Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Hazy Memories

In the Vicinity of the Central Marchmount

Through the looking glass

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Strange Coincidence--UPDATE

Jack London, The Iron Heel, 1908
During that period I used to marvel at my own metamorphosis. At times it seemed impossible, either that I had ever lived a placid, peaceful life in a college town, or else that I had become a revolutionist inured to scenes of violence and death. One or the other could not be. One was real, the other was a dream, but which was which? Was this present life of a revolutionist, hiding in a hole, a nightmare? or was I a revolutionist who had somewhere, somehow, dreamed that in some former existence I have lived in Berkeley and never known of life more violent than teas and dances, debating societies, and lectures rooms?

Zhuangzi (Chuang-tzu)
'Formerly, I, Kwang Kâu, dreamt that I was a butterfly, a butterfly flying about, feeling that it was enjoying itself. I did not know that it was Kâu. Suddenly I awoke, and was myself again, the veritable Kâu. I did not know whether it had formerly been Kâu dreaming that he was a butterfly, or it was now a butterfly dreaming that it was Kâu. But between Kâu and a butterfly there must be a difference. This is a case of what is called the Transformation of Things.'

Translation by James Legge (1815-1897)

Of course, we might also consider the opening lines of Franz Kafka's, The Metamorphosis, written in 1916, the same year London passed away:
One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug. He lay on his armour-hard back and saw, as he lifted his head up a little, his brown, arched abdomen divided up into rigid bow-like sections. From this height the blanket, just about ready to slide off completely, could hardly stay in place. His numerous legs, pitifully thin in comparison to the rest of his circumference, flickered helplessly before his eyes.

"What's happened to me," he thought. It was no dream. His room, a proper room for a human being, only somewhat too small, lay quietly between the four well-known walls.

UPDATE: For anyone interested in the connection between Chinese thought and Kafka's writing, here is a link to Kafka's, The Great Wall of China. While conducting a google search on "Kafka and Zhuangzi" I found someone in Macau, Christopher Kelen, who is asking similar questions about Kafka, butterflies, The Great Wall of China, and my favorite--The Peach Blossom Spring
Kelen writes about butterflies as follows:
One of the beautiful clichés of Chinese thought which Westerners love to appropriate (witness Kronenburg's M. Butterfly) is Zhuangzi's parable of one Zhuang Zhou who dreamt he was a butterfly and forgot he was a person. Zhuangzi asks us whether Zhuang Zhou dreamt of the butterfly or the butterfly dreamt of Zhuang Zhou. The story has parallels in Western thought: notably in the Meditations of Descartes and in Alice's speculations in Through the Looking Glass. A twentieth century example is in Borges' story 'The Circular Ruins'. In each case reflexive aim at identity is taken by positing contrast between reality and a state of mind in which one wouldn't know one's self or one's state of mind.

Implied in these fancies is another world in which what we know for reality is somehow upended, a world in which the rules of the real do not or need not apply. It's easy to see the model (and/or the need) for worlds which may collectively be thought of as fictional in the universal diurnal event of dreaming.

Anyone up for a Roadtrip

In their own image

Arthur's wisdom:
The notion of "world transformation" -- altering the entire planet so that virtually everyone and every country subscribes to what we view as "acceptable" and "tolerable" to a significant degree -- founders on all the evidence provided by history, culture and political theory. Moreover, it does not require a genius to see that it simply cannot be done. Oh, we can try to do it, if we are prepared to see the full militarization of the United States and of every aspect of our lives here at home. Even then, we would fail. Even if our government were to spy on each and every one of us, even if we forbade entrance into the United States to almost all foreigners, and even if our government "protected" us with cameras on every corner and in every building and with countless other "anti-terrorist" measures, people determined to do us great harm would still get through. And of course, this does not even take into account those few Americans who themselves might be bent on wreaking havoc here at home.

We would only achieve the complete destruction of personal liberty in a manner that gives our individual lives meaning and genuine fulfillment -- and we would still not be entirely safe. Absolute safety in that sense is not achievable, no matter what we do. Life by its nature entails risk; the continuation of life is never guaranteed. In their attempts to protect our lives to an extent that is impossible of achievement, the believers in world transformation succeed only in destroying the purpose and the glory of our lives now, in the present when it matters.

But when you pull back and consider the broader forces that inform the policies supported by the administration and its defenders, and when you realize the ultimate roots of those forces, you are struck by the similarity between the Western zealots who preach world transformation and certain of our enemies. This is an absolutely crucial point, and one that I think escapes many people, even many of those who are among the severest of the current administration's critics.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

What the Grassroots Knows

Digby says:
The grassroots of the Democratic Party see something that all the establishment politicians have not yet realized: bipartisanship is dead for the moment and there is no margin in making deals. The rules have changed. When you capitulate to the Republicans for promises of something down the road you are being a fool. When you make a deal with them for personal reasons, you are selling out your party. When you use Republican talking points to make your argument you are helping the other side. When you kiss the president on the lips at the state of the union you are telling the Democratic base that we are of no interest or concern to you. This hyper-partisanship is ugly and it's brutal, but it is the way it is.

