The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, September 30, 2005

Bennett and Cosby, sitting in a tree..?

"The Cosby comments reveal (to non-blacks at any rate) that a significant segment of the black middle and upper classes actively detest black working class men and women."
the above was offered by one of our honorable readers.  I would say it was more accurate to say that the reaction to Cosby comments revealed that some feel that a significant segment...etc.

I don't feel that Cosby's comment "reveals" that he detests anyone, although he may well detest certain behaviors, and there is a big difference.  I say this because I agree with his comments, and detest no one.  But I am deeply disappointed by certain behaviors.  I take the position that massive damage was done to black America by slavery (by the way--slavery also gave the descendants of those slaves some kick-ass opportunities, so I'm not looking for guilt here).  If that damage was done, you will find the evidence of it in either "software" or "hardware".  I'm betting "software."  How do you get an elephant to remain tied to a rail he can pluck up with a shake of his head?  You start when he is a baby elephant, and the conditioning will last.  How do you create a slave?  You impose helplessness upon them, make them dependant, in essence change a wolf into a dog, begging for scraps at the master's table.  Guess what, folks?  That conditioning is a bitch to undo, especially combined with the very real presence of institutionalized racism.  When I was growing up, it was evidenced in the black community (and still is to a degree) by phenomena such as:

1) Light skin or caucasian features being preferred.  "If you're white, you're right.  If you're brown stick  around, if you're black, get back."
2) Straight hair was, and still is, called "good" hair.  Yuck.
3)  After integration, upper-class blacks moved to whatever the best neighborhoods were, leaving much of the black working and lower-class stuck without role models.  Those left behind really were criticised as "trying to be white" if they studied, whereas previous generations fought and died for the right to earn their educations.  I was there.  I saw it happening.
4)  Poor and middle-class people everywhee tend to spend their money on perishable, depreciable items that lose their value instantly.  Those perishable, flashy items are often the only means of projecting status within a context of poverty.  These are the kinds of items Cosby was lamenting.
There is more.  Over and over again, I emphasize that I am looking at the behaviors of black (or other poor people) who work their way out, because that gives an individual the ability to change his life.  Not that society shouldn't help, but that experience shows that there is a real limit to what any society is willing to do.  And I'm not saying that the poor person is at fault for being poor.  I AM saying that they are RESPONSIBLE for being poor--just as every one of us is responsible for our own lives, a core teaching of Lifewriting that I can't change just because it hurts someone's feelings.  Years ago I used to work with a fine woman named Dawn Callan, who taught women's self-defence workshops.  She said that the hardest thing she had to do was convince a raped woman that she was responsible for her own safety, because the woman would instantly slide into guilt, blame, and shame about what has happened to her.  But ONLY if she accepts responsibility for her own safety can she have a prayer of preventing rape from happening to her again.  I KNOW how hard it might be to tell someone that they have responsibility for their poverty.  But responsibility means "the ability to respond" not "guilt for what happened.
I hold myself to these standards, but I have the same voices in my head that everyone else has.  And some of them say venomous things about my ability to reach my dreams.  Hell, no other black man has ever achieved what I want, who the hell do I think I am?  I simply have no power...
I CAN'T  let myself off the hook.  And if I believe that this is the way out, then the fact that racists also say something SIMILAR can't stop me.  I really, really, REALLY believe, based on a lifetime of study and experience, that
1) we must help each other to the limit of our strength.
2) We must help ourselves first, and act as if no one will come to save us.
This is, and has been, the core of my teaching and philosophy.  Damn near everyone who works their way out of poverty agrees.  Almost everyone still in poverty says it's someone else's fault--the most natural and human response possible.  I 100% beleive that whites, in the same situation, would behave the same way.  It has nothing to do with genetics at all.  But in all honesty I do believe the software is corrupted, and that a cultural re-boot would do a world of good for a lot of people.  America, as much as I love it, is insufficiently enlightened to undo the damage they did.  But then...who ever does?



"What're your thoughs on what causes someone to deny they're a racist, but make statements like what Bennett says?"
I think that most people define terms so that they, personally, look good.  Most people accept that racism is bad.  Most people also have some racist attitudes (I think).  So what happens is that their private definition of racism is something that excludes the attitudes of themselves and their friends.  Racism would be, by such definitions, hating black people.  "I don't hate black people, I just understand that they...aren't quite ready for the duties of democracy and civilization."  "I'm not sexist...I just believe that men and women have roles and they should stick to them."  "I'm not homophobic.  I'm not afraid of gay people.  I just believe they're sick."  You know the drill.
I think that this kind of thinking is so completely natural for human beings.  Every group thinks that they have the corner on what is good and right and moral.  Whether it's male-female, black-white, gay-straight, or whatever--the comments are always there, the superiority complex always raises its head.
I have a specific definition I use for "Race" as opposed, say, to "ethnicity" or "culture."  For the sake of simplicity (and understanding that it is over-simplistic), I'd say that you have three main racial groups--Caucasian, Asian, Negroid.  These are the primary colors of humanity, and you can make anything else out of blending and baking these.  YES THIS IS OVERLY SIMPLISTIC. YEP, YEP, YEP.  However, it makes sense of a lot of social phenomena.  Sure, members of two different ethnic groups can kill each other--but that's not the same thing.  Catholics and Protestants in Belfast could kill each other--that's ethnic and cultural, not racial.  Hispanics aren't a race.  They vary from Asian to African, with mixtures of everything else included.  Referencing back to my observations of sexuality in the movies, it is clear that, from an emotional perspective, whites consider Arabs   and light-skinned Hispanics to be "white" in the sense that white women being romantic with Antonio Banderas or Omar Shariff or Danny Thomas or Desi Arnaz causes no real problem.  Step a little further over to Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Wesley Snipes or Denzel Washington, and suddenly you have a problem.  So light-=skinned Hispanics and Arabs are kind of "exotic white people" but still within the group, in terms of emotional perception.
I think that Bill Bennett said what a lot of people think.  Fine. Then have the courage to come out and say it, so that we know not to vote for you, so that we understand what you will do with the money in the public trust.  You have the right to your opinions, and we have the right to know who and what you really are, Bennetts of the world.  Come out of the closet.  Have the courage to defend your real positions, rather than hiding behind weasel words.  Deep, down inside, you don't think we're as good as you.  Fine.  Then show us your quality by starting with honesty.  Then at least we know who the enemy is.  An honorable enemy can be the next best thing to a friend.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Bill Bennett bears his soul

Well.  I suppose I'll have to deal with this one.  Bill Bennett, former Reagan Secretary of Education, said on his radio show this morning:

I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. "

might help a bit, but not much.  There it is.  Might I ask our more conservative readers how they might want me to interpret this?  My initial thoughts:

1) The crime rate would go a lot further down if you aborted all the white babies.  But I don't think he was speaking of absolute numbers, now was he?

2)  I believe no one would say such a thing, or indeed excuse such a statement, unless in his heart he believed the problem was intrinsic to race, biologically.  In other words, deep in his heart, he believes black people are intrinsically not the moral equivilent of whites. 
A person who felt that blacks are, statistically, more apt to commit and be arrested for crimes, but that that tendency is due to social conditions simply wouldn't have said something like this--even if they believed it to be true.  Such people tend to phrase things a little differently.

So, my conclusion is that deep in his heart of hearts, he thinks blacks are barely educable heathens.  The fact that he was Secretary of Education is terrifying--because he had the ability to determine how tax dollars would be spent.  A person who deep down thinks that blacks are less is also going to believe it is pointless to support programs to effect social and educational change because, after all, like THE BELL CURVE says, nothing can help. 

Am I reading this wrong?  Is there anyone out there who can defend these statements as anything other than a racist attitude (Racist: my definition.  A person who ascribes significant intellectual or moral differences to different racial groups.)

I would like not to be utterly enraged by the barely submerged venom in a comment like this.  Any thoughts besides the obvious.  God, I'm trying to be polite here, and I'm not feeling polite at all.


What will happen as you grow--WARNING!

the following is a letter from a student ("Mick") who has been dealing with deep, deep self-worth issues for years, and finally starting to actually process this stuff by pushing at all three levels.  Watch what happens:

I hate to keep bothering you with this stuff.  I know that you are busy
and have a million things going on, but I don't know who else to talk
You've explained that my subconscious is going to throw up the most vile
shit that it can while I am doing this.  I understand that, but I am not
prepared for what is happening now.  I am so damned confused that it
doesn't make any sense.

I've always tried to listen to my instincts and do what they tell me.  I
understand and have observed that they are almost never wrong about what
steps I should take.  Whats going on now is throwing me off.

My problem is with my wife.  When I look in her eyes I don't feel anything
any more.  I have been distancing myself from her without being aware of
what I was doing.  When we talk now we stay on safe subjects.  I don't
stray into the minefield like I used to.  I don't feel any pressing need
to work on the relationship.  I still do for her like I used to. 
I feel about as perfectly empty as a
person can.

I have contemplated divorce.  I find myself working out how I would get
back and forth to work, how I would need to have extra money coming in
to cover child support.  When I think about her sleeping with some other
man the usual panic feeling that I get isn't there.  As a matter of fact
there is no feeling at all.  We are up to a solid month between times
when we have sex.  I used to get upset because I wanted it more than she
does.  Now she gets upset because I don't approach her at all.  I don't
really miss it, either that or I've suppressed my desires to the point
where I no longer feel them.

She has pushed me so hard for her independence.  She wants to be able to
come and go when she pleases.  She doesn't want me to drive her anywhere
because she feels that this is just a way for me to control what she
does.  (Its based on fear for her, but she doesn't seem to see that). 

I understand that most of this is just idle thought, but its strong. 
And when I query my instincts I get no response.  Every time I sit down
and think about it, it occurs to me that in all of my daydreams,
fantasies, plans that I made when I was little, I was never in a
relationship with anyone.  In all of my internal fantasy I am alone and
doing things that matter to me.  No wife, no kids.  Just me on a
sailboat, or writing, or walking along the beach.

I feel so lost.  I am afraid to talk to her about this.  Her normal
response to any internal problem that I might have is usually anger
based.  She makes no attempt to understand, she just reacts.  As far as
she is concerned I should be okay as I am and happy with that.  She's
not happy the way she is, but she ignores it.  Thats why I won't work
out with her.  It's why I don't try to meditate with her.  She questions
every single move I make.  And then she gets upset when I won't make a
decision.  When I've asked her about it in the past she says that she
questions everything because she wants to be sure that I am sure about
my decision.  What she fails to understand is that I don't make a
decision until I have thought things through.  I am wired that way.  I
don't do ANYTHING without some contemplation.  That way I am comfortable
with my decision.  The result of her questioning me is confusion.  I end
up waffling and then she gets upset.

Like I said, some of this is idle speculation, but some of it is deadly
serious.  I always thought that she and I would be it for the rest of my
life and now I am considering my life just based on me and my kids.

I don't know what to do.  I sense that talking to her about this would
be a big mistake.  One of her favorite phrases is "I can do bad on my
own", basically implying that she wouldn't care if I did leave, she'd be
just fine.  Of course, all this does for me is reinforce one of my basic
molecular level beliefs that no woman has ever loved, needed, or wanted
a man in her life.  I'm not sure where this belief comes from, but its
one of the basic structures that my psyche is built on.  Way down deep,
in a place that I hate to admit exists, I believe that women only use
men to get security.  Other than that all men could die and women would
not miss them, so long as they can shop.

The problem with this thought is that it tends to skew my notion of
love.  I guess that I don't really believe that love exists.  I haven't
seen it.  I haven't truly felt it.  What I always thought of as love was
simply sexual attraction.  When the attraction faded, so did the
feeling.  This has been my experience as far back as I can remember.  I
watched my parents go through this.  I watched every married or single
friend that I have go through this.   Every failed relationship hammered a new nail into the belief.

I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to unload like that.  I wish there was someone
I could talk to.

all love for others begins with self lvoe, the awareness that we are precious, and worth whatever pain it takes to bring our true capacities to the fore.  The fact that there are biological necessities driving human relationships doesn't change the reality of love, any more than the fact we need food changes the fact that we love it.  Man and women SHOULD be independant, sutonomous beings who see, in each other, the possibility of greater completeness.  For years, your self-doubt has poisoned you, and your relationship.  Now you are actually beginning to process this stuff (Mick is meditating, working out, setting goals.)  As you break down the walls, you are going to crap pieces of brick, man.  It's as simple as that.  Keep your eyes on the goal.  Get clearer about what you want, in all three arenas. And in the spiritual arena, your most important goal is to LOVE YOURSELF.  Only then will you be able to really feel love for that magnificent woman of yours.  I've met her.  She is a gem.  She is waiting for you to step up to the plate and claim your humanity.  You're on the way, Mick--what you are doing takes both time and courage.  You have both.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Corpse Bride (2005)

I'd love to give this one an "A", but can't, quite.  Not as consistently wonderful as "The Nightmare Before Christmas" but still a visual delight as well as a touching, rather twisted love story, Tim Burton's latest stop-motion musical treat is the story of a young man (Johnny Depp) who accidentally proposes marriage to...well, you can guess.  Well, if the visuals, the voice work, and the story are all aces, why not an "A"?
Simple.  The music is second class.  Danny Elfman just missed it here.  I don't find myself humming a single tune from the film, and that is death for a musical.  And I might want to  write about the death of the musical some seems that no one remembers how to make them.  Sigh.
At any rate, "Corpse Bride" is simply packed with eerie delights that look as if they might have been designed by Edward Gorey.  It also has a sweetness at the core that can't be resisted...ultimately, I enjoyed it just fine, but I would give just anything to have the creative musical team behind "Beauty and the Beast" or "Aladdan" back again.  Sigh.
Give it a "B."

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Forrest Gump (1995)

As I prepare the new Lifewriting course (almost ready now!) I'm creating essays on 50 films.  This will enable the student to simply watch movies and absorb the core of the system while they enjoy themselves. 
Here's the first draft on one:
Forrest Gump is a tale of innocence, tested during thirty-five of the most turbulent years of American history.  Gump, a man of low normal intelligence (85) varies widely in his abilities depending on the needs of the writers, but this is a fable, not a documentary, a fact clearly established with the metaphor of a drifting feather, floating on the wind, finding the exact right place--the hands of a Forrest Gump, who will treasure it without question, and with a spirit of childlike wonder.  Make no mistake--the man is an idiot, and so described constantly in the script itself.  But he is also one of the best and purest spirits ever to grace a major motion picture screen.

HERO CONFRONTED WITH CHALLENGE:  What is Forrest's challenge?  In some ways he never changes, not a bit, even as the world changes around him fantastically.  He may not have intelligence, but he has phenomenal luck.  I would say his challenge is to survive a turbulent life with few gifts, and maintain his innocence.
REJECTS CHALLENGE:  No.  Forrest embraces every task placed before him.
ACCEPTS CHALLENGE: Armed with his mother's love and a perfect body-mind link (note the fantasy running abilities, as well as the perfect ping-pong coordination) he sallies forth unto life.
ROAD OF TRIALS:  Endless.  School, college, Vietnam, the Civil Rights era, the world of business.  On and on it goes.
ALLIES AND POWERS:  Lt. Dan, Bubba, Jenny (the love of his life, and perhaps even the metaphorical feather), his mother.  He has intuition, vast physicality, absolute courage, loyalty, a heart as wide as the horizon. 
CONFRONT EVIL-DEFEATED:  Forrest's only flaw is that he cannot win the love of Jenny, his childhood sweetheart.  Sexually abused by her father, she seeks out men who hurt her, and is incapable of seeing her worth.  Over and over again, Forrest tries to rescue her, but she won't take the lifeline.  The saddest moment, darkest moment is probably the morning after they finally make love, and she leaves him yet again.  The expression on his face is heartbreaking.
DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL:  Forrest is is most contemplative at this moment, and probably comes the closest he ever does in his life to giving up.
LEAP OF FAITH:  Forrest is what he is: a force of nature.  He cannot give up.  He is pure heart, and must be who he is, as he has been, without changing. 
CONFRONT EVIL--VICTORIOUS:  He finally marries Jenny.  Although it is too late for them to have a life together, there is a major victory for him...perhaps the most important of all.
STUDENT BECOMES THE TEACHER:  He and Jenny created a child together on that one night.  And the boy is smart.  Still, Forrest teaches him what he knows.  He may not be intelligent, but he knows exactly how to be a good human being.  And more importantly, he knows himself.

Monday, September 26, 2005

My Life and Goals part II

I first became interested in writing...God, I can't say.  I've always enjoyed telling stories (unimaginative adults called them "lies.") and tales of the fantastic always held my attention for some reason.  Possibly because ordinary life held pain for me.  Of course, pain in life is inevitable, so why this?  I can't really say.  Perhaps it was because I felt so excluded from the mythologies that my friends and culture embraced.  I do remember that my first story was called "The Yeti" and dealt with an abominable snowman in a Canadian lumber camp.  The hero's name was Bill Conway, a character I continued to write about through High School.  That first story was written in 3rd grade, I think. 
I started by writing short stories and scripts and comic books--all kinds of stuff, whatever held my interest.  But all of it was adventure, or SF, or fantasy.  I read tons of adventure and SF/fantasy novels--all of the usual Tarzan and Conan stuff, plus lots of James Bond, The Saint, Mike Hammer, and so forth.  When I was in college I tried to stop writing for a couple of years, but then entered a writing contest where we read our stories to an audience.  I remember the expressions on people's faces when I read, and it touched something very deep inside me, and I decided to drop out of school and concentrate all my attention there.  NOTE: THIS WAS A STUPID DECISION.  I SHOULD HAVE STAYED IN COLLEGE.  Ah, well, live and learn.
For years following this I wrote stories and sent them to be published.  At some point, probably when I was about 26, I decided that I was getting a bit discouraged, so I set myself a goal: 100 stories all finished and circulating to the various magazines, and I had no right to evaluate the success or failure of my efforts until I reached number 100.  That gave me a concrete end-point to aim at.
About a year or so later, I decided to find a role model, a mentor.  I knew I was good, but I wasn't good enough to sell.  Something was missing.  So a friend's advice sent me looking for Larry Niven, who attended the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society meetings in Burbank every Thursday night.  Larry graciously agreed to look at a story I'd written, and I subsequently convinced him to give me a shot as a collaborator.  NOTE THAT I'D ALREADY DONE MY HOMEWORK.  If I hadn't been able to show him polished work, I would have been blown out the door in my first encounter.
Everything else came after that.  I listened to what he said, and did as he told me.  I did most of the lifting and carrying in those collaborations, because that was the way for me to learn most rapidly.
My first work with Larry, "The Locusts", was nominated for Best Novella in 1980.  Our next project was "Dream Park," my first novel.  By the time Dream Park came out, I had a dozen other stories in print.
Niven and his great friend and collaborator, Jerry Pournelle, came to me with an idea for an SF horror piece suggested by an odd ecology lectured upon by genius biologist Jack Cohen.  They wanted me to work with them on a novelette based on this.
They'd just had a NY  Times #1 bestseller, FOOTFALL, and I knew I'd be an utter ass to do this as anything less than a novel.  I pushed for that, and to this day, Jerry thinks it was his idea.  Of course, maybe MINE is the misty memory...but that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.


My own life and goals--part 1

Some questions to spend a couple of days on. 
For those of us interested in writing, it would be interesting to hear some specifics from your own life and background.

How did you first get interested in writing and science fiction? What steps did you take to become a published writer? Did you write a short story per week or did you immediately start writing novels? Did you have your first novel published or did you write a few "trunk" novels before you hit gold? How did the collaboration with Niven and Pournelle come about?

As a teacher, it would be interesting to hear about your own experience, successes, and frustrations along the way.
How do you go about choosing goals? My first thought was that if you choose a goal which is impossible or destructive and give it that much motivation, you could get yourself into real trouble.

I'll start with the last one first.  I look for the balance of body, mind, and spirit.  If I can't find a goal in one area, I'll "bootstrap" myself with the goal of finding a goal!  All goals must be in alignment with my values and beliefs (I constantly work at clarifying those) so it really isn't possible to have a destructive goal.  For instance, a goal of working out three hours a day would cut into my family time--not to mention destroy my body!  A goal of spending 80 hours a week working would be similar.  Each goal has to support the other two areas, see? 
An impossible goal?  All of my goals have been accomplished by other people--although possibly not in the combination I choose them.  I wouldn't have a goal to "flap my wings and fly" although I might have one to "learn to hang-glide."  The second is possible.  If you mean "impossible" in terms of "I can't do it," well, Jeeze, I've had lots of those.  Failing to reach a goal doesn't kill you!  It teaches you about the territory you are traversing.  I deliberately choose goals bigger than I am when I make them.  That's part of the fun!

More later...


A History of violence (2005)

This latest film by horror master David Cronenberg is arguably his best film.  Certainly his most carefully measured film since "The Dead Zone," this tale of a small-town coffee shop owner (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife (Maria Bello) and investigates the way their lives are changed forever by an act of violence.  I'll say no more--the less you know, the better this movie is.  I'll say that the performances are top-notch (William Hurt is especially enjoyable, but Ed Harris is pure seething danger), the violence is savage, the sex is just great.  Yum.  And it all works as it should.  I could go way into my thoughts on this one, but I'd spoil it for people who haven't had the pleasure.  See it.  We'll talk later.


Friday, September 23, 2005

Triangle Control-Pause Goal Setting

Here is the "atom bomb" of goal setting techniques.  It is advanced, but some of you are ready for it, so here 'tis--
Write well defined, written goals, with plans for their accomplishment.
Visualize your "triangle goal" while meditating morning and night.  On the EXHALATION, while your lungs are empty, visualize that triangle, rotating between your physical, your mental (career) and your emotional/spiritual (meditating) goals.  As your body starts to protest the lack of air, lock in that financial goal HARD.  Think: "to earn my next breath, I MUST see this clearly." 
Next, when exercising (and you should do some kind of exercise on a daily basis.  You eat every day, right?), visualize a triangle--this one the triumverate of breath, muscle movement, and skeletal alignment (structure).  As you move, note the way muscle and bone create breath.  Concentrate only on the exhale, allowing the inhale to occur passively.

NEXT, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY:  Five times a day, breathe for 60 seconds, and visualize that triangle as you do.
Your unconscious mind will start to link your goal with the need for oxygen.  Motivation will be a thing of the past--you will have a STARVING HUNGER to reach your goal.  You had better the hell have a dream diary/meditation practise set up, because your subconscious will start to throw up oodles of crap at a rate you won't believe.  Every day work for greater clarity, and greater emotional intensity.  Keep breaking the goals down into smaller and smaller chunks, until you find a "chunk size" that you can actually accomplish in a day.  Then slowly, your tolerances will change.

Good luck, guys.  This is very, very serious stuff, and only for people who really want to change FAST!

The Quantum Jump

Just received this note from a student--
(Identifying characteristics have been changed, of course)
Call her "Bonnie"

Hey Steve,

I need your advice on something.

I have reached a pretty major emotional or maybe mental barrier.  Almost
one year ago I started a business that I can run from home.  I think
that we talked about this before, or at least part of it.  

I have everything that I need to run a business.  Everything except the one crucial ingredient. 
The proper mindset.

It's frustrating.  I more or less know what I have to do to bring
customers in.  I have studied this stuff to death.  I know my niche
areas.  I understand the dynamics of being a business owner.  I've read
every book, pamphlet, leaflet or newsletter that I come across, but
every time I start to get my promotional packet together, or pick up the
phone I lock up.

My drive, desire and motivation evaporate.  None of the stuff that I
want (truly want) seems to be enough to get me started again.  Its
become a pretty vicious cycle.  I get motivated, plan for my next step
and then fall flat on my face when I start to move forward.  This has
lead to some pretty pathetic self loathing episodes.  Worse, I am
keeping whats happening to me from my husband.  There has been a lot of tension
between the two of us lately and I am not prepared to share my latest
failures with him.  I think that  he doubts me enough already.

I am still meditating, my mind is calm as it can get.  When it comes
time to do what I have to do I simply go blank.  Nothing seems to
matter.  I know that its not true.  What I am trying to do is paramount
to my ability to take care of my family, so it matters a great deal.  I
haven't been working out like I should, but I am (exercising aerobically)  every day.  My weight is down, I am watching what I am eating.  For the most part I feel pretty good inside, so I am
at a loss as to why this is happening.  It's just like running into a
wall that I cannot see, but I sure can feel it.  Worse still I am
concerned about what this is doing to my long term growth.  There are
times when I truly hate myself and the weakness within me.  There are
others who make their way in the world with a lot less fuss and muss.  I
refuse to give up trying, but like I said, its very frustrating.

Any ideas that I can use to tear down this damned wall?

Dear Bonnie:

it's not "like a wall", it IS a wall.  That wall is the edge of your current self-concept.  It is made up of all the beliefs, values, experiences, monkey-voices, and images in your mind.  Your task will be to remember that THIS IS COMPLETELY NATURAL.  The voices in your head will try to weaken you by suggesting that this temporary problem is eternal and says something deep and meaningful about yoru capacities.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 

I am going to use your situation as an example for the next few days, because ALL of us hit this space. You are doing everything right.  Remember the 1% rule?  Well, you've gone as far as a straight-line 1% will take you, and have to back down a bit, rest, and get ready for the next step.
1)   Now that you are meditating, create a triangle in your mind.  Visualize it.  Put your desired body at one corner, an image of your desired career at the second, and yourself meditating at the third.  Clarify the images as much as possible.  For those who think they cannot visualize: what color is your car?  How do you know that?  You got a misty picture, didn't you?  That's the level of your visualization, not some razor-sharp photo perfect nonsense. 
2)  Write down your One year goals in body, mind, and spirit.  Be certain to read them every morning and every night.  NOW LISTEN:  Your task is to become familiar with the specific crap your mind throws at you.  Every time it gives you grief, WRITE IT DOWN.  No judgements.  Remember--it is just trying to protect you from the pain of failure.  Your assignment, should you decide to accept it, is to catalog the defenses.  Make a goal to call a client.  Set a time.  See how you stop yourself.
3)  Your task is to get as clear as possible on where you want to go (the goals) and the inner and outer resources it will take you to get there.  Yours are mostly emotional, Bonnie.  They start with self-love and self-acceptance.  You must never speak to yourself in a voice you wouldn't use to discipline, correct, and communicate with your own child.  You HAVE to love yourself--understand that you are dealing with very very real emotional stuff here, and without self-love and acceptance, you won't have the energy to transform.
4)  More diary work:  what are the values, beliefs, and emotional charges necessary to get to your goal?  How do these vary with what is currently floating in your head?  During meditation, see your goal, the last step of your goal--maybe depositing a big check, or sitting with your accountant as he shows you you have a net worth of 1/2 million dollars.  Can you see that?  If not, back off to a more modest goal, until you can see it.  Now back off to a point half way between then and now.  What is THAT step.  Can you see that?  Back off again, another half-way, in incremental steps, until you can see what is happening in three months, one month, one week, and tomorrow.  THIS IS SERIOUS, DIFFICULT WORK--and can change your life.  More on this later.
5) Every morning read your goals.  Every night read your goals.  Every morning visualize yoru goals, and GET PUMPED UP.  Charge them with emotion.  Visualize the as you exercise.  Write downt he emotional garbage that comes up for you.  Bonnie--if you'd use the discussion board to speak about what is happening to you, the other Lifewriting folks can help you, and you'd be helping them by opening the door to honest communication.  You are too isolated, and need to speak of these things.  I invite you to use this resource.
Write it down
visualize it daily
Charge it with emotion.
Ask God to take the ultimate results out of your hands
Love yourself.
Try to change no more than 1% per week.
And Bonnie?  You're doing great.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


So, then...what are my favorite resources for mental and emotional development?  Let's go backwards from the end point.  What are my goals?  Success in all three arenas, in balance.  What is the primary tool for reaching those goals?  Written goals themselves, and the success patterns leading to them.  So lets take a look at a couple of the patterns.  Note:  there are so many patterns because none of them hit it "on the nose" any more than a description of an apple tastes like an apple, understand?  If you see enough of them, you'll sttart to grasp the truth, however...
1) Written goals in all three arenas, and timed plans for their accomplishment.
2) A mind closed tightly against negative influences.
1)Note the behavior pattern you wish to change.
2) Note what you want to change it to.
3) Raise your energy level
4) Practice the new pattern
5) Fail successfully.
6) Start over
1)  Select goals.
2) Find role models who have already accomplished them.
3) Do what they did, utilizing flexibile behaviors.
4) Maintain sensory accuity to your results.
5)Adjust behaviors and begin cycle again.
Can you see the overall pattern, and how it can be applied to anything?  If we add the lessons of the Hero's Journey, the overall resources can be seen pretty clearly.  
1)  Clear goals.  THINK AND GROW RICH  is a beautiful, primary source.  Note: NOT "Think and Grow Rich--a Black Choice", because Dennis Kimbro, who wrote it, left out a couple of crucial techniques--probably because they seemed out of phase with his Christian belief patterns. The original book simply studied the lives of 300 successful men in the 1920's, and boiled down what they did.  It is the best book ever written on the subject of success--and possibly always will be, because it was the first, and everything else was influenced by it.  HOW TO GET CONTROL OF YOUR TIME AND YOUR LIFE is also terrific.
2) Dealing with your fears and taking action.  UNLIMITED POWER by Tony Robbins was the first popularization of NLP, and contains a really fine cross-section of powerful techniques for programming and aligning your subconscious mind.  UNLIMITED POWER--A BLACK CHOICE is pretty damned good, and I know the guy who wrote it with Robbins--a very smart and savvy brother named
Joseph Mcclendon III.  PSYCHO-CYBERNETICS, THE POWER OF POSITIVE THINKING, THE GOLDEN KEY, AS A MAN THINKETH, etc. also have power here--but they generally state the same thing: we become what we think about.  NLP offers specific tools for fine-tuning thought.  CORE TRANSFORMATION by Connirae Andreas of NLP Comprehensive in Colorado is the only NLP book with a spiritual base, and I think the world of it.
3) The Road of trials.  This is the concept of moving forward at the rate of about 1% per week.  Try to do more than that, and you'll burn out.  Slowly, slowly. Or, as the guides say on Kilimanjaro, "Pole, Pole."  A BOOK OF FIVE RINGS is wonderful for understanding the life path that leads to mastery. And speaking of that, MASTERY by George Leonard is also fantastic.
4) Allies and Powers.  You will need to learn to identify positive role models, and to extract the essence of their behaviors and beliefs.  NLP is excellent here, as well.  The "Deep Trance Identification" technique may be the best of them all, and there are CDs on the internet that will guide you through the process.
You will also need to create Mastermind groups.  If you have no exterior allies, then you need to go deeply enough into yourself to make contact with the God-force within you, which can sustain you through long, long, periods of lonliness.  ENERGY ANATOMY by Caroline Myss is terrific for this.
5) Dark Night of the Soul.  You have to learn to raise your energy.  Ideally, you should eat, move, and rest with the intention of increasing health and energy continuously.  Plan to put a huge amount of surplus in the bank, so that you can withdraw it during times of emotional depression or stress.  Basic knowledge of exercise: seek out the Kettlebell work on  When you're ready for a deeper understanding, check out Coach Sonnon's work on is more esoteric, less easy to apply, but as deep as the ocean, folks.  Diet?  The healthiest, longest-lived people on the planet tend to be vegetarians who eat a bit of fish, milk, and egg.  Do your research.  If you are living a high-energy, aggressive lifestyle, you'll need to add some chicken and beef.  Research.  If you are ready for a disciplined, highly focused approach to diet, look at THE WARRIOR DIET.  Not for the faint of heart.  LIGHT ON YOGA by BKS Iyengar is a seminal work.  Damned near a holy book for the body.
6) Leap of faith.  Find an ancient, holy text to read and study.  You needn't believe in the literal mythology, or the common interpretation.  Seek to read between the lines.  These books have survived because they offered countless generations solice and strength.  Yes, they have been distorted and abused, but there is also core truth. Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism...all have texts that can uplift you and help you through the darkest days.  There are others.  Find one that speaks to your heart, and plunge in for a lifetime. 
Oh--and let's add Behavioral flexibility.  This is creativity.  It manifests on both physical, emotional, and intellectual levels.  Yoga will teach all three.  Books like DRAWING ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE BRAIN, and MIND MAPPING can set  you free.
8) Student becomes the teacher.  Having a perspective on your actions that removes them from the simple context of ego and self-enrichment.  You need a cause larger than you are.  You need to believe in something that will live after you die.  Again, the great spiritual texts are utterly priceless in this regard.
There are more.  These are the ones that I pray my children read, that they might understand who their father was, and go far beyond me.  These are the books I recommend without reservation.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Mastermind--and Friendship

A very important question arose about friends, and when to "cut them off" from hurting you.  The answer is--INSTANTLY.  You don't have the life to waste.  That doesn't mean hurting them, shaming them, or whatever--although, if you change your habits, they will often ACCUSE you of these things.
there are two separate issues here, which are really part of the same question: How shall we make a better world?  And How can be be the best people we can be?
to over-simplify grossly, we are both light and shadow.  The two aspects interact to create depth, so there really isn't a possibility of being all one or the other--not and stay on THIS level of reality!  Call it a Life drive and a Death drive.  The life drive tries to protect us, the death drive seeks to destroy us.  A problem here--too much life drive, and  we can become afraid of everything, unable to risk.  Too much death drive, and we can take chances that destroy our families and careers and health.  curiously, alcoholism can be, not an embracing of death, but of life: a desperate avoidance of the realities that would cause ego-death, and an attempt to find some joy in an apparently joyless world.  It is very, very complicated--if it weren't don't you think someone would have created a fool-proof, simple philosophy by now?  Jeeze, they've been trying for six thousand years!
Remember the quote by Nelson Mandela?  The one that says the world needs all the light it can get, and we don't have the right to play small?  That comes in here.  Our friends are as damaged as we are.  As we "hang out" with them, we all convince ourselves that we're cool, and doing the best we can, and that this is as good as life gets.  We're anesthetized by drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, food, TV, whatever.  Now then.  If you start to change, you realize that you've been sitting in a cave, mistaking shadows for light.  As you move into the daylight, your friends will fear the fear they've buried--and it's not pleasant. They will try to drag you back, to test you, to "blame you for making them feel bad" and so forth.  In a dysfunctional family?  Just try to get healthy and watch mom and dad guilt trip you to try to force you back into whatever position they understand and feel comfortable with.  There is no end to it, and peoplle will literally drag their loved ones down into the grave with them, attempting to hold onto the familiar and the "safe."
But guess what?  If you can change healthfully, AND STILL LOVE YOUR FRIENDS, while never allowing them to hurt you, BUT NOT REJECTING THEM, slowly, they will come toward the light.  After all, they desperately want to heal, to grow.  They've simply lost confidence.  They've been lied to  so many many times, told to feel guilt, blame and shame about the failures in their lives.  They are waiting for you to abandon them, as they perceive the world has.  If you don't, but simultaneously lose that weight, or stop drinking, or find a healthy mate, or a healthy career, slowly, they will come to you and whisper that they want to know how you did it.  But you have to keep the love connection, you cannot judge them, you have to continue to see the divinity within them, and NEVER see yourself above them--although your behaviors may well be more enlightened than theirs.  Man oh man, is this a delicate balance to maintain.  Yow! YOU HAVE AN OBLIGATION TO SUCCEED, to be happy, and healthy, and sane, and wildly in love.  Then, you are the light that shows them the direction to go.  You become an avatar.
On a much simpler level, the "Mastermind" group must contain only those who are in complete alignment with you.  A single horse pulling in the opposite direction will upset the carriage.  Better to cut him loose.  You can have such a person as a friend, but never in the Mastermind that meets at least once a week to coordinate goals and plans.  If you have no one, then you must align your own subconscious, and jsut learn to trust yourself, walking alone until you have healed enough to earn a place at a "higher" level, with the enlightened souls you will find there.  And let me tell you--they will be happy to see you!  The climb is lonely, and we all lose people along the way.  Have faith.  There will be new friends.  And if your old friends, and family, see that you have moved up without moving away, you become a force in their lives too. 
Want to save a drowning swimmer?  Get your own damned feet on dry land and then throw them a life preserver, otherwise they'll drag you down with them.  And hate themseves for doing it.  Deep inside, your friends are praying you make it.  It gives them hope, even if they can't tell you that.


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Inner and Outer values, and Katrina

Had another conversation with yet another friend, who did the "what was wrong with those people in Louisiana?  They voluntarily stayed in the path of the hurricane, and then demanded that the government pay their way...THOSE people..."  this person is a somewhat self-loathing mixed blood African American, who borders on being a racist, spouts the most radical and unpleasant Right-Wing rhetoric (there is equally radical and unpleasant Left-Wing rhetoric, and there is more moderate rhetoric on both sides.  this person loves Michael Savage and his ilk.)  Responsibility, responsibility, responsibility.  And yet, in  his own life, my friend is in a loveless marriage, which is  his mate's fault.  He is trapped in an unrewarding job for the sake of security--forced to by external circumstances.  Is often paralyzed with unreasoning fears, which he is afraid to address.  Is chronically fatigued, and wants to find a doctor who will take total responsibility for the cure.  Changes definitions of terms to match whatever he wants them to be, so that he can win arguments.    In many ways, this is the most fear-filled person I know, who takes no real responsibility for his body, his relationships, or his career situation, who can make few life-affecting decisions because every fear and concern is snarled up with another one like a Gordian Knot.  Cannot meditate or exercise.  Is afraid to look within himself for the answers.  I am very, very worried for him.
And this is where the political orientation is so troublesome.  the Right demands a high level of personal responsibility, the idea that we must be self-reliant, and are responsible for the results we get.  Fine.  But my friend blames everything outside himself for his life situation, and simply cannot look at his own programming, emotions, decisions and actions as prime motivators of his unhappiness.  But he simultaneously points the finger at poor people without a fraction of his resources, and blames them for freezing under pressure.  Blames them for demanding that the government lend aid, or take responsibility.  Can you see how this is, literally, the edge of dysfunction?
If you demand more of others than you demand of yourself, if you say others are responsible for their own misery--while you yourself, of course, are a victim of your life--there is something askew in the internal machinery.  It would be virtually impossible to leverage your intelligence and energy with confused belief systems like this.  So I strongly suspect that my friend is terrified of his lack of internal responsibility, and projects this fear and loathing onto others.  If you're going to demand that others take responsibility, fine.  You'd better take it yourself, though, or else that incongruity will kick your butt.  It becomes a deep and profound disconnect between your inner and outer worlds.
Of course, I have a bit of this myself--in the opposite direction.  I demand a higher level of personal responsibility from myself than I ever demand of others (although I'm delighted to see it when it's present!) Why?  Because I can see, and know personally, how difficult it is to keep things going on all three levels.  Because I know few people who really have a taste for taking personal responsibility in all three arenas.  Virtually everyone is "blown out" in one or more of them.  And about 90% of those will claim that someone or something other than themselves is responsible for their situation.
So...someone who preaches a Right-Wing ideology, claiming that it is easy to take responsibility (or implying that they do, so so should everyone else!) had better show me something, dude.  They'd better have their crap together in life, and provide an example of possibility.  If not, they'd better not lie about it.  If they do, as far as I'm concerned, they are projecting their own Shadow-self onto the less advantaged, terrified that if they screw up as much as they do with the benifit of social advantages, that if those advantages were taken away they would spiral into the abyss.
and what about my own incongruity?  Maybe I'm kidding myself, but I think that as we become more and more evolved, we look at the work it takes, and become more understandign and compassionate of those incapable of making that leap.  We thank our teachers, and mentors, for giving us the strength, and telling us the truth even when we didn't want to hear it.
So when I say we are all ultimately responsible for where we are in life, I mean it.  I also know that this is a truth that is possibly the most difficult thing for people to hear.  And that those born to social disadvantage will, because of that natural, universal human tendency to deny responsibility, fall much further than one born with a silver spoon.  They are human beings with equal quality. But without a safety net, they crash upon the rocks, whereas those born to advantage have social safety net after safety net to catch them.
THIS is why I think that it is love, and frustration, and rage against an uncaring society, and hope, that gets someone like Cosby to say the things he says.  It is like a coach at half-time, screaming at his team that they don't have the habits, the focus, the commitment, the discipline, displayed by the other team.  What difference does it make that the other team had advantages?  When you're in the game, you can't ask the other team to slow down or help out.  You either rise to the occassion, or you lose, period.  It's not about what is fair, or right, or good, or nice.  It's about what is.  The other team is there to win.  If you will win, you must rise to match them.  PERIOD. 
Friends, if I could push a button and reverse the relative position of the races in America, or the world, I'd be happy to, and with the biggest grin you ever saw.  But I can't .  If I could open the hearts of all mankind and help them see the vast arenas in their own lives where they don't take responsibility, and therefore increase their compassion for how easy it is for those less advantaged to believe they cannot help themselves, I'd do that to.  But I can't.  What I CAN do is speak to young men or young women who, like me, had little support, could not wait for society to change, but wanted to know what they can do.  Wanted to know what, if they were willing to give it everything they have, to die in the attempt, to throw away all excuses and focus every bit of their life energy on the road to success...what, in the name of God, they can do other than ask for help.  And THIS I can do something about. 
It is not that I don't care.  It is that I care too damned much to believe in miracles, or that human beings will suddenly, overnight, become vastly more enlightened.  That is a dream far far far less likely than the dream that an individual might open her eyes, see that terrible hard truth, and struggle like life and death to save herself and her family. 
And you know what the most frustrating thing will be?  Every time one does, she will turn around and tell the others how she did it...and they won't believe her.  If middle-class people believe they cannot control their weight, their relationships, and their finances, it is a thousand times easier for poor people to fall into that trap.  Look into your own lives.  Own the lies you've told yourself about your failures. 
And for goodness sake, have a little compassion...while simultaneously being as merciless as that coach at half-time.  Or your team has no prayer at all.
Game over.

The conscious mind

Had a chance to speak to an old friend of mine, who, just a couple of years ago, didn't believe that the subconscious mind really existed.  It was all conscious to her.  Now she believes it exists, but that the conscious is still the part that must be enlisted in order to make change. Not surprisingly, this friend (Call her Maddy) is a hundred pounds overweight, and has fluctuated wildly--from very skinny to very fat, with only the briefest stops in between.  She has a long-term relationship which seems loving and supportive--although they don't exactly live together.  Fine.  And she is knowledgeable and canny about career things.  Again, Fine.  But that weight is clear that she is dealing with major emoitonal issues there, issues that try to defend themselves by sending her down the wrong track. She can't meditate--will fall asleep if she tries.   This is a person with an extreme internal conflict, a set of unconscious values and beliefs that demand that she never find her physical balance--she can go to one extreme or the other, but that's it.
the sad thing is that she's so smart, but doesn't grasp that we are all just exactly smart enough to screw ourselves over. 
My view is that the best thing the conscious mind can do is put us where the subconscious can be properly accessed: meditation, yoga, therapy, hypnosis, etc.--and then get the hell out of the way.  The truth is that change happens all the time without conscious awareness, in both a positive and a negative sense.  We can have the best CONSCIOUS intentions in the world to stop smoking, cheating, to do our bills, to exercise, to diet, etc.  Notice how often our conscious intentions fall flat?  It is only when the "boys in the basement" are along for the ride that things start happening.  Then, one day we wake up and notice we've lost weight, or are in a relationship, or are making money, or have finished that book.  And sometimes we don't notice it until someone else tells us "wow!  You've lost weight!  You're sparring much better!  This story is much more honest!"  Sometimes we don't hear that for years.  Sometimes we never do.
the conscious mind thinks its us. It is not. It is small, and relatively weak, and desperately wants to be in control.  When we try to put it in control, it veers all over the road like a 5-year old trying to drive a truck. This lady is always trying to help others, including help them in arenas where she herself is stuck!  That, my friends, is the blind leading the blind.  You can only help people get where you yourself have been, no matter how smart you are, or how positive your intentions.  If you're stuck, you'll always give them the advice that you yourself are ready to hear.  And you'll stay stuck together.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Cosby on Black America

Yeah, I know we've been over this and over this.  but I want my people--and that means ALL PEOPLE OF GOOD WILL, to win.  I know, or believe, that I have special insight into those who are impoverished, a visually identifiable ethnic minority, creative, lonely, or strive to be physically fit, because those have been, in the course of my life, my challenges.  So I speak to those things.  I'd bet we all fit into one of those categories!  I just got this e-mail, and it deals with the question of what the poor owe themselves.  I'll make it clear again: I wouldn't mind a society where each and every citizen was entitled to the level of food, shelter, medical care, and education that that is now available to inmates in state penetentiaries.  Why?  Because all they have to do to get it is rape or murder YOU.  So let's remove the lower level of Maslow's heirarchy from their motivations for violence, but at the same time keep the real goodies for those with higher levels of focus and commitment.  But that's just my attitude.  Until that world arrives, the best solution for each of us, as individuals, is to live our lives as we wish the entire world would operate.  And that means that, as did my own mother, we must each take responsibility for our families--even as we open our hearts to be charitable to our neighbors.  Yes, it's a careful balance.  But I see no other answer.  "The Man" simply will not rescue us.  But I have found that, if I take the lion's share of responsibility for my life, helping hands are available.

 Jackson Invites Cosby 
  I had never seen the Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson cry in public. And 
  he's seldom upstaged. Until, Bill Cosby came to town. 
  Last week Jackson invited Cosby to the annual Rainbow/PUSH conference 
  for a conversation about controversial remarks the entertainer offered 
  May 17 at an NAACP dinner in Washington,D.C.That's when America's 
  Jell-O Man shook things up by arguing that African Americans were 
  betraying the legacy of civil rights victories. 
  "The lower economic people," he said, "are not holding up their end in 
  this deal. These people are not parenting. They are buying things for 
  their kids -- $500 sneakers for what? And won't spend $200 for "Hooked 
  on Phonics!" 
  Thursday morning, Cosby showed no signs of repenting as! he strode 
  across the stage at the Sheraton Hotel ballroom before a 
standing-room-only crowd. Sporting a natty gold sports coat and dark 
glasses, he proceeded to unload a laundry list of black America's 
self-imposed ills. 
The iconic actor and comedian kidded that he couldn't compete with the 
oratory of 
the Reverend but he preached circles around Jackson in their nearly 
hour-long conversation, delivering brutally frank one-liners and the 
toughest of love. The enemy, he argues, is us: 
  "There is a time, ladies and gentlemen, when we have to turn the mirror 
  around." Cosby acknowledged he wasn't critiquing all blacks-just "the 50 
  percent of African Americans in the lower economic neighborhood who 
  drop out of school," and the alarming proportions of black men in prison 
  and black teenage mothers. ! The mostly black crowd seconded him with 
  choruses of " Amens." 
  To critics who pose, it's unproductive to air our dirty laundry in 
  public, he responds, "Your dirty laundry gets out of school at 2:30 
  every day. It's cursing on the way home, on the bus, train, in the 
  candy store. 
  They are cursing and grabbing each other and going nowhere. And, the 
  book bag is very, very thin because there's nothing in it." 
  "Don't worry about the white man," he adds. "I could care less about 
  what white people think about me . . . let 'em talk. What are they 
  saying that is different from what their grandfathers said and did to 
  us? What is different is what we are doing to ourselves." 
  For those who say Cosby is just an elitist who's "got his" but doesn't 
  understand the plight of the black poor, he reminds us that, "We're
  going to turn that mirror around. It's not just the poor-everybody's 
  Cosby and Jackson lamented that in the 50th year of Brown vs. Board of 
  Education, our failings betray our legacy. Jackson dabbed away tears as 
  he recalled the financial struggles at Fisk University, a historically 
  black college and Jackson's Alma mater. 
  When Cosby was done, the 1,000 people in the room all jumped to their 
  feet in ovation. Long after Cosby had departed, I could not find a 
  dissenter in the crowd. But in the hotel corridor I encountered a 
  vintage poster for sale that said volumes. The poster, which advertised 
  the Million Man March, was "discounted" to $5 Remember the Million Man 
  In 1995 Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan exhorted "a millio! n 
  sober, disciplined, committed, dedicated, inspired b lack men to meet in 
  Washington on a day of atonement." In 2004, perhaps all that' s left of 
  that call is a $5 poster. We have shed tears too many times, at too many 
  watershed moments before. While the hopes they inspired have fallen by 
  the wayside. Not this time. Cosby's plea to parents: "Before you get to 
  the point where you say 'I can't do nothing with them'-do something 
  with them." 
  Teach our children to speak English. 
  When the teacher calls, show up at the school. 
  When the idiot box starts spewing profane rap videos, turn it off. 
  Refrain from cursing around the kids. 
  Teach our boys that women should be cherished, not raped and 
  Tell them that education is a prize we won with blood and tears, 
  not a dishonor. 
  Stop making excuses for the agents and abettors of black-on-black 
  It costs us nothing to do these things. But if we don't, it will 
  cost us infinitely more tears. 
  We all send thousands of jokes through e-mail without a second thought, 
  but when it comes to sending messages regarding life choices, people 
  think twice about sharing. The crude, vulgar, and sometimes the obscene 
  pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of decency is too 
  often suppressed in school and the workplace. 

And to this I say, "amen."

Friday, September 16, 2005

More on the Poor...

The following was written in reply to another reader, not to my position.  However, with that caveat, I decided to address it as if it were...
The poor *ARE* doing what you keep preaching. They try to pull themselves up. It's insulting to treat them as if they were doing something wrong, and you have the magical ticket to get them out, if only they'd just listen."
No, they're note.  Being born poor obviously has vastly harder challenges than being born middle class.  And yet, remember something:  "The poor are always with us." as Christ said.  Why?  At least partially because the definition of poverty can be very strange in America.  In some rural parts of America, and some of the most broken inner-city areas, there literally are no services, little clean water, and little hope in the REAL sense of poverty if you have ever traveled to Central America, Africa or Asia, or some war-torn zone of Europe.  But the official Federal Income Poverty levels ran  as such in 2000:


     •     One person, under 65 years On $8,959
     •     One person, 65 years and over On $8,259
     •     Two people, householder under 65 years, including one child under 18 years on $11,869
     •     Four people, including two children under 18 years on $17,463"

And the thought of what happens to people WAY under these levels is horrific.   But to say they are struggling, trying, working hard, breaking themselves on the rack...whatever you want to ONE thing.  To suggest that they are doing what I suggest is quite another.
Remember, I started this life poor.  My mother crammed me with "Think and Grow Rich"-style books and tapes.  I did years of research, not studying how rich people thought, but HOW POOR PEOPLE WHO GOT RICH thought.  Do you grasp the specificity?  Blacks, whites, single mothers, whatever.  It obsessed me.  What the hell was it that allowed SOME people to escape poverty, while others remained behind?  Obviously, there is nothing that can guarantee you will make it out--any more than there is anything that will 100% guarantee you will lose weight, or get fit, or live happily ever after.  But success leaves clues. 
If after reading hundreds of life stories, interviews and essays by the formerly poor, I cross-referenced it with what rich people said, and successful people said.  Cross-referencing that with books like "think and Grow Rich" and "Psycho-Cybernetics" I realized that the basic principles that worked for middle-class folks also worked for poor people, and had been refereed to in sacred texts around the world since the beginning of time.  Here are a bunch of different ways of saying the same thing:

1) As a man thinketh, so he is.
2) First Came the word.
3) Where attention goes, energy flows, and results show
4) What you can conceive and believe, you can achieve
5) You need two things to succeed: well defined written goals, and plans for their accomplishment, and a mind closed tightly to fear and doubt.
Looking at the Hero's Journey, which I consider to be the world's combined wisdom about the course of life, you get the following (and this seems to be utterly pan-cultural):
1) Hero confronted with challenge.  "I am poor.  I wish to be rich."
2) Rejects the challenge.  (I cannot.  Everyone around me says its impossible.  I'm black.  I'm old.  I'm uneducated.  I am afraid."
3)  Accepts the challenge ("my pain is too great.   The goal is too sweet.  I must do something")
4) The road of trials.  (Education.  The Army.  Starting at the bottom of a job.  Starting a business. Failing over and over again.)
5) Allies and powers.  (Teachers.  Role models (other formerly poor people who have succeeded), sharpening my mind.  Learning the skills my parents couldn't teach me.  Developing the attitude: IF ONE OTHER PERSON COULD MAKE IT OUT OF THIS GHETTO/POVERTY/SLUM, I CAN TOO!  You have to model the behaviors and attitudes of those who have succeeded)
6)  Confront evil, and fail.  Falling flat on his face.  Losing everything.
7) Dark Night of the Soul.  ("I can't.  They were right.  It's hopeless.")
8) Leap of Faith (often a husband or wife gives one strength to  go on.  Or a church.  Or friends. Or a teacher. Or mentor.  Or simply summoning strength from within to pick yourself up, and try again.)
9) Confront evil, and succeed.  IF they have clear goals, IF they have modeled the behavior of those who have succeeded, IF they have the faith to pick themselves up, try over and over and over again despite the laughter and mocking and distractions, if they continually try new things to reach their goals, then they maximize their chance of winning.  But they must stay the course.)
10) The student becomes the teacher.  I have lost count of the number of formerly poor men and women who lecture and write and preach and teach and mentor.  There are countless thousands of them. 
And do you know what each and every one of them hears?  "It's impossible.  I tried.  It's different for you.  The white man keeps us down. I'm too old.  I don't' have an education..."
and they look out at the sea of faces, and once in a while they see a man or woman who locks eyes with them, and says, silently, "Yes.  I hear you.  I am tired of the pain.  I admit I have been, not foolish, but ignorant.  I will follow you."
And that person begins their own journey.
Don't tell me that poor people do what I'm saying, because most MIDDLE CLASS people don't.  The most specific, consistent gaps in their behaviors are:
1) Well defined, written goals and plans for their accomplishment
2) Finding role models who have made it out of poverty (available on the Internet, in libraries, in used paperback bookstores, often on television)
3) The ability to take action despite the Drunken Monkey chattering to them, saying its not possible.
And the #1 failure I've seen?  The lack of well-defined, written goals.  Yes, the government needs to reach down and help, by my way of thinking.  But as soon as the stomachs are full, the principles by which countless thousands of poor people have lifted themselves up should be taught.  The idea that "poor people can't help themselves" falls apart when you study those who have.  The only honest thing you can say is that "it is harder for poor people, or black people, or X people, to help themselves."  Yes.  It is.  Life is hard.  And  you can either rail against that, and protest it, and sink into a miasma of despair...or you can study the lives of those who started humbly and fought their way up, and resolve by all the strength in you that you will follow their example.
That was my choice.  What's yours?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Let me be more direct

I'm going to have to state my premise as clearly as possible, and I can't care if I bruise some egos.  I don't care about your egos.  I care about your lives.
Do you want a writing career?  Don't listen to failed writers.  Listen to successful ones, preferably three or more--and SIFT OUT WHAT THEY AGREE UPON.
Do you want to have a lean, healthy body?  Don't listen to fat people.  Listen to people who USED to be fat, and have been lean for five years or more.  SIFT OUT WHAT THEY AGREE UPON.
Do you want to have a healthy relationship?  Don't listen to single people. Listen to people who have been happily married (or otherwise connected) for ten years or more.  SIFT OUT WHAT THEY AGREE UPON.
Do you want to heal your finances?  Raise  yourself from poverty or economic distress?  Don't listen to poor or broke people.  Listen to people who WERE BORN POOR, and have been broke, and lifted themselves to wealth or at LEAST middle-class status.  SIFT OUT WHAT THEY AGREE UPON.
Imagine that the secrets to success in life are in a safe.  There are ten people in a room.  Nine failed to open the safe, and only one opened it.  You can ask anyone in the room one question.  Who do you ask, and what do you ask?  For God's sake, you ask the one who opened it, and you ask him "what's the combination."  Everyone knows that. Apply that rule to your body, mind, and relatioinships.  Don't know anyone healthy in those categories, well, I could ask you to trust me (and in fact, that's jsut what I've been doing) but obviously some of you think I was born with a silver spoon, or I'm just lucky, or I'm lying, or I'm blind.  Fine.  Then take it upon yourselves to speak to MULTIPLE PEOPLE who are successful in these categories, and bootstrapped themselves.  If you can't find them, read the articles by and about them.  The books and tapes and seminars.  Sift out what they all agree upon.  Close your mind TIGHTLY to the negative voices that will steal your energy.  Begin moving forward in your life.  Fail successfully--in other words, when you fall on your face (and you will!) LEARN SOMETHING EACH TIME.  Keep trying new ways to get to your written goals.   And never, ever, ever give up. 

Are the rich born that way?

One of our readers, in a passionate letter, recently said:  "The rich are born that way."  While I have no idea of the background of this reader, this is a typical attitude of those born without money.  Before I make my case, let me explain why.  We love our parents, and every person, family, and social class tends to think the universe revolves around them.  If our parents worked hard, and are smart, then to what do we ascribe their lack of financial success?  We certainly would find it hard to say "they are lazy" , especially if we watched them work their fingers to the bone.  We can't say "they're dumb", especially if we KNOW that they have high levels of intelligence and sometimes education.  Well, then, we tend to absorb one of about three or four basic ideas:

1) The rich are born that way.
2) it takes money to make money
3) Rich people are greedy, selfish, and dishonest.
4) Rich people ar miserable--in other words, poor in the spiritual values.
and so on.
I certainly grew up with those attitudes (I think they are especially prevelent in the black community) and have spent a lifetime fighting against those poisonous voices.  ne of the first breakthroughs came when I actually looked up the statistics on wealth--which, at the time, meant anyone with a net worth above one million dollars.  In the 70's the average person with a net worth above one millin dollars was a real-estate broker/owner or dry cleaner who had worked at their job for about 25 years.  I double checked this, and ahave looked into it many times over the years, and although the occupations and numbers shift a bit, the basic truth is there, and remains.  I did a little snooping around the web, and came up with the following information.  NOTE: this doesn't apply to the "super rich"--in oother words, the top 1-5% of those with net worth above a million.  Yes, they have inherited wealth.  But better than 90% of those with a Net worth above a million  dollars tend to follow the basic principle:  Please do your own research, and post it here if you think you have evidence to the contrary.  My friends, it is true that the average person stays right in the social class in which they are born. But my contention is that, having known a LOT of both, poor people think about money very differently than rich people.  When they start thinking like rich people, they begin the process of clawing their way out of poverty. They might only make it to middle class--but then their kids have a chance of making it further.  AND IF YOU DON'T ACTUALLY KNOW RICH PEOPLE, don't trust what you have heard from friends, or seen in movies, or read in fictional books.  Go out and do your damned research--this is your life.  Don't get swamped in self-justifying illusions.  Don't talk to fat people about losing weight, or lonely people about healthy relationships, or broke people about money.  It is folly.
The following information comes from two different sources, and matches what I have researched and studied all  my life.  Don't try to contradict it with anecdotal evidence or opinion.  Bring us FACTS.

1)  "
The majority of affluent consumers have worked hard for their money, as shown by many studies indicating that the majority of new millionaires came from middle-class backgrounds and created their own wealth and that only 10-20 per cent of wealthy households have benefited from an inheritance. Not surprisingly, the ultra-wealthy are more likely than the average affluent household to benefit from family legacies passed on from generation to generation. "
In ``The Millionaire Mind,'' Thomas J. Stanley studied even richer millionaires _ the top 1 percent of households. These people had an average net worth of $9.2 million and earned $749,000 a year. The average multimillionaire in Stanley's study is a 54-year-old man, married to the same woman for 28 years, with three children. Nearly half are business owners or senior corporate executives. And almost none of them credit their success to being smart. They say the keys to success are being honest and disciplined, getting along with people, having a supportive spouse and working hard.

The average millionaire made B's and C's in college, Stanley says. Their average SAT score was 1190 _ not good enough to get into many top-notch schools. In fact, most millionaires were told they were not intellectually gifted, not smart enough to succeed. ``I find no correlation between SAT scores, grade point averages and economic achievement. None,'' said Stanley. ``Admittedly, there are some very bright people in the data, but not many.''The average millionaire was likely to live in an upper middle class home, and drive a Ford F-150 pickup truck or Lexus ES 300 they bought used. They wear watches that cost less than $150 and they spend less than $300 per suit; if they have to wear one at all.

Most were married, self employed, and attribute their ability to save money and accumulate wealth to not feeling pressured to spend to “keep up with the Jones’s.” In other words, they work hard, save diligently, and live far below their means.
  I could easily come up with more solid, footnoted data--but this isn't a master's thesis.  It is a plea that you dump the beliefs that hold you back.  Poor people are not lazy.  They work themselves to death, quite often.  They are not dumb.  Many of the least successful people I know have vast stores of useless information, or educations that have NOTHING to do with their chosen field of work.  But, again, having known both rich and poor people, I was STARTLED when I first (in my late 20's) actually began to associate with wealthy people, and discovered they were virtually nothing like what the poor people I'd grown up around thought they were.  On average, they were no better and no worse, as human beings, than poor people.  But they knew what they wanted, modeled the successes of other successful people, made plans, took action, and stayed the course despite their fears and doubts. 
THAT is what I've actually seen in the real world.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Liberals and Conservatives and Katrina

I am only willing to consider the motivations of those who are honorable, on both sides of the aisle.  True, there are liars and scoundrels and thieves on both sides, but the EASY thing to do is assume that, if someone has a different point of view, they must be wrong, or they must be bad.  But what if the "other guy" is seeing the same mountain, only from a different direction.  I am certain that to some, my point of view might seem Pollyannaish, but frankly I've met too many good folks--and too many assholes-- on either side to believe that one or the other has a corner on goodness, or intelligence...although both sides seem to believe that of themselves.
In terms of Katrina, there is one important difference that comes out--a difference in the attitude about what will create the strongest America, and what is best for the poor.  The Left generally has the attitude that the poor must be helped from above.  The Right, that they must learn to help themselves, and that any help from above actually weakens them.  My attitude, obviously, is somewhere in the middle.  Why?  Because although I was raised in a single-parent inner-city home, my mother completely indoctrinated me with the belief (through psycho-cybernetics, Power of Positive Thinking, and Think and Grow Rich-type tapes played over and over and over and over...) that our minds make the difference.  "We become what we think about."  "What a man can conceive and believe, he can achieve."  Etc. etc. 
Is it true?  Well, no plan, no education, no course of action can guarantee success, but there are certainly some that guarantee failure--for instance the belief that Mommy and Daddy will always be there to take care of you.  We all know people like this--black and white--and they are the flotsam and jetsom of life, let me tell you.  We all want to believe that someone will come to help us, all want to believe that someone will get us out of our jams, pay our bills, love us no matter what.  This is a belief that most of us must be levered away from with a crowbar, usually somewhere in our teens.  The longer it takes to learn the lesson that life meets NO ONE half-way, the better off we are.  So I honestly believe that without the emotional education my mother gave me, I would have accomplished virtually nothing.  If I had ever, for a moment, stopped and said "life is unfair!" and brooded about it, I would have been steamrollered.  Yes, you have all noted my occassional rants about certain aspects of racism or whatever, but that's just a rant, folks.  I have to vent somewhere.  I honestly believe that the single thing that would help poor people more than anything else is to change the way they think--and I've known enough poor people, and seen (what I perceived as) the drastic mis-match between their reality maps and reality, that I'll stand by this KNOWING that I can't be "right"--after all, what is ultimately "true" or "not-true" simply isn't available to us while we're still inside the system.  I CAN say that the beliefs most poor people I've spoken to (thousands) about money, power, "the system", etc., simply don't match any beliefs of any successful people, white or black, that I've ever met.  Needless to say, this attitude of mine is one of the reasons I get along with those on the Right.
On the other hand...
I find it also difficult to deny that those born in poverty, or the descendants of slaves, were handed a raw deal not their own making.  That the average white person, born poor and black, would perform no better.  That, moreover, even if the parents of a child are worthless, the child deserves a chance.  Further, that wealthy people get "bailed out" by the system all the time.  And here we come to another difference between the Right and the Left. I believe that Conservatives tend to think that the good in society flows from the Top down--the innovators, the leaders, the captains of industry create the wealth all enjoy, and are therefore entitled to more of the goodies, including more help from the government.  The Left tends to believe that good flows from the bottom up.  "Workers of the world unite--you create the goods, you till the fields, you produce the wealth that is then stolen by the bosses and the idle rich."  Tax the rich until they're dead.  Screw raising the minimum about a MAXIMUM wage?  In other words, each side is looking at the question "how shall we build a society" and "how is it that men and women make their way in the world" and comes up with different answers, based largely on the initial position in which they were born.  born to privilege?  YOu tend to believe that wealth is produced by effort, intelligence, and prudent investment.  Born poor?  You tend to believe that the wealthy are unethical and venomous.
so to Katrina.  I believe that the majority of Americans, the VAST majority of Americans, were justly horrified by what they saw, and are seeing.  But in some cases, their perceptions of why it happened, or what should be done, were different.  Those on the Right tend to believe that we HAVE to be more self-reliant, that expecting government to help us is a recipe for disaster.  Those on the Left say that expecting poor individuals to help themselves is jsut blindness and cruelty.  The Right replies that if they don't learn to help themselves, they are dooming future generations to the same poverty.  The Left replies that the victims of Katrina were largely the descendants of slaves, robbed of EVERYTHING for hundreds of years and then turned loose in the culture without any resources, settling into poverty lifestyles and thwarted by racism from rising from their knees.
What is the truth?  Hell if I know. I know what I believe--that the way out of poverty is to take different actions, and hold different emotions in our hearts, different plans in our minds.  But also that it is the obligation of the "haves" to reach out to the "have-nots" both for spiritual and social reasons.  I can sympathize with both points of view, but know that I, personally, know that there is a point of deprivation where the mind and heart just shut down, where the victim crouches in the corner and quivers, regardless of what might have been their initial potential.  I've known far too many intelligent white people crippled by negative emotions, spiritually damaged by their early experiences, not to believe this true.  Look around any science fiction convention, and you'll find "smart" folks by the hundreds who are dysfunctional physically, socially, and financially--but smarter than hell.  And on a social, systemic level, poverty and racism is like child abuse applied to an entire strata of society.  Yes, it is our obligation to save ourselves.  Yes, it is our obligation to help those who cannot help themselves.  HOW to help them?  Well, in the short term, food, water, shelter, jobs and money.  Long term?  Well, I'm disgusted that the simplest, most effective means of turning your life around--learning how to set and keep goals--has never been taught in any public school I've ever heard of.  As far as I'm concerned, public education misses the boat in this essential aspect almost 100%, leaving this crucial knowledge to be passed down in advantaged families only.   THAT'S what I'd do to help the poor.  To familiarize them from early childhood, with the thought patterns of the rich and successful.  And, of course, to provide them the basic amenities of life in emergencies, that they feel they are invested in our culture.  Otherwise, we are breeding our own barbarians, and Rome will fall from within.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The inner and outer man: Matching Character to Plot

One of the secrets to a happy life is the ability to perform, instinctively, as you would if you sat and thought about it for a month.  The only way you can do this is to have the inner and outer worlds in harmony--that you can present yourself honestly and openly as you are at all times.  This takes remarkable courage, and is something that only a few can do with consistency, and no one I've ever met can do 100% of the time.
Nonetheless, it is another core concept of the entire Lifewriting system: the idea that the plot and character are two versions of the same thing.  A character is only revealed through his actions.  The plot mechanics demand proper choice of protagonist.  A mis -match will kill your book.  This may seem a little complicated, but in truth it is quite simple.  Once you begin to see the connection between the character and the plot--or your inner and outer worlds--it becomes possible to start with the most basic idea, and design a basic character to complement it.  A story, after all, must "empty out" our character, reveal everything important about him.  If you start with a character, then step back and ask what situation would best reveal the truth of this person's existence. 
And how does this fit into our own lives?  Very well, I think.  If you view your outer life and circumstances as an externalization of your inner world, it may be uncomfortable, but it also opens the door to massive well as giving you leverage handles on your soul.  Because if you change your external circumstances, you change the internal world.  Associating with more spiritual people will begin the process of personal evolution.  Associating with more physical people will get you started on the path of fitness: you'll absorb their attitudes like butter soaks up smells in a refrigerator.  Associate with wealthy people, and you will start to understand the differences between the way the wealthy think about money, and the way poor people think about it.  Having been around both groups, I PROMISE you that there are huge differences.  Furthermore, (in most cases) if you transplanted a poor man's money attitudes into a rich man, the rich man would immediately begin to fail in life.  Transplant a (self-made) rich man's attitudes into a poor man, and that poor man would stop looking for work--he would begin to search for ways to create wealth, to start a business, to provide services, to protect his money by  spending it on items that appreciate rather than depreciate...and on and on.  This is the way (self made) rich people think.  And those who inherited wealth?  Well, the ones I know were taught from the cradle the way to KEEP their money. How the heck do you think that money lasted to be passed from one generation to the next?
Matching the plot to the character, and making the connection between the inner and outer worlds in your own life, combined, is the single most important building block in the Lifewriting system.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Jerry Pournelle article on Katrina

here is a sane and intelligent essay on Katrina from a responsible spokesman for the Right...


The User's Column September 2005

Column 302

Jerry Pournelle

Copyright 2005 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

Caption: a collage of things that appear in this month’s column.

As I write this, the rescue efforts in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast are in full swing. One unsung effort was by the United States Navy. My son Lt. Commander Phillip Pