational Christians and those who profess no religion," the survey found. (The percentage of other religious minorities remained small, totaling less than 4 percent of the population).

This is a recipe for polarization. As Christian nationalism becomes more militant, secularists and religious minorities will mobilize in opposition, ratcheting up the hostility. Thus we're likely to see a shrinking middle ground, with both camps increasingly viewing each other across a chasm of mutual incomprehension and contempt.

...There's still a long way, though, between this damaged version of democracy and real theocracy. Tremendous crises would have to shred what's left of the American consensus before religious fascism becomes a possibility. That means that secularists and liberals shouldn't get hysterical, but they also shouldn't be complacent...

It would take a national disaster, or several of them, for all these bulwarks to crumble and for Christian nationalists to truly "take the land," as Michael Farris, president of the evangelical Patrick Henry College, put it. Historically, totalitarian movements have been able to seize state power only when existing authorities prove unable to deal with catastrophic challenges -- economic meltdown, security failures, military defeat -- and people lose their faith in the legitimacy of the system.

Such calamities are certainly conceivable in America -- Hurricane Katrina's aftermath offered a terrifying glimpse of how quickly order can collapse. If terrorists successfully strike again, we'd probably see significant curtailment of liberal dissenters' free speech rights, coupled with mounting right-wing belligerence, both religious and secular.

The breakdown in the system could also be subtler. Many experts have warned that America's debt is unsustainable and that economic crisis could be on the horizon. If there is a hard landing -- due to an oil shock, a burst housing bubble, a sharp decline in the value of the dollar, or some other crisis -- interest rates would shoot up, leaving many people unable to pay their floating-rate mortgages and credit card bills. Repossessions and bankruptcies would follow. The resulting anger could fuel radical populist movements of either the left or the right -- more likely the right, since it has a far stronger ideological infrastructure in place in most of America.

Military disaster may also exacerbate such disaffection. America's war in Iraq seems nearly certain to come to an ignominious end. The real victims of failure there will be Iraqi, but many Americans will feel embittered, humiliated and sympathetic to the stab-in-the-back rhetoric peddled by the right to explain how Bush's venture has gone so horribly wrong. It was the defeat in World War I, after all, that created the conditions for fascism to grow in Germany.

It's not for nothing that I would bet that these folks would, if they were to get into power, manage the economy almost as well as Mao did during the "Great Leap Forward."

It's really all you have to know about long-term investment trends: the Republicans have created a monster that says nothing but the US is an investment risk.

Thanks in part to these folks electing the current government, we have this dark picture as described by Noam Chomsky:

The selection of issues that should rank high on the agenda of concern for human welfare and rights is, naturally, a subjective matter. But there are a few choices that seem unavoidable, because they bear so directly on the prospects for decent survival. Among them are at least these three: nuclear war, environmental disaster, and the fact that the government of the world's leading power is acting in ways that increase the likelihood of these catastrophes. It is important to stress the government, because the population, not surprisingly, does not agree.

That brings up a fourth issue that should deeply concern Americans, and the world: the sharp divide between public opinion and public policy, one of the reasons for the fear, which cannot casually be put aside, that, as Gar Alperowitz puts it in America Beyond Capitalism, "the American 'system' as a whole is in real trouble - that it is heading in a direction that spells the end of its historic values [of] equality, liberty, and meaningful democracy."

The "system" is coming to have some of the features of failed states, to adopt a currently fashionable notion that is conventionally applied to states regarded as potential threats to our security (like Iraq) or as needing our intervention to rescue the population from severe internal threats (like Haiti). Though the concept is recognized to be, according to the journal Foreign Affairs, "frustratingly imprecise," some of the primary characteristics of failed states can be identified. One is their inability or unwillingness to protect their citizens from violence and perhaps even destruction. Another is their tendency to regard themselves as beyond the reach of domestic or international law, and hence free to carry out aggression and violence. And if they have democratic forms, they suffer from a serious "democratic deficit" that deprives their formal democratic institutions of real substance.

The other must read from Alternet is this bit on the crushing debt of our nation's younger members:

"Government no longer has our back," explains Tamara Draut, author of the recently published book Strapped, in an email. "Young adults today, working to get into the middle class -- they're being hit by a one-two punch: The economy no longer generates widespread opportunity, and our public policies haven't picked up any of the slack."

Her words ring uncomfortably true. As a "young adult" (age 29, thank you very much) from the generation Draut is covering, I've watched more than a few college-grad friends struggle to pay off their towering school loans and credit card debt -- usually on "creative sector" annual salaries ranging from $25K to $40K (while attempting to thrive in notoriously overpriced cities such as New York, Boston and San Francisco).

According to Strapped, Gen X-ers have it much worse than our Baby Boomer parents, because while typical earnings for college grads have stayed the same for three decades, the costs of housing, education and health care have grown exponentially -- much faster than inflation.

The grim financial situation many young folks are now facing is part of a broad governmental failure to regulate the rising costs of higher education, to boost the minimum wage to a livable wage, and to create a sufficient number of full-time jobs -- with benefits -- to ensure that America's massive twenty- and thirty-something work force is healthy and paid well enough to provide for their families.

I would hasten to add, though, if younger folks voted like elder folks, government would pamper to them every bit as much.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Is there any better sell signal than "The economy is fundamentally sound?"

Evidently John Snow was pushed out because he wasn't saying the economy was doing well very often.

And the "official story" was that he, er, uh...did a good job?

By many metrics, Snow's three-year term at Treasury should be rated a success.
Since he joined Treasury in February 2003, the economy has been on steady footing, averaging about a 3.7% growth rate in gross domestic product over that time.
In addition, Snow never faced a dramatic standoff with currency markets, with the dollar remaining fairly constant after a sharp run up in the Clinton years and a decline in the first two years of the Bush administration.

Check the Euro lately, dudes?

Karen Armstrong: right and wrong.....

In Salon today, Karen is right when she quotes Confucius:

His disciples asked him, "What is the single thread that runs through all your teaching and pulls it all together?" And Confucius said, "Look into your own heart. Discover what it is that gives you pain. And then refuse to inflict that pain on anybody else." His disciples also asked, "Master, which one of your teachings can we put into practice every day?" And Confucius said, "Do not do to others as you would not have them do to you." The Buddha had his version of the Golden Rule. Jesus taught it much later. And Rabbi Hillel, the older contemporary of Jesus, said the Golden Rule was the essence of Judaism.

Wrong when she considers the roots of fundamentalism:

And Saddam Hussein, a secularist supported by us in the West for 10 years, even when he gassed the Kurds. We supported him because he was a secularist. If people are resistant to secularism in Iraq now, it's because their most recent experience of it was Saddam. So this kind of chauvinism that says secularism is right, religion is all bunk -- this is one-sided and I think basically egotistic. People are saying my opinion is right and everybody else's is wrong. It gets you riled up. It gives you a sense of holy righteousness, where you feel frightfully pleased with yourself when you're sounding off, and you get a glorious buzz about it. But I don't see this as helpful to humanity. And when you suppress religion and try and get rid of it, then it's likely to take unhealthy forms...

[F]undamentalism has developed in every single one of the major traditions as a response to secularism that has been dismissive or even cruel, and has attempted to wipe out religion. And if you try to repress it -- as happened in the Soviet Union -- there's now a huge religious revival in the Soviet Union, and some of it's not very healthy. It's like the suppression of the sexual instinct. If you repress the sexual instinct and try to tamp it down, it's likely to develop all kinds of perverse and twisted forms. And religion's the same.

