Saturday, November 29, 2008

Sold Soul

We are all familiar with the notion of "selling out" and some of us have had the opportunity to learn what we really do in situations that present the opportunity. I speak with some experience when I say that the opportunity, regardless of one's choice, comes with a price. It also hurts to say no and watch the the proceeds drift in another direction. Perhaps a romantic, perhaps naive, I retain the conviction that it is better to choose "poverty" over "prostitution." The quotation marks are important. I am not talking about starving in the street, and sex has nothing to do with this.

George W. Bush has turned to his immediate family (Fox News is not soft enough?) for interviews, and they issued a press release of a November 12 exchange he and Laura Bush had with his sister, Doro Bush Koch. It begins:

Q: How do you want to be remembered, and what are you most proud of?

BUSH: I would like to be a person remembered as a person who, first and foremost, did not sell his soul in order to accommodate the political process. I came to Washington with a set of values, and I'm leaving with the same set of values.

Think about that. Such words sound pathetic to those whose lives are truly about growth, the ongoing stretch of the envelope of what one can see, grasp, discern, and articulate, i.e. one's reality and one's ability to interact with that reality. From this perspective, a closed mind is already dead. One who has nothing to learn has no reason to draw another breath.

Defensive posturing noted, I think even George W. Bush learned a few things while in the White House, but this is not something he will admit. Despite the events of September 11, the invasion of a country on the basis of deception and incompetence, the deaths of hundreds of Americans due to grotesque ineffectiveness in response to a hurricane, the obscene politicization of the justice department and the indictment and conviction of dozens of his staff, W is proud to tell us his values have not changed. He's right. They haven't.

How interesting that he considers it necessary to make such a statement. I don't recall Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Jackson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy, or even Clinton having the desire to be known as one who did not sell his soul for the political process. Me thinks thou dost protest...

Alas, the rub strokes deeper, for the notion of selling his soul rests upon a questionable premise. You can't sell what you've already lost.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Completing the Past

Those involved in serious personal growth endeavors soon encounter a distinction associated with maturing one’s perspective on the traumas of one’s past. Humans construct ontological frameworks/lenses through which experiences are interpreted based upon past events that produced suffering. These start around the age of five. Prior to that, we live remarkably free of worry, guilt, jealousy, resentment, hatred, humiliation, and those other emotional states adults get to enjoy.

I’m not saying a four year old can’t suffer. Still, a baby can scream its lungs out, but once the issue is resolved, the baby moves on and forgets all about it. All is forgiven without a second thought. While others tend to their survival, babies can enjoy this luxury. As we shift from infant to toddler we acquire the ability to interpret events and infer significance. We cross a line, and that which causes suffering, like when we throw sand in our sister’s face and it gets in her eyes, or we squash a frog in the garage, or we get beat up and cry in front of our first grade peers, transcends what actually happened into a profound significance that becomes part of the foundation of a fabricated set of beliefs about ourselves and the world.

The boy who squashed the frog and saw it convulsing in a pool of blood experienced soul deep trauma and convinced himself he was bad. He became a priest. You are more likely to defy gravity than get this guy to smoke a cigar. I know a man who at the age of seven looked up and saw his four year old sister floating face down in the pool. An adult rescued her, but in those torturous few seconds he crucified himself for his self-diagnosed lack of preparedness. Know what he’s like today?

Summarizing an involved dynamic, something bad happens, and we spend the rest of our lives making damned sure it never happens again. Career choices, mates, lifestyles, habits, the whole enchilada including cheese on the top is organized to make sure THAT never happens again.

Confronting one’s existential architecture distinguishes the framework through which one interprets impressions and allows one to replay experiences and reset the inferences created. The automatic framework remains, but once distinguished, we have the framework, while before the framework had us. The transformations can be so extraordinary that friends are jaw dropped shocked, "I’ve known John for 22 years, but I do not know the person at the front of that room."

The same phenomena can occur with the collective psyche of groups of people unified by a commonality: towns, states, nations, Catholics, Jews, or Yankees fans. Ever been to Georgia and mention the Civil War? When I first started work at IBM in the 80s, I shared an office with a worker from Spain. Guess what he wanted to talk about? The Spanish American War and the Maine. The reader can imagine my preoccupation with said topic as an engineer fresh from college. He talked about the Maine for fifteen minutes after I agreed that Spain probably had nothing to do with its demise.

Perhaps no collective conscious has the life-shaping and psychologically potent ontological filter as that now possessed by Israel and the worldwide Jewish community. Of course I speak of Shoah, the holocaust, an event that crystallized energies already growing for the creation of the state of Israel. When and how Jews would acquire a country to call their own without the earth shattering events of WWII will remain a matter of speculation. That said, like the boy molested by the priest at seven or the girl raped by her uncle at eight, the trauma is multiplied beyond the facts however horrible. I am not saying Spain should forget about the Maine, the South should forget about Dixie, or the girl should forget what her uncle did to her. Being informed by the past is distinct from being programmed by the past. What I am saying is that the conditioning produced by pivotal traumatic experiences produces automatic responses that are limiting and sub-optimal, and that it is possible to distinguish the conditioning and obtain access to additional insight and options. In the case of the girl, consciously forgiving the uncle is an access to a higher place for its own reward. What the uncle deserves has nothing to do with it. In the case of the South, what is authentically behind the persisting resentment? Fear, yes, but fear of what?

Israel is prone to sub-optimal decisions to the extent it applies Nazi paradigms to the Palestinians. Of course Ehud Olmert understands intellectually that Syria, Jordon, or even Iran could not begin to construct and operate an Auschwitz in the 21st century. Grasping it ontologically is another matter, and teasing out the actual 2008 threats and the reality of Ahmadinejad (versus the hype) is more difficult than drawing interpretations from an inherited framework. When Khomeini called the United States the "great Satan" in November 1979, and when Osama Bin Laden spoke of destroying America, we reacted differently from the way Israel reacts to such language. Critical to understanding these ideas is clarity that the automatic is not wrong, only limiting.

Of course Israel faces serious threats, but the Jewish people are not going to be herded into freight trains ever again. For more regarding the application of this to Israel, consider reading Avraham Burg, former speaker of the Israeli parliament:

The Holocaust Is Over; We Must Rise From Its Ashes

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Gang of Obsolete Pretenders

Does anyone know what the Republican Party really stands for at this point, the operative word of course being really? They have amply demonstrated no commitment to the limiting of government, such notions reduced to empty rhetoric they haven’t practiced in decades. One might suppose the Republicans did make good in unraveling a variety of regulations. If we get the government out of the people’s way, the argument asserts, peace and prosperity will descend from the market gods committed to what maximizes the overall utility of the common good. Nice theory, one might suppose. Unfortunately reality shows data eliminating all doubt that the practices of late concentrate wealth for the top 1% while causing real (after inflation) income declines for the rest of the country. We now have the greatest economic inequality we have seen since the great depression.

The recent GOP actions serve the wealthy with a government “by the rich for the rich” that managed to dupe "low information voters" into acting against their own economic self-interests. Well, you can only suck so much blood before those bleeding start to feel faint. They just did. Voter sentiments towards the GOP (examine registration statistics) are plummeting. The Republicans have demonstrated obscene corruption (Medicare Part D, Halliburton, contract fixing, ad nauseam), deliberate deception (Iraq WMD, all matters Cheney and Gonzales), unbridled cronyism (take your pick) leading to sheer incompetence (Iraq, Katrina, half the Justice department, oversight of financial system) as well as the deliberate suppression of truth (global warming, biological research, environmental studies) and scientific progress. The policies of the Bush Administration have led to the decline of virtually every education statistic meaningfully tied to our ability to compete. Today’s children are LESS likely than their parents to complete HIGH SCHOOL. That has NEVER been true in the past, and should I mention health care? You already know the trend lines regarding access. Those forced to do without now top 50 million, and those lucky enough to get any insurance are having an increasingly difficult time keeping it.

The GOP has turned itself into a Gang of Obsolete Pretenders. They live in their own fantasy world and talk about returning to "conservative values." What does that mean? Almost no one under 40 and no one under 30 are interested in "returning" to anything. When the tongue in the mouth speaks "conservative" does not the tongue in the shoe move us toward a nation where a tiny, ruling elite exploits uneducated, uninsured, and ignorant masses doomed to abject poverty and despair?

We want to move forward, not backward, and if you want to lead us, you have to have a place to go. The GOP does not. They can continue to play make believe. Rush Limbaugh and some of the Fox Noise goons are calling the current economic meltdown "Obama’s recession."

Think about that. Really. Is that pathetic or what?

The inept and irresponsible can call for accountability. The divisive fear-mongers can call for unity. The corrupt can demand transparency. Go for it, guys, but the rest of us have moved on. Largely as a result of GOP policies, we can’t afford to pretend anymore.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

End of an Error

The Republican party appears to fail to realize the depth and breadth of the dire bifurcation it has brought upon itself after years of catering to the lower sentiments of the national psyche. After years of whipping religious extremists and gun kooks into a frenzy over, uh, something, now they have a nightmare on their hands as the perfect product of their machinations speaks into camera after camera telling people what ails the GOP. Sarah Palin is a Democrat’s best friend.