It's not "left" and "right" or "liberal," "moderate," or "conservative" that animates the grassroots. We argue some amongst ourselves on policy, of course, but that's not the rap on the establishment. It's the desire that our representatives wake up and recognise that we are in a new political era in which these designations take second place to "Democrat." That's the environment we are in whether we like it or not --- a country sharply divided by party, not ideology.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The problems and promise of the Democratic Party

This is it:
Currently, the Democratic members of Congress are drifting about discombobulated from their core. A centralized mission and focus is admittedly lacking; it's not just a right-wing myth. What is a right-wing myth is that this lack of mission comes from a deficiency of ideas. That simply is not true. Democrats have innovative proposals for education,health care, national security, and more. But these are bills primarily introduced by individuals, with a handful of co-sponsors. They get introduced, and then are referred to committee where brilliant Democratic ideas languish and die a slow, bureaucratic death.

Presidential Material

See the new podcast by Senator Feingold on the patriot act deal, which some Democratic Senators are signing on to:
So why the about-face? Why are they now standing down? Why the flip-flop?

I hope you’ll contact your Senators, ask why they decided to change their vote, and demand an answer.

The problem seems to be that Democrats are afraid of being called “soft” on terrorism.

I’ve read the news reports and been in the same meetings that others have where Democratic consultants warn of taking too tough of a stance on issues like the Patriot Act, or the warrantless NSA domestic surveillance issue, or the War in Iraq. These consultants advocate folding in the face of White House fear-mongering.

The problem is that they aren’t listening to the American people. They’re buying into to rhetoric and spin machine that the White House has put forward in place of an actual agenda.

We’re not doing the party, or the country, any favors by refusing to challenge an administration that views our freedoms as collateral damage in the war on terrorism. If Democrats aren’t going to stand up to an executive who disdains the other branches of government and doesn’t worry about trampling on the rights of innocent Americans, what do we stand for?

The American people will not vote for a party seen as timid – one that fails to stand on principle and offer strong leadership.

Bush is unpopular even in most so-called red states!

This is interesting:
This 50-state polling chart compiled by USA Survey is quite telling. Bush's approval rating is above 50% in only 6 states in the entire country, and Texas is not one of them. In 40 out of 50 states -- 80% of the country -- more people disapprove of Bush than approve of him.

Most revealing is Bush's intense and pervasive unpopularity in Ohio, the state which swung the election in his favor. People in Ohio disapprove of Bush's performance by an amazingly lopsided margin of 37-60%. Apparently, they're not happy that they have no jobs, their kids have no health insurance, their neighbors have been stuck and are being killed in an increasingly unpopular, endless and senseless war in Iraq, and the President is surrounded by cronyism and corruption and thinks he has the power to break the law. But at least gay couples can't get married, so that's good.

While large numbers of Ohioans became convinced in 2004 that the all-consuming, paramount gay marriage issue compensated for all of the corruption and ineptitude of the Administration, it looks like they -- along with the rest of the country -- have changed their minds and have realized that this Presidency is a disaster for our country in every way that matters.

But did you really doubt it?

Us and them

More wise words from Digby:
David Brooks says that the left is Stalinist. I assume that's what Sullivan's title refers to as well. Communism is often considered a secular religion, although that clearly underestimates the huge power of state coercion. If the American left is Stalinist, it certainly has been extremely ineffective. After all, conservatism now dominates all three branches of government. And I can't help but find this argument amusing considering that the primary critique of Democrats is that we have no convictions and are constantly fighting amongst ourselves. We are remarkably undisciplined totalitarians.

In one way both parties share the same religion: an all-American obsession with winning. In this I actually envy the right. When they fail, as everyone inevitably does at times, they don't lose their faith. Indeed, failure actually reinforces it.
Liberals, on the other hand, have nothing like that. We hate ourselves for losing and hate our leaders for failing us. The conservatives just put theirs out to pasture and move on, secure in the knowledge that their greater faith will prevail. It must be very nice to live in a world in which you can never, ever be wrong.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Feeling Groovy Under the Tallest Building in the World

Monday, February 13, 2006

What does Bushism mean?

Another great piece by Greenwald, a follow-up to one he entitled, "Do Bush Followers Have a Political Ideology?"

Unclaimed Territory - by Glenn Greenwald: Follow-up to the Bush post yesterday

In my view, both of these posts explain quite well what conservatism and liberalism have become to many people in contemporary American political discourse. See also Digby's reaction. Digby argues:
So, it isn't precisely a cult of George W. Bush. It's a cult of Republican power. We know this because when a Democratic president last sat in the oval office, there was non-stop hysteria about presidential power and overreach. Every possible tool to emasculate the executive branch was brought ot bear, including the nuclear option, impeachment. Now we are told that the "Presidency" is virtually infallible. The only difference between now and then is that a Republican is the executive instead of a Democrat.

This must be a function of psychology more than ideology. David Gergen said this morning on This Weak, that the Republicans are much better at "messaging" than the Democrats, but that they aren't good at governing. This is true. They win by selling a fantasy of freedom and riches ---- and govern as despots. You can see from the examples cited above that there is no real conservative ideology. If they can jettison their most cherished ideals (small government, balanced budgets, checks and balances, states' rights, individual liberty etc.) whenever a Republican holds office, it is quite clear that what they care about is the power, not the "message" on which they ran.

Today I read that Bob Barr, a man who made his bones by calling for Clinton's impeachment even before the Lewinsky scandal broke, is now being booed by a room full of arch-conservatives for suggesting that the president saying "trust me" is not adequate. We know very well that if the president were a Democrat, everyone in that room would not find it adequate.

Then there is this gem at the end of Digby's post:
I believe now that Goldwaterism was nothing more than public relations and the "conservative movement" that sprang from his failed presidential campaign was nothing more than an elaborate con job. Throughout all the years that they decried Stalinism, it wasn't an idealistic belief in human rights and democracy that drove them. It was quite the opposite, in fact. It was envy. All that control over other people. The huge police and military apparatus. The forced conformity. The only thing they genuinely hated about the Soviet Union was its economic philosophy. The totalitarian system, not so much. When you read about the "conservative movement" you find over and over again that the anti-communists immersed themselves in Stalinism and modeled their organizational style on it, often quite openly admiring its efficient application of power. And as we know, one of totalitarianism's most obvious features is the cult of personality that always grows up within it.

The modern Republicans do show all the hallmarks of an authoritarian cult. But I believe that the metaphorical statue of George W. Bush will be toppled very shortly after he leaves office after an "election" based on a message of "reform." They must restore the fantasy. His statue will be replaced, of course, with another infallible leader. That's how it works.

All I can say to that is: Ozymandius.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Using shoebombs to blow up the cockpit door would, um, blow up the cockpit, wouldn't it?

Glenn Greenwald has an excellent post on the ludicrousness of Bush's claim of the foiled terrorist plot in Los Angeles back in 2002 (Why did he even have a press conference about it in 2006?); Greenwald also describes the way, with which we're all familiar, that the Bush administration uses the fear of terrorism to manipulate the public, and in so doing serves the interests of the terrorists who we are supposedly fighting:
The reality is that the White House doesn't care how transparent their manipulation of terrorist threats is, because this manipulation is not aimed at our rational faculties. What they want is for there to be scary pictures constantly flashed on the television screen of Muslims wearing ski masks with ground-to-air missiles on their shoulders and prolonged shots of our tall buildings and hastily arranged news conferences by city officials talking about security measures and faux terrorism experts parading around on TV talk shows with gravely concerned expressions as they warn us, yet again, of all the different ways that we are at risk.

Unleashing all of those images over and over triggers, as intended, fresh waves of fear that we are all about to be blown up or zapped with radiation. How absurd the underlying facts are is irrelevant; anything that serves as a pretext for new waves of frightening images does the trick just fine.

This is really the aim and the work of the terrorists -- to keep the targeted population in the grip of fear. Here is how the Department of Defense describes the defining goal of terrorism:

"the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological."

Terrorists don't expect to achieve their goals through the physical destruction of a society using violence, the way a nation at war attempts with its military. The violence inflicted by terrorists is simply a tool for ratcheting up the fear level, and the fear of the violence, rather than the violence itself, is the primary tool of the terrorist. The greater the fear of the targeted population, the closer the terrorists are to achieving their goals.

When it comes to Al Qaeda's targeting of the U.S. in this manner, nobody helps the terrorists achieve those objectives more than the Bush Administration, which (like Al Qaeda) really does have as its principal goal -- particularly in an election year, and particularly when it faces all sorts of political difficulties on an array of fronts -- keeping the fear level as high as possible. The more frightened people are, they believe, the more likely they are to support the President and his party. And so fear-mongering becomes the first and really only political weapon they have.

The orange alerts aren't really that effective any more. Orange is so un-scary. But tales of thwarted terrorist attacks on our cities always give rise to the same set of images and warnings which keeps the fear level nice and fresh and edgy. It's only February -- I have no doubt we will be treated to many, many more episodes like this. The question is, with 9/11 now more than 4 years away, is there some limit to the water in this well?

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Jade Lady

Below is something I wrote a couple of years ago, sort of out of the blue, spontaneously. You can see it as an attempt at fantasy, but also inspired by my interests in Daoism, especially the concept, really phenomenon, known as Ganying感應 or resonance, described in Han Dynasty texts:

The Jade Lady suddenly appeared on the scene, and was seen by a mere handful--shephards tending their flocks. Her hair was radiant and wild. Her eyes peered lucidly into the abyss. In her hands, the famed multi-hued flute, which swept so many to rejoice.

Suddenly, her consciousness exited its form, soaring beyond whatever confined it. In a flash she was a butterfly, floating ever higher towards the summit of the majestic peak that obscured so many faces from the world beyond. Ratchets of lights blazed through swirling cloud dragons.

Again her form shifted, wings stretched across the skies; the phoenix rose into the empyrean. Higher and higher. The folk below like ants went about their daily chores. Around and about. Struggling, sweating, confused, mindless, curious, warriors prowling about.

The Jade Lady landed on a crag, her flute still in her grip. She looked about, watching the battle below. Plateau upon plateau. The steppes were infused with archers and swordsmen, battle chariots racing, the spokes of their wheels spinning; iron clad horsemen whizzed like lightning bolts. Clashing swords echoed from valley to valley. Boom! Clang! Roar! What is happening? Prowlers in the grottoes, looting and raiding the nearby towns.

All of this comprised the woven tapestry of her mentalscape, more real than the turgid stream, that mindless pattern that was deemed to be the mundane and uninspired web of uncertainty--the purple, paisley indigo pattern that marked the separation between worlds, heaven and earth.

* * * * *

Let me tell you about her flute: she found it one day on a glowing stone with strange designs. What was it? A revealed treasure, a sign, a mark, a decree?

She hovered in its direction, not knowing if it was the right thing to do. It beckoned. The flute of the universe, which trained the one who played it to recognize its sound, and to those who listened, gradual appreciation--understanding.

That is how it was the first time I heard its boundless melodies. I could not know. How could I? Like a fortified expanse, locked and sealed. Who knows what treasures lie within? But listen, I did; not at first, but over time, I came to hear the tune.

* * * * *

There she was, resting on the crag. Lucid vision gazed upon the expanse. All of eternity emerged within her trance.

The flute came of its own accord, spontaneously to her lips. Her voice flowed on the wave of her breath through the metallic tube. This is how it was the first time I heard. Silent, silent and unknown. Vanishing. Returning. That is all it was, or so I dreamed.

And then, in a flash, it blazed, it flourished, it rose, it crashed, it enveloped: a burst of excitement. Wow! That is more than I had dreamed.

* * * * *

Down below, the battle raged on. They were oblivious to the sound, and to her presence up on high. So many struggled. Caught they were in circumstance. Unaware. There they were, arrows soared above their heads. Battalions charged. The ramparts were fortified. Swords clanged. The viper slithered madly about, hoping to escape, the battlecry. Help! A falcon stirred to flight. The wind beneath its wings, sending it aloft.

And there she was, the Jade Lady, with wisdom in her eyes, in her bones, in her soul. She witnessed the mess in the netherworld...And in the blink of an eye, she focused her inner vision, and in lucidity produced marvelous figures in the sky, anomalies, strange and wondrous creatures: wings, antlers, stripes and auspicious spots, the marks of perfection, the heavenly insignia.

Once again she played her song, concentrating attention, harmonized with breath. It poured forth into the pipe; such a wondrous sound did emit.

The heavenly beings heard it; they felt it seep through their every pore, like light beaming through the myriad prisms, singing praise to the spectrum of infinity.

They began to descend from the mountain heights. Flapping, galloping, wriggling, giggling.

Her song played on, silently sweeping across the horizon, beckoning the divine creatures to descend on the battle scene. "Open up their eyes, their hearts and minds!" It urged.

Thunderclap! Rain poured forth from the song. The tune of creation.

Up on high, as she played, her body arose in mid air, and began to dance, in spontaneous convulsion, controlled by patterned tunes. Here it was, alas, the cosmic whistle: finally touching their eardrums, it continued to pour.

They dropped their weapons on the ground, down below; the warriors turned their gaze toward the majestic peak, sunshine governed half the sky, rays of light glowing through the darkened clouds, like diamonds discovered in caves of coal.

Heavenly patterns filled their minds, and suddenly all began to question their own intent. What was it that made them hate? What was the deed that brought them to this state?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

You look! She right now eats sweet potato.