It is not simply secularism per se, but rather the fact that oppression was used for a long period of time, as well as "ideology-ism."

If you raise people to believe that they live in a box, and cannot get out, and reward them and punish them to maintain this illusion, some- perhaps most- will act in non-productive ways based on maintaining and fostering this illusion.

A militant secularism or religious fundamentalism is just another head added to the one already owned.

Religion is hard work, whether it's a bonafide religion or a "philosophy." It is living out the Great Matter of Life and Death.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Miscellaneous things for today

Sunday, May 28, 2006

"The Hitler with a song in his heart..."

Life imitates art, except even stranger. Coming on the heels of the success of the revival of "The Producers," the BBC informs us that Mongolia is producing a rock opera about Ghengis Khan, highlighting his "softer side."

The rock opera is one of a number of events marking 800 years since Mongolia's foundation.

Lyricist Dojpalem Ganzorig said he wanted to show the country's founder - viewed as a ruthless conqueror by much of the world - in a different light.

"He was a good husband, a good son, and a good friend and I wanted to show him that way," he said.

"Not as a tyrant or someone with a bad character which is how some people see him."

The production tells how Genghis Khan united the Mongol tribes and became their leader against the odds.

It combines operatic singing with a rock beat, although traditional Mongolian elements like throat-singing and the horse-head fiddle also feature.

Uh, millions of people were killed.

A check of Google has revealed nobody making any plans to make a musical about George W. Bush, however.

Why didn't Kerry do this earlier?

One could say he was "consulted" that this would be a distraction from his campaign, but an overwhelming counter-attack to the Swift Boat Liars would have been, uh, presidential. Well, better late than never.

Three decades after the Vietnam War and nearly two years after Mr. Kerry's failed presidential bid, most Americans have probably forgotten why it ever mattered whether he went to Cambodia or that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth accused him of making it all up, saying he was dishonest and lacked patriotism.

But among those who were on the front lines of the 2004 campaign, the battle over Mr. Kerry's wartime service continues, out of the limelight but in some ways more heatedly — because unlike then, Mr. Kerry has fully engaged in the fight. Only those on Mr. Kerry's side, however, have gathered new evidence to support their case.

The Swift boat group continues to spend money on Washington consultants, according to public records, and last fall it gave $100,000 to a group that promptly sued Mr. Kerry, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, for allegedly interfering with the release of a film that was critical of him...

Mr. Kerry, accused even by Democrats of failing to respond to the charges during the campaign, is now fighting back hard.

"They lied and lied and lied about everything," Mr. Kerry says in an interview in his Senate office. "How many lies do you get to tell before someone calls you a liar? How many times can you be exposed in America today?"

His supporters are compiling a dossier that they say will expose every one of the Swift boat group's charges as a lie and put to rest any question about Mr. Kerry's valor in combat. While it would be easy to see this as part of Mr. Kerry's exploration of another presidential run, his friends say the Swift boat charges struck at an experience so central to his identity that he would want to correct the record even if he were retiring from public life...

In February 2005, Mr. Kerry's supporters formed their own group, the Patriot Project, to defend veterans who take unpopular positions, particularly against the Iraq war. One of their first tasks was to visit newspaper editorial boards in defense of Representative John P. Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat and veteran whose military record has been attacked by Republicans and conservative blogs since he called for pulling the troops out of Iraq...

The veterans group, led by Mr. O'Neill, a former Swift boat commander who was recruited by the Nixon administration to debate Mr. Kerry on "The Dick Cavett Show" in 1971, began its campaign in early 2004 by criticizing Mr. Kerry's protests against the Vietnam War. But backed by Republican donors and consultants, they soon shifted to attack his greatest strength — his record as a military hero in a campaign against a president who never went to war.

If you've ever seen the episode of "The Dick Cavett Show," you'd know that O'Neill was demolished by Kerry on that show.

Still, it's unconscionable that a group of conservatives spent up to $30 Million to slander and libel somebody who put his ass on the line in a rotten war, and it's good to see that, even belatedly, the Swift Boat Liars are being shown for what they are.

(Some of the new evidence is shown in this Kos diary.)

Lawsuit in the making...

Evidently, it's not a conspiracy; department stores really do enact a prejudice against people of smaller stature.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Some faces: Where were their minds?

George W. Bush after saying he regretted saying "Bring it on," Vietnamese Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh, and Lyle Lewis Sanders, convicted child molester.

Memorial Day Weekend Backgrounder: WWI

I think that this Memorial Day Weekend it's a good idea to post a diary revisiting why this holiday was expanded to commemorate not just those who had fallen in the Civil War, but all wars. It's about the Industrial Revolution, the evolution of modern warfare, the rise of international movements, the failure of them at the expense of nationalism and isolationism, and the lessons for us.

Gwynne Dyer in his book "War: The Lethal Custom" notes that the US Civil War had ominous foreshadowing of WWI, with its use of the telegraph, the machine gun, and trenches. They should have seen it coming.

About WWI Dyer writes:

All the European armies had professional general staffs long before 1914, and they devoted their time to making elaborate plans on how the next war should be fought. (Indeed, their plans were a major factor in making it more likely that war would come.) They understood the effects of new weapons like the machine gun, which had seen use in small wars and "colonial wars." Even civilians like Hilaire Belloc knew that European troops would always beat the natives because

Whatever happens we have got
the Maxim gun and they have not.

But the generals had not done the crucial calculation, which was to multiply the width of the front that an individual infantryman could hold by the millions of men who would be available in a European War. The answer of course was that the armies could spread out to fill all space in a continuous front.

And so they did...

Dyer's book is especially cogent in its description of WWI, but to appease the copyright gods, let me summarize.

The net result of this method of war was the application of the modern industrial revolution in a perverse, reverse kind of way, where mass destruction of material, men, horses, farms, and land was carried out at horrendous rates.

Years' worth of production of shells were being consumed in battles that lasted days in which up to a million people were killed.

The US entered this war, and when our tanks and troops arrived and fought, Germany and the other Central Powers eventually collapsed. (Some of our troops were armed with shotguns, which was viewed every bit as much as a war crime as the use of poison gas in some other times and places. You see, you didn't need to aim when using a shotgun, and they were quite effective at relatively close ranges.)

After all the slaughter - it was at its time the most horrific slaughter Europe had ever known with about 15 million killed, and affected Brittish birth rates for the next generation- it was only fitting that Memorial Day, originally commemorating America's worst military slaughter, would be extended.

I know I could go on forever about this, and explore topics such as:

  • How civil liberties were suppressed by the Wilson administration, leading the way for Bush's henchmen to make the arguments they do today to attack civil liberties,
  • How the League of Nations was strangled in its crib because it had no enforcement authority (like the UN today does, if a member of the Security Council becomes a rogue state)
  • How the screw-ups of WWI gave birth to Nazi Germany, Communism, and the colonization of Iraq and other countries in the Middle East.
Many many things about this war need to be told and re-told.

For more about WWI, Here is an excellent source.

Good to see the religious left speaking up...

This bit on the Institute for Religion and Democracy [sic] bears recording:

The Republican Party-aligned Institute on Religion and Democracy sent out a press release today attacking Jim Winkler, general secretary of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, for a speech he gave in March of this year critical of President Bush. IRD spokesman Mark Tooley (also a writer for conservative activist David Horowitz's web site) claims that Winker confuses "partisan politics with the Gospel." The irony is too great to ignore. Not only is Tooley using the very same words that I've used in public criticism of IRD but the IRD press release attacking Winker was sent out by - wait for it - 2004 Bush campaign worker John Lomperis. Lomperis routinely sends out attack pieces against progressive Christians who don't conform to IRD's own partisan political agenda without disclosing his own partisan political activities. Don't be surprised. IRD is, after all, funded by some of the biggest financial backers of President Bush. Tooley, a former CIA employee, has called United Methodist bishops opposed to the Iraq war anti-American. Their goal, as I've stated before, is to silence mainline Christian voices critical of the conservative political policies advanced by this administration and their tactics include sowing division in mainline churches by making personal attacks against church leaders. Here they go again. IRD has proven time and time again that they'll say or do nearly anything to advance the Republican agenda. They'll even misrepresent the teachings of Jesus on issues of war, peace, justice and the environment if it furthers their agenda.

The best horse would run at the shadow of the whip...

That is my response to the trial balloon being raised in the NY Times about the possibility that the US may engage in direct talks with Iran...

WASHINGTON, May 26 — The Bush administration is beginning to debate whether to set aside a longstanding policy taboo and open direct talks with Iran, to help avert a crisis over Tehran's suspected nuclear weapons program, European officials and Americans close to the administration said Friday...

European leaders make no secret of their desire for the United States to join in the talks with Iran, if only to show that the Americans have gone the extra mile to avoid a confrontation that could spiral into a fight over sanctions or even military action.

But since the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the crisis over the seizure of American hostages in November that year, the United States has avoided direct talks with Iran. There were sporadic contacts during the war in Afghanistan, in the early stages of the Iraq war and in the days after the earthquake in Bam, Iran, at the end of 2003.

European officials say Ms. Rice has begun discussing the issue with top aides at the State Department. Her belief, they say, is that ultimately the matter will have to be addressed by the administration's national security officials, whether talks with Iran remain at an impasse or even if there is some progress...

Administration officials said President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have opposed direct talks, even through informal back channels. As a result, many European officials say they doubt that a decision to talk is likely soon.

The prospect of direct talks between the United States and Iran is so politically delicate within the Bush administration that the officials who described the emerging debate would discuss it only after being granted anonymity...

State Department officials refused to talk about the issue, even anonymously. But over the last week, administration spokesmen have been careful not to rule out talks.

OK, so the title of this post is misleading, just as the title of the article is misleading.

What this really is is a policy dispute fissure opening between the State Department, run by Bush's tutor in foreign policy, and the neo-cons, which may or may not include Bush.

Still, I guess the title- borrowed from Bassho, applies to Rice, who evidently has learned that there are limits to being a suck-up to a screw-up, especially when the power to screw-up is immense.

Better late than never.
Update: Evidently, from this article on Iran, the Rice faction's argument is that this is the time to act with respect to direct talks on Iran.

Mr. Ahmadinejad is pursuing a risky strategy that could offer him a shot at long-term influence over the direction of the country — or ruin. He appears motivated at least in part by a recognition that relying on clerics to serve as the public face of the government has undermined the credibility of both, analysts here said.

The changing nature of Iran's domestic political landscape has potentially far-reaching implications for the United States. While Iran has adopted a confrontational approach toward the West, it has also signaled — however clumsily — a desire to mend relations. Though the content of Mr. Ahmadinejad's letter to President Bush was widely mocked here and in Washington for its religious focus and preachy tone, it played well to Iran's most conservative religious leaders. Analysts here said it represented both Mr. Ahmadinejad's independence and his position as a messenger for the system, and that the very act of reaching out was significant.

"If the U.S. had relations with Iran under the reform government, it would not have been a complete relationship," said Alireza Akhari, a retired general with the Revolutionary Guard and former deputy defense minister, referring to Mr. Khatami's administration. "But if there can be a détente now, that means the whole country is behind relations with the West."...

Mr. Ahmadinejad, who was elected last June, has adopted an ideologically flexible strategy. He has called for restoring the conservative values of the Islamic Revolution, yet at the same time has relaxed enforcement of strict Islamic social codes on the street. During the spring, when the warm weather sets in, young women are often harassed by the volunteer vigilantes known as the Basiji for their dress, but not this year. More music seems to be available in stores than in the past — small but telling changes, people here say.

No wonder the neocons are pissed; this guy Ahmadinejad- through sheer luck likely, not competence or genius- might rob the neocons of their war.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Sick. Torturing kids is sick.

By any commonsense standards, this is not "moralism."

Tennessee pastor Michael Pearl with his wife, Debi... claim to have raised five "whineless" children. At the core [of the book "To Train Up a Child"] is the notion that when parents "train" a child to obey early on, even before he or she is able to make conscious, or conscience-based, decisions, home will be a place of peace and harmony. Here, the term "train" is a reference to Proverbs 22:6: "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."

Neither Pearl has advanced training in child development or a related field. "These truths," the tall, white-beaded Michael Pearl, 60, writes in his book, "are not new, deep insights from the professional world of research, [but] rather, the same principles the Amish use to train their stubborn mules, the same technique God uses to train his children."

As you may have guessed, the Amish do not train their mules by giving them "timeouts." Judge and her husband followed the Pearls' advice when trying to train their infant son Noah not to grab forbidden objects: "Switch their hand once and simultaneously say, 'No.' Remember, you are not disciplining, you are training. One spat with a little switch is enough," reads the book. "They will again pull back their hand and consider the relationship between the object, their desire, the command and the little reinforcing pain. It may take several times, but if you are consistent, they will learn to consistently obey, even in your absence."

...While the Pearls are well known in fundamentalist Christian circles, they were largely unknown to the secular world until March, when their discipline methods were tied to the death of a North Carolina boy and the alleged abuse of two of his siblings. The children's adoptive mother, Lynn Paddock, 45, a devotee of the Pearls' teachings, is currently behind bars. She is charged with first-degree murder in the death of 4-year-old Sean, who suffocated when wrapped tightly in blankets, reportedly to keep him from hopping out of bed. She is also charged with felony child abuse in connection with welts found on two of Sean's other five siblings. Nowhere in the Pearls' book do they advocate restraining with blankets; however, Sean's siblings had apparently been struck with a particular type of "rod" recommended by the Pearls: a length of quarter-inch plumbing supply line.

Paddock's attorney, Michael Reece, confirmed to Salon that Paddock owned "To Train Up a Child" and was a devotee of the Pearls' teachings. He maintains that Sean's death was accidental and that there's a difference between corporal punishment -- which he acknowledges may be "unpopular" -- and abuse. And actually, Paddock's connection to the Pearls may serve as part of Reece's defense of his client. "She's following a recognized philosophy even if it's not a mainstream one. The only one who advocates the PVC pipe is Pearl, " he says. "You can pull a switch off a tree all day long. There's no other reason to buy a PVC pipe -- that's clearly from him."

I've said it before and I'll say it again, if you, as an adult, with all your power don't know how to get your kid to behave without resorting to physical violence at the drop of a hat, there's a problem.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Tone that down! Stop calling them names...

Digby has THE reply to those who don't like "name calling" when calling someone a fascist is simply apt.

Occasionally, I get taken to the carpet for my angry tone. Occasionally, the person complaining is right, but most of the time they're not. And here's why.

The unprincipled fuck in the video at the link gets paid to compare a Vice President of the United States to a Nazi propagandist (and notice: no one tells him he's gone "too far," no one tries to interrupt what he's saying; this is considered reasonable discourse on Fox News). And why does this shithead get paid to do such a thing? It's not because he believes it. He knows he's spouting bullshit. No, this asshole gets paid to say things like that because he knows Gore's argument is good and he can't attack it on his merits.

Now, you may respond that calling this unprincipled fuck an "unprincipled fuck" simply perpetuates his sin or worse, that I don't have any way to attack his position on its merits.

You're 100% right about your first objection. It does perpetuate a pithecanthropic level of discourse for a very good reason: there is no possible way to avoid doing so without being a total fool. You think you can "politely engage" someone who compares an American vice-president who served his country honorably for 8 years - not to mention his previous services to America in government - to a Nazi? You can't, or rather, you shouldn't. Nor can you ignore it (although the vice-president should). The terms of engagement have been set by this slimeball - the rhetorical battle-field must always be level. There is no higher ground and attempts to claim it will lead to your destruction (see Daschle, Tom for details).

As for that second objection you could make, well I gotta admit it: you are right once again. I do have no way to attack his position on his merits, again for a very good reason. What he is discussing is not Gore's ideas or global climate change. No, what he's talking about, the only subject is, "how exactly comparable is Al Gore to Josef Goebbels" and I will not dignify this scumbag's comparison by explaining in measured, avuncular tones why such a comparison is, and I hesitate timidly before saying it, "unfortunate?" There is no way to attack his position on the merits because there is no merit to his position. And he knows it.

That came to me as I was watching a woman from a progressive organization against the Bill O'Reilly and Ron Luce. O'Reilly is complaining "why are you calling them fascists?" And of course Luce is claiming to speak for an entire generation of American young people, and that the only alternative to "young people being shaped by the culture" is to "be shaped by" his ideology.

And this is not the essence of the denial of personal freedom?

To be free is not to be bound. Or to be bound if one so chooses.

I prefer not to be. Certainly not to such ideologues.

"Moralism" and "Personal Responsibility"

I hadn't considered linking to a post on Evangelical Outpost for quite some time, but today's post is a good one illustrating the essence of the moral blindness and pitfalls of the religious right.

Joe Carter first of all sets up a straw-man definition of "moralist":

But if I claim to be a moralist you would not presume that I study morality, but think that, like Gladys Kravitz, I’m simply an intolerant, prudish, busybody.

Such is the degraded state of language (and morality) that “moralist” has become a synonym for judgementalism rather than being defined as a “teacher or student of morals and moral problems.” “Moralist” has joined terms like liberal, fundamentalist, and Puritan in the lepers’ colony of language. While some people choose to live with these labels, most others avoid them in order to prevent being infected by their malignant connotations.

Before we discard the term, though, we should question why we would abandon such a useful word when there are so few suitable alternatives. Admittedly, moral philosophers also study morals and moral problems. But unless one has a PhD and an office in the Ivory Tower, calling oneself a “philosopher” is considered pretentious. The same holds true for almost every other subject worthy of study. To say a person is a theologian, bioethicist, or economist implies they are “professionals” with the necessary degrees and vocational credentials. Unless we consider morality a subject unsuitable for “amateurs”, why would we want to toss aside “moralist?”

The obvious answer is that the term has become weighted down with too much baggage. Before we can reclaim the term... defines moralist as:

1. A teacher or student of morals and moral problems.

2. One who follows a system of moral principles.

3. One who is unduly concerned with the morals of others.

Now Carter may be referring to definition 3, above, and of course Carter is preaching to his own choir, but let's get really simple:

1. We are all teachers and students of moral problems.
2. When we are unduly concerned with the morals of others we are by definition ignoring our own morals, and therefore are poor teachers and students of moral problems.

It is not enough to say, as Carter does:

While pharisaism is indeed a form of moralism, not all moralism is pharisaical. After all, Jesus was as much of a moralist as his Pharisee critics. The difference is that he had a God-centered view of morality that was rooted in grace, while they had a man-centered view of moral behavior that was founded in legalism.

because that itself is every bit as much a form of legalism as any; it is the promotion of an ideology rather than a behavior as evidenced by one's own skill.

Better to focus on own's own practice, if one is a Buddhist.

If one were a Christian, undue concern with others' behavior would be the sin of pride.

(Update, thanks to comment by greensmile:) The issue is not one of rescuing the notion of moralists or moralism but of rescuing morality from a certain type of moralist.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Stephen Roach has new things to say

In case you haven't been reading him lately...

I worry increasingly that history will not treat the recent record of central banking kindly. Inflation may well have been conquered a conclusion financial markets are actively debating again but that was yesterday’s battle. Over the past six years, monetary authorities have turned the liquidity spigot wide open. This has given rise to an endless string of asset bubbles from equities to bonds to property to risky assets (emerging markets and high-yield credit) to commodities. Central banks have ducked responsibility for this state of affairs. That could end up being a policy blunder of monumental proportions. A new approach to monetary policy is urgently needed.

Modern-day central banking was born out of the Great Inflation of the 1970s. Led by Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, monetary authorities became tough and disciplined in their efforts to break the back of a deeply entrenched inflationary mindset. Price stability became the sine qua non of macro stabilization policy. Nothing else really mattered. Without inflation, it was argued, economies could realize extraordinary efficiencies that would enhance resource allocation and maximize returns for the owners of capital and providers of labor (see, for example, Alan Greenspan’s 3 January 2004 speech, “Risk and Uncertainty in Monetary Policy”). Who could ask for more?

The subsequent disinflation was a major victory for central banking. It was also a major victory for the “monetarists” who argued that inflation was everywhere and always a monetary phenomenon (see Milton Friedman, A Theoretical Framework for Monetary Analysis, 1971). In retrospect, central banking’s finest hour came in the early days of this struggle -- in the immediate aftermath of the wrenching monetary tightenings that were required to break the vicious circle of the inflationary spiral. Unfortunately, the authorities have been much less successful in “managing the peace” steering post-inflation economies toward the hallowed ground of price stability. By focusing solely on the inflation battle, there is now risk of losing a much bigger war. That’s what the profusion of asset bubbles is telling us, in my view. The great triumph of central banking rings increasingly hollow in today’s bubble-prone environment...

...America’s Federal Reserve is increasingly isolated in arguing that asset markets should be ignored in the setting of monetary policy. In fact, its new chairman is the academic high priest of inflation targeting embracing an even tighter rules-based approach than his predecessor. Asset bubbles are, at best, an after-thought in a strict inflation-targeting regime. Therein lies the potential for a strategic policy blunder: The US central bank has yet to develop an exit strategy from the multi-bubble syndrome that the Fed, in its zeal for inflation targeting, has spawned. Moreover, as one bubble begets another, excess asset appreciation has become a substitute for income-based saving forcing the US to import surplus saving from abroad in order to sustain economic growth. And, of course, the only way America can attract that capital is by running a massive current-account deficit. In other words, not only has the Fed’s approach given rise to a seemingly endless string of asset bubbles, but it has also played a major role in fostering global imbalances.

It's not good for the near term...but I suspect that everything will look like an asset bubble or nothing will look like an investment.

Also: Jerome a Paris says a similar thing with lots of nice graphs

The technical term is "mercenaries."


  1. One who serves or works merely for monetary gain; a hireling.

  2. A professional soldier hired for service in a foreign army.

From the LA Times:

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government's use of private military contractors to conduct interrogations in Iraq and to transport suspected terrorists creates "rule-free zones" and allows abuses to go unpunished, Amnesty International charged Tuesday.

There are 20 known cases of civilian contractors suspected of committing criminal acts while handling detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, but only one has been prosecuted thus far, said Larry Cox, Amnesty's U.S. executive director.

"Amnesty International is not opposed to the use of private contractors," Cox said at a news conference to release the group's annual report on human rights. "But the reliance of the United States government on private military contractors has helped create virtually rule-free zones sanctioned with the American flag and firepower."

The human rights organization said its research also showed that at least 25 American companies appeared to have been hired by the U.S. government to transport suspected terrorists to countries known for human rights violations, a practice that might make them "complicit in the U.S. government's practice of outsourcing torture."

The CIA has come under intense international criticism for the practice of "extraordinary rendition," in which it captures terrorism suspects in one country and moves them to another for interrogation and detention. Less attention has been paid, however, to private companies whose airplanes and other transportation services have been used in the CIA's program.

Private military contractors based in the United States and other countries have been a controversial presence in Iraq. Their role has come under greater scrutiny after four employees of Blackwater USA, a North Carolina-based security firm, were killed and two of their corpses hung from a bridge in Fallouja in March 2004.

An estimated 25,000 private security workers are employed in Iraq, costing nearly $50 billion since the start of the war. Estimates based on government reports indicate that more than 200 have been killed.

Now guess what; there's an international treaty against mercenaries: The International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, signed 4 December 1989. The US does not appear to be a signatory of that.

On the other hand, we did sign the Geneva Convention, and it would do well for Americans to be familiar with that.

We're responsible for the conduct for our prisoners of war, despite our use of mercenaries.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

More on Ken Wilber, New Age oddness, and the like

I really do have to give kudos it to Tom over at Blogmandu, because this Ken Wilber thing helps me to look at areas where things like Ken Wilber have impinged my life, and examine them.

I wanted to see just where Ken Wilber is the world, metaphorically speaking, and the closest I could come to finding out where someone was metaphorically speaking was to use Google instead. Google News to be exact...and I found first the Gafni scandal bit:

Rabbi Mordechai Gafni, a charismatic but controversial leader of the Jewish renewal movement, was dismissed last week from his position as spiritual leader and lecturer at Bayit Hadash, a Tel Aviv-based prayer and study community, amid allegations of sexual misconduct and exploitation of employee-employer relations.

With the help of sympathetic rabbis, Gafni, co-founder of Bayit Hadash, has been dodging accusations and rumors of sexual wrongdoings both here and in the US for two decades.

But even Gafni's most ardent supporters were forced to backtrack when, on May 9, three women filed a police complaint against him and provided attorney Eitan Maimoni with a sworn statement of his misconduct, and a fourth women, from an institution where Gafni previously worked, gave similar testimony before Bayit Hadash heads...

In a statement to his followers this week, Gafni took blame for his actions and said he was "infinitely saddened and profoundly sorry" for the pain he had caused. He acknowledged that he was "sick," and said he planned to enter a treatment center and leave his "rabbinic teaching capacities."

Gafni left the country last week before Jewish and Israeli news media broke the story. Sources close to Gafni said he stayed first in Boston and then in Boulder, Colorado, with New Age philosopher Ken Wilber.

Wilber issued a statement on his Internet site that "after long conversations with many of the concerned parties," he had concluded "there is substantial truth to some of these allegations." And that there was "grave wrongdoing on Marc's part, and I believe this wrongdoing is due not just to bad judgment on Marc's part, but to a pathology or dysfunction affecting Marc."

"New Age philospher?" Wikipedia may be suspect, but here's what they say:

In 1968 he enrolled as a pre-med student at Duke University, and almost immediately experienced a crisis of disillusionment with what science had to offer. It was not the psychedelics then in vogue which inspired him, rather it was Eastern literature, particularly the Tao Te Ching, which catalyzed his conversion to Buddhism. Academically he lost that first year, and he returned to Nebraska, enrolled in the University of Nebraska, where he completed a bachelor's degree with a double major in chemistry and biology. This he managed to do while spending much of his time pursuing Eastern philosophy and Western psychology. He won a scholarship to do graduate study in biochemistry, but by this time he was thoroughly ensnared by the philosophical and contemplative life, and dropped out.

He describes his academic accomplishments as "a Master's degree in biochemistry, and a Ph.D. minus thesis in biochemistry and biophysics, with specialization in the mechanism of the visual process."[5]

Now I gotta say this: a "Ph.D. minus thesis" is not a Ph.D. simply put, because doing a doctoral thesis in this country at least, and having it approved (a practice that goes back hundreds of years) is a verification that you are able to do original research and have it peer-reviewed, and that peers in the profession find it original and verify that it does indeed illuminate something new. It may be where Wilber's life is, but in no way should he be confused with a Jean Paul Sartre or Jacques Derrida. Say what you want about their philosophy, but they were philosphers, who wrote real theses and real research.

Now in my case, it was Jean Paul Sartre indirectly that "catalyzed my conversion to Buddhism;" the rigorous examination of the nullity of human existence led me to Pascal's conclusion that philosphy "is not worth an hour's trouble," though as an engineer not only did I have to make a living, but also I needed to do it in a way that benefitted myself, society, and the world and yet still produced "elegant things," systems which did something other systems hadn't before because they hadn't been thought of, and when they were considered, there was an underlying beauty to their description and implementation (that perhaps only a mathematically oriented systems engineer could grasp.)

So at the comparative stage in my life, I was dealing with what I would say is a more analytical approach to things.

At the same time, I too had palpable disdain for the New Agey nonsense that was permeating liberal spirituality ever since Fritz Perls and Esalen Institute ceased to be - or perhaps were made manifestly not to be- experimental and truly observational, and entered the realm of the flakey.

And the fruit of all of that is still way strange for me. Ken Wilber's name also pops up in a review of the movie The Celestine Prophecy (ah, to be a fly in the room when that was pitched).

When you set out to adapt a best-selling spiritual book into a movie, it's kind of a double-edged sword. You have a built-in audience for your film, but by tailoring your film for that audience, you risk not reaching a wider one. The Celestine Prophecy might please diehard fans of James Redfield's initially self-published, best-selling book, but anyone else is likely to sit there watching in absolute befuddlement as characters prattle on in stilted dialogue about energy fields and insights while assorted baddies -- government soldiers, armed-to-the-teeth rebels AND a Catholic Cardinal -- blow up buses and ancient ruins, shoot and kidnap people, and generally run all amok doing dastardly bad-guy deeds, in an effort to keep people from spreading the word about these ancient "insights". And that's unfortunate, because the message in Redfield's book: slow down, learn to appreciate the coincidences and beauty in life, and learn to touch God directly from within yourself, is a message that a lot of people in our increasingly violent and volatile world could stand to hear. Before I get a bunch of nasty comments from Redfield fans about this review, let me disclaim here: I am a fan of the book (or at least the ideas presented in the book, if not the quality of the writing) and I'd hoped the movie would be really well done. Unfortunately, it just wasn't.

The film suffers on several fronts. First, its New Age-metaphysics wrapped in supposed-thriller format comes across as rather contrived in the book; in the movie, it seems even more absurd. The idea that the Catholic Church and Peruvian government would kill and destroy to suppress the nine scrolls that contain the "prophecy" feels rather ludicrous; there are countless books at my local new-age bookstore that sell many of the same ideas presented in these insights, and last time I checked, there were no armed soldiers or sinister church officials preventing them from being freely available to anyone with a debit card. Redfield was so heavily influenced by various spiritual traditions that there is little in the insights that hasn't already been hashed and rehashed by everyone from Deepak Chopra to Ken Wilber to the Dalai Lama. If the Catholic Church was really going to go all ballistic over the revelatory insight that human conflict and interaction is really about the giving and taking of energy, there are a hell of a lot of people they'd have to kill and suppress.

The whole thing also just seems rather dated.

Look, folks you've got really good texts out there if you look; the Buddhist sutras, Hindu texts, Nagarjuna, first class real philosphers like Lyotard, Barrett, Foucault, There's real Zen masters out there; and you've got folks that straddle the two worlds, so to speak. In the Zen Studies society one of the first people I met was a practicing neurophysiologist. Peter Matthiessen writes very good books; Stephen Mitchell translated Rilke, for chrissakes.

When I first met the Buddhist priest to whose temple I go, and to whose room for sanzen I go, I asked him about what he teaches. He taught nothing, he said. "Then who is the teacher?" I asked. He looked at me with a puzzled look. "Bodhidharma is the teacher," he said and left it at that.

Bodhidharma is the teacher. And he's not saying all that much. You'll have to learn this stuff about life on your own. You'll have to get your on Ph.D. in life and you will be constantly peer-reviewed, and you'll be responsible for however you use whatever feedback you get. And you'll be responsible for peer reviews you will inevitably give others.

Maybe there's a place for Ken Wilber there, maybe not.

Meanwhile, the news reports that a Greek fighter jet has collided with a Turkish fighter jet over the Aegean sea.

Maybe it's an accurate portrayal of Ken Wilber that:

One of Wilber's major theoretical accomplishments has been to create what he calls the neo-perennial philosophy, an integration of traditional mysticism (typified by Aldous Huxley's perennial philosophy) with an account of cosmic evolution that is in many respects compatible with that of the great Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo. He rejects the anti-evolutionary view of history as a regression from past ages or yugas that the Perennial Philosophy traditionally assumes. Instead, he embraces the traditionally Western notion of the Great Chain of Being. As in the work of Jean Gebser, this Great Chain (or "Nest") is ever-present while "relatively" unfolding throughout this material manifestation. As a Buddhist, he believes that reality is ultimately a nondual union of Emptiness and Form, with Form being innately subject to development over time. Wilber's voluminous writings are ultimately attempts to describe how Form undergoes change, and how sentient beings in the world of Form participate in this change until they finally realize their true identity as Emptiness.

There's people fucking starving and bleeding out there. People trying to pick your pocket. People trying to get your kids to die for their bank accounts, or to kill you for yours. Be careful. And taste a real apple, or a real apple pastry made with real ingredients cooked from scratch, not a Hostess pre-packaged thingy.

The very definition of propaganda rags...

Why the New York Times hires Adam Nagourney and continues to publish his dreck I can't say. But they do, and even though 20 seconds into reading the latest piece on Bill and Hilary's marriage I said, "don't I have better things to do like try to deconstruct Ken Wilber?" it still behooves me to dig a bit deeper, at least because I think I have a point as cogent as DarkSyde's:

Personally, I'm not terribly upset when a rich and powerful politician gets nailed for anything, large or small. But there has to be a deeply disturbing pathological weakness present in anyone who fails to comprehend that an affair between consenting adults and a screw-up or intentional decision resulting in thousands of needless dead and injured men, women, and children, don't occupy the same rung on the ladder of moral rectitude.

This fascination with tawdry sex, this drowining out of more important narratives, all of it serves to hijack your awareness, if not let your awareness drift into areas into which you might make a difference: write a letter, hug your kid, prepare your meal, exercise, let alone determine how you and those in your family and community use money, food, the environment, in short how your familial, local, state and government polities affect your life and how you are affecting them.

Don't I have better things to do than to read an Adam Nagourney goo-goo-gah-gah-maybe-there's-a-bit-of-tawdry-sex Clinton piece?

Doesn't everyone?

Monday, May 22, 2006

In case anyone had ANY doubts about the Bush folks...

Gonzales doesn't really care about people's rights, people's supremacy, and their right to know if the Bush regime is breaking the law

"There are some statutes on the book which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that is a possibility," Mr. Gonzales said on the ABC News program "This Week."

"That's a policy judgment by the Congress in passing that kind of legislation," he continued. "We have an obligation to enforce those laws. We have an obligation to ensure that our national security is protected."

Asked whether he was open to the possibility that The New York Times should be prosecuted for its disclosures in December concerning a National Security Agency surveillance program, Mr. Gonzales said his department was trying to determine "the appropriate course of action in that particular case."

"I'm not going to talk about it specifically," he said. "We have an obligation to enforce the law and to prosecute those who engage in criminal activity."

Though he did not name the statutes that might allow such prosecutions, Mr. Gonzales was apparently referring to espionage laws that in some circumstances forbid the possession and publication of information concerning the national defense, government codes and "communications intelligence activities."

One other bit bears note:

"But it can't be the case that that right trumps over the right that Americans would like to see, the ability of the federal government to go after criminal activity," he said. "And so those two principles have to be accommodated."

The "right" of the government to go after "criminal activity" would imply the "right" of the government not to go after criminal activity - for example its own. The supremacy of the people dictates which "right" is paramount - the people's right to be informed when the government officials are perps. The government's "right" is not a right at all, but a duty to be responsible to the people.

And Gonzales is apparently abusing his position as public servant.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

John McCain does not understand who the boss is...

McCain says New School students need lesson in courtesy

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine -- Sen. John McCain on Sunday lamented the nation's bitter political climate and suggested that students at the New School in New York take a courtesy lesson from those at Liberty University.

McCain, who appeared at a fundraiser for Republican gubernatorial hopeful David Emery, told reporters he was saddened by the reception he received Friday from hecklers during his commencement speech at the New School. Dozens of faculty members and students had turned their backs and raised signs in protest.

The Arizona senator said he has spoken at schools throughout the country but never before found himself in a situation in which it became difficult for him to get his message across.

"I've got to say that maybe the students at the New School could learn a lesson in courtesy from the students at Liberty University," he said.

McCain had delivered similar speeches last week at the New School, a historically liberal university, and Liberty, a Christian conservative bastion in Virginia founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

McCain said he was particularly disappointed to hear members of the New School audience call its president, former Medal of Honor winner Bob Kerrey, a war criminal.

"And when I mentioned a friend of mine who had died, people laughed," McCain added. "I was saddened that these young people live in such a dull world that they don't want to hear the views of someone who disagrees with them."

Mr. McCain:
1.You serve at our pleasure. You report to us. You are our public servant. We are your employers. As such, it's simply not your position to question the courtesy of those at whose pleasure you serve.

2. It is grossly impolite to kill tens of thousands of people. Far worse than anything you experienced either in your life time in Vietnam or at the New School.

3. Get over yourself. Your arrogance shows you are unfit to be in public service.

Strange and twisted weirdness of "transpersonal psychology" lives on...

Via Tom at Blogmandu, I learned about the strange and atavistic world of Ken Wilber, and odd shenanigans of one Marc Gafni associated with Wilber...

I am not sure if it's a yet-to-be-certified "Rick Ross" cult, but the look and feel of all things Ken Wilber leads me to be very gratified that I became an engineer, and didn't study psychology, as I had seriously considered in high school.

Wilber leads something called the "Integral Institute."

Integral Institute is dedicated to the proposition that partial and piecemeal approaches to complex problems are ineffective. Whether addressing individual and personal issues of meaning and transformation, or increasingly complex social problems such as war, hunger, disease, over-population, housing, ecology, and education, partial and fragmented approaches need to be replaced by solutions that are more comprehensive, systematic, encompassing—and integral.
Accordingly, there are four main goals for the Institute:

1. Integrate the largest amount of research from the largest number of disciplines—including the natural sciences (physics, chemistry, biology, neurology, ecology), art, ethics, religion, psychology, politics, business, sociology, and spirituality.

2. Develop practical products and services from this research—which can be used by individuals in their own development, or by groups, businesses, national and international organizations.

3. Apply this integrated knowledge and method of problem solving to critical and urgent issues—especially the serious political, health, educational, business, and environmental problems facing humanity. This integral approach to problem solving is employed by the Institute’s own members; by forming alliances with other organizations; and by training organizational leaders, managers, and change agents in the Integral Approach.

4. Create the world’s first Integral Learning Community—with national and international communities of Integral Practice, as well as with Integral University.

All of which says, evidently, "there's complex problems, and we want to solve them."

Now I am an engineer by training. You know what engineers do? We solve complex problems according to a number of often competitive, contrasting criteria and constraints.

It's telling that "engineering" is missing from "integrating the largest amount of research" statement above. And makes the needle on my BS meter go into the red...

As I get further into the "Integral Institute's" web pages, the language starts to take on the tone of the dreaded management consultant...I half expect to see the pointy-haired boss of Dilbert show up...

By far the most effective means that we found were the creation of numerous core teams in the various branches. These teams were composed of anywhere from 5 to 12 highly qualified members of I-I, who were charged with creating practices and services that would best advance an integral approach in their particular fields, such as integral business, integral ecology, integral psychotherapy, integral law, integral education, integral medicine, integral spirituality, integral leadership, and so on.

Having set several of these core teams in motion, I-I went into a relatively low-profile period. We expected that it would be several years before these teams began producing "integral products and services"—such as books, articles, multimedia presentations, field-tested consulting services, tools for personal transformation, and so on.

However, what is so exciting is that several of these teams are now at a point where they can begin to share their pioneering results with others who are interested in bringing a truly integral approach to their particular fields.

I have been reading their materials now for an hour, and I still can't figure out what the hell they're talking about.

Nobody I know would ever fund them if they can't encapsulate their message succintly so that it can be grasped in a period of know, integrating both the problem and approach of solution with examples.

Here's a place called "Integral Training." The graphics and fancy web-design are frankly off-putting, - I dislike being razzled and dazzled. Ken Wilber, via his website has metaphorically come to me for sanzen, and I'm about to shoo him off, and the only reason I don't is because a) I want to know what the f*ck he's talking about, and b) because I suspect there's really no there there, and want to be sure.

Ah, here's "Integral Buddhism."

Within an Integral context, the individual who has embarked on the path of awakening has the possibility of drawing on a reservoir of skillful methods which can be brought to bear on specific issues revealed by a combination of Buddhist practice and an Integral perspective. These methods include the foundational Buddhist practice of shamatha/vipashyana meditation, the non-conceptual Big Mind approach, compassion practice, analytical meditation, yoga, qi gong, the 3-Body Workout, various forms of psychological investigation, group inquiry, and 3-2-1 Shadow-Work Process, just to name a few.

Maybe I am very spiritually well fed, and Google is a wonderful tool today, but frankly, insight meditation, zen, wushu, etc., can all be found without going to Ken Wilber's shop, which looks suspiciously like their attempt to sell you another head in addition to the one you already own.

I'd also say that Wilber's apprehension of Buddhism looks ridiculously culturally insenstive; it seems predicated on the assumption that stupid Americans couldn't grasp the inscrutable East (which by now with at least a few decent 2nd generation teachers in the US in a number of fields, including Zen, this is nonsensical on its face) or that Asians couldn't somehow integrate what they do with Americans. Either way, it looks evidently useless, especially given the fact that this outfit operates in a major urban area (Denver CO,) and therefore is within easy access of pretty good resources on the subject itself.

The page on Integral Training also mentions something about "AQALTM," which should set off anyone's BS jargon detector:

The AQAL Framework offers the most comprehensive map of reality available. It integrates the realms of subjective experience and objective phenomena, in both individuals and collectives.

AQAL is not just an amazing theoretical achievement—it's a powerfully practical tool. The framework reveals deep patterns of reality, and helps you to integrate these patterns into your own body, mind and spirit.

The result? You are ushered into a wider circle of wisdom, caring, and skillful action. You're able to express yourself and serve others with a new level of confidence and effectiveness. Fear is relaxed, and life becomes more vivid and joyful.

I simply cannot believe people pay this guy money...and I am astounded that there are people still walking around with narratives like this in their heads.

Whatever. Caveat emptor.

Oh, also, read Ken Wilber's response to his friend's scandal, and read Incredibly Insightful Victoria Lansford's viewpoint.

Software engineers have a term for what is the apparent effluence of this thing: GIGO. Garbage in, garbage out.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Fast Food Nation is coming to the big screen...

Here's the trailer...

Engaging the conservative Christian pitch..

Maybe I shouldn't single out Greg Laurie, but as a Buddhist, and before, I have long considered the proper way to engage fundamentalist, literalist Christians such as him.

I don't remember the last time I've posted such things on my blog, but it's likely been a long time.

Anyway, from the link:

It is said, "Are you saying Jesus Christ is the
only way, and that if someone doesn't believe in Him they're actually going to hell? That's so narrow! So insensitive! So intolerant!" By insisting that Jesus is the only way to approach God, I may sound to certain people like I'm implying I'm somehow better than they are, or that I look down on them in some way. But I want you to know that I have a very good reason for believing that Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father. I believe it because He said so. It isn't my theory; it isn't my idea; it is His! It was Jesus who clearly stated, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6 NKJV). How plain is that?

The bottom line is that we're either going to believe everything Jesus said or nothing that He said. As for me, I choose to put my faith and trust in Him – for my years here on earth and for my eternity...

The great world religions do not all teach the same thing. And I say that with respect for all people to believe what they choose to believe. We don't need to vilify, threaten or attack one another. We need a civil discourse, and we need to agree to disagree. But on the other hand, let's not foolishly say every religion is teaching the same thing, because they are not. For instance, take these three truths into consideration:

1. Concerning the existence of a personal God. Buddhists deny it altogether. Hindus believe that God is formless and abstract, taking the form of a trinity as well as millions of lesser gods. In direct contrast, the Bible teaches that God is a personal deity, who created man in His own image, loves us and wants to have a relationship with us.

2. Concerning salvation. Buddhists believe salvation comes by self-effort alone – with no personal God to help or guide you. Hindus believe you achieve salvation by devotion, works and self-control. Muslims insist that man earns his own salvation, pays for his own sins, and that you can never be certain if you have achieved salvation or not. In stark contrast, the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and if we will turn from our own way and follow Him, we can be forgiven and have the hope of heaven.

3. Concerning Jesus Christ. Buddhists believe Jesus was a good teacher, but less important than Buddha. Hindus believe Jesus was just one of many incarnations, or sons of God. They teach that Christ was not the one-and-only Son of God. He was no more divine than any other man, and He did not die for man's sins. Muslims will tell you that Jesus Christ was only a man, a prophet equal to Adam, Noah or Abraham, all of whom are below Muhammad in importance.

Do you see my point? It doesn't work to believe in all of the above. The tenets of these religions directly contradict one another. They cannot all be true. These belief systems are diverse and contradictory. In reality, they have little to nothing in common.

Laurie finishes up this standard pitch with the "trilemma fallacy," which has been dealt with by others.

Now first of all, I would agree that a civil discourse is needed. And I would also agree that the levels and types and objects of belief required of certain religions are indeed different.

But what is obviously troubling to me at the outset is the lack of emphasis by folks like Laurie on practice, and the emphasis on belief as a differentiator. I can easily make the case that it is a distortion of Christianity, and that practice is indeed of critical importance in Christianity, but as a Buddhist that is indeed not so important for me, except insofar as to point out that attitudes that marginalize the importance of practice will lead to horrendous results, and as we have seen with the recent behavior of government encouraged by the religious right evangelicals, this is not some abstract idea. I can say practices and attitudes towards practice have consequences. It's karma.

Then, Laurie of course gets things wrong when he describes other religions, and that bears out again my point: Laurie's practice is not creating good results. Muslims, for example have taken umbrage at the statement that " earns his own salvation, pays for his own sins, and that you can never be certain if you have achieved salvation or not," though as a non-expert in Islam, I can't go further than tell you I've seen criticism of that.

But as this is a Buddhist blog, let's stick to Laurie's statements there:

Buddhists deny [the existence of a personal god] altogether.

This is an odd generalization, especially given the number of syncretist Buddhists in the world, but suffice to say for this Buddhist, it's not a "denial," it's simply a lack of consideration. It's simply not important in the grand scheme of things if ending the suffering of all beings is on the agenda.

"Buddhists believe salvation comes by self-effort alone – with no personal God to help or guide you."

Buddhists have varying notions and levels of belief. We don't sign onto a creed; we take refuge, because we are aware of suffering, as though we are seeking shelter in a fierce storm.

That leads many, if not most Buddhists, my self included, to consider the self as a construct or as interdependent with the 10,000 things. There simply is no "alone." (There's no "all is one," either, because you live your life in your skin, to not even scratch the surface of the topic.)

Laurie of course is preaching to the choir, and I am of course addressing the few readers I have, but these things need to be said.

Buddhists believe Jesus was a good teacher, but less important than Buddha.

In a sense this is true; the sense being that one would have to kill both the Buddha and Jesus if either stood in the way of helping all sentient beings. That is to say, one's commitment to one's vows needs to be taken very seriously.

Regarding sincerity, Laurie writes:

Why is it wrong to lie, steal and murder? As much as we hate to admit it, it's because God said it is wrong in the Ten Commandments, among other places. This is why sincerity is never enough. We have to have a set of absolutes to live by. We can't simply make up the rules as we go along. You may want to believe that "all roads lead to God."

Of course you must "sign on the dotted line" and take responsibility for any action you take, whether it's falling in love, having a one-night stand, caring for a child, or working or fighting or feeding. Regardless of what one says about alleged supernatural beings and what they say, you must act, you must proceed further than the 100 foot pole, or just stay there, and still bear responsibility. It's not enough to appeal to a book or a belief for guidance.

And so, in contrast to what Laurie says, you can't but "make the rules" and reap their inevitable effects moment to moment. So wisdom is needed.

How then finally should one react to the pitch of such conservative Christians?

Sincerely and with all effort quench the flame, put out the candle, dwell beyond the controversy.

That's my best answer for now.

Liberman's problem: Not prominently displayed by the Times...

That ol' liberal media again...

HARTFORD, May 19 — A businessman with little political experience has forced Senator Joseph I. Lieberman into an August primary, surprising even his own supporters by winning more than twice the number of delegates he needed at the State Democratic Party's nominating convention Friday night.

Ned Lamont, a cable television executive from Greenwich who has opposed Senator Lieberman largely over the senator's support for the war in Iraq, won 505 of the 1,509 delegates who cast votes — about 33 percent, compared with the 15 percent required to force a primary.

Mr. Lieberman, by winning two-thirds of the vote, however, easily won the party's endorsement.

Cheers erupted as Mr. Lamont swept several small towns, where he typically fared better than he did in larger cities like Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven, which have entrenched Democratic establishments. Some supporters of Mr. Lamont said they had hoped to win only the necessary 15 percent of the vote and many said they were thrilled to have won more.

In an appearance after the vote, Mr. Lamont said his showing would resonate beyond Connecticut. "Thirty-three percent is telling the people in Washington, we want change," he said.

It's been widely reported in the blogosphere that Liberman had to do a lot of arm-twisting of delagates to get his 66.x%.

It probably won't work that way in the primary.

Liberman's toast.

Corsi: Hegemony, Nativism and paranoia....

This reference by Atrios to a an article by Corsi and its previous mention by a wingnut friend in (polite) conversation actually encouraged me to click through the article.

It's kind of an oddball article these days- it's your typical extremist wingnut "they're selling out our sovereingty through the Council on Foreign Relations" appeal to paranoia.

President Bush is pursuing a globalist agenda to create a North American Union, effectively erasing our borders with both Mexico and Canada. This was the hidden agenda behind the Bush administration's true open borders policy.

Secretly, the Bush administration is pursuing a policy to expand NAFTA to include Canada, setting the stage for North American Union designed to encompass the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. What the Bush administration truly wants is the free, unimpeded movement of people across open borders with Mexico and Canada.

President Bush intends to abrogate U.S. sovereignty to the North American Union, a new economic and political entity which the President is quietly forming, much as the European Union has formed.

The blueprint President Bush is following was laid out in a 2005 report entitled "Building a North American Community" published by the left-of-center Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

Well, let's see just what the wingnut was talking about in that report by the nefarious CFR...


  • Establish a common security perimeter by 2010. The governments of Canada, Mexico, and the United States should articulate as their long-term goal a common security perimeter for North America. In particular, the three governments should strive toward a situation in which a terrorist trying to penetrate our borders will have an equally hard time doing so, no matter which country he elects toenter first.

  • Develop a North American Border Pass. The three countries should develop a secure North American Border Passwith biometric identifiers. This document would allow its bearers expedited passage through customs, immigration, and airport security throughout the region. The program would be modeled on the U.S.-Canadian ‘‘NEXUS’’ and the U.S.-Mexican ‘‘SENTRI’’ programs,provide ‘‘smart cards’’ to allow swifter passage to those who pose no risk.

Outside of "help Mexico develop" (NAFTA was born the same way- wait for it, wait for it) the entire report dryly reads not so much like, "Holy shit, they're compromising our soverignty!" to more like "Holy shit, the US wants to make further demands on its vassal states!"

Dudes and dudettes reading this: the CFR makes recommendations like this to enhance the power of the United States in the world, not to attenuate it. The "move defenses to the outer perimeter" verbiage is to expand US border force beyond its current perimters, not to surrender it.

It's amazing how this game is played - policies of hegemony are decried as weakening the United States and so when their derivatives are implemented as law or treaty a move of aggression is seen as a retreat.

Moreover, Corsi and other wingnuts like this count on their audience never to consider that the US might be acting in a way to dominate other nations, and expect the United States - by far the world's largest military power - to roll over and play dead with respect to nations like Mexico that aren't exactly world powers. In fact, Corsi probably doesn't even have enough consideration for the intellection of his audience to even get that Canada's joined NAFTA, as Atrios points out.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Speaking of special interest blogs/websites

The Portland Buddhist Festival's website is here, it's June 3 this year, and it's not affiliated with Tricycle, because of that magazine/foundation's stated association with the indisputably culty Frederick Lenz Foundation for "American Buddhism"[sic].

I do wonder why Sambokyodan teachers deal with this group.

Oh, about the photo: that's someone who's near and dear to me stamping out "baby Jizos" for the "Jizos for Peace" thing the Great Vow folks did back in 2004.