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford asserts that the GOP, not conservatives, lost the election. His view: Republicans campaign like conservatives but do not govern like them. The country is rejecting the "fake conservatives" such as pork champ and convicted felon Ted Stevens (R-AK).

What the country rejected is not difficult to see. More than rejecting the politics of fear and division, more than rejecting all of the lies and deception, more than rejecting corruption, the country rejected incompetence. Inept to the core, George W. Bush promoted ineptitude. Thanks to his appointments we will have clueless people in important positions for years. In bungle after botch after meltdown, is that not what the Bush administration accomplished? They gave us eight years of stupid. As the bumper sticker says: If you think education is expensive, try ignorance. We did, and we’ll be paying the tab for decades.

The GOP really does have no idea how bad it is going to get for them. They’ve hit the berg. It’s physics. I don't think the intelligent inside the party can prevail. The astute may indeed have to craft a third party that jettisons the Six-Pack crowd crusading with Palin against foes like science, math, or big words. The 2008 election has gravity far exceeding 1980, more like 1932. Paradigms across the entire spectrum are going to shift, and for at least a century or two, we're done with stupid presidents.

Reality has a funny way of providing clues that underscore the greater schemes at play. It did so in November of 2000, where fiasco begot fiasco. It did so again last week. Let’s face it, Republicans are so land line.


Tucson, Arizona. The press has wasted no time in stating that President-Elect Barack Obama is wasting no time in the strategic and tactical aspects of becoming the next President of the United States. Many of us would expect no less, and I must acknowledge an emotional experience mixing relief, admiration, expectation, and a certain vindication linking back to Martin Luther King’s "Free At Last!" and Abraham Lincoln’s somber acknowledgment of the cost of freedom.

I’ve received some correspondence regarding the drop in prolificity of this blog and fully acknowledge that yes, frequency has dropped. The recent personal episodes involving growth and development have led to movement towards what is distilled by the gifted mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss, "Few, but ripe."

Gauss invented something like half of what humanity knows. My one cat, a brilliant Siamese I got as a kitten, was named Gauss. He split when I met the wife. Smart cat. I have learned that a fellow local blogger considers this place "amateur." To this I reply "Absolutely!"

What was his first clue?

A blog is not a dissertation, but what is the quality/quantity curve of a blog? President Clinton’s former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, good friend of Congresswoman Giffords and a member of Obama’s economic think tank (stood with him at the first press conference), has a "for real" blog, by which I mean it is not at a media web site like CNN. He posts about once every five or six days. Of course, he is a distinguished economics professor at Berkeley and has published many very well read books. Many of his posts solicit well over 100 comments from sophisticated readers throughout the country.

The man has a life, and at least in terms of my experience, an over-prolific blogger might be wise to inquire who is driver and who is horse, and by blogging I think one should include those who read and comment. As the situations mature, they evolve. Remember the pre-election blogging of 2006? Many of us (self-included) were junkies through and through.

I have no idea where this is headed, but it is not going away soon. Odds of reaching the stature of Robert Reich are on par with your average lottery ticket. Odds of going back to the days of 2006 are about the same.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Intelligent Life on Earth

Jacksonville, Florida. Greetings from Jacksonville where I am attending a conference with a bunch of smart people. The only attendees who do not have PhD's are those that will get them within a few months. One rather interesting event involved perhaps 130 people in a large room where each round table was a particular topic, and those interested in that topic would take a seat and then the table would discuss the topic. I chose state appropriation funding mechanisms to improve state-to-state congruence in the financing of higher education, which is actually a very pertinent issue as state budgets get slammed by the impending recession/depression. If you think tuition is high now, wait a few years.

Obama's election last night is an event of historic proportions, one that will be taught in government and history courses for the rest of the future. In addition to showing the rest of the world a possibility that shines as a beacon for all of humanity in terms of creating organization and governance that can break barriers, forge new paradigms, and allow the people as people, not empire building hot shots, to have a voice.

Barack Obama did not take money from lobbyists. For the first time in eight years, the White House will not be run as a corporate whore house. Already today, and it is beautiful to witness, we can feel the intellectual horsepower of our government rising. It's time for the White House to get a brain and leave the bush leagues.

Yes, We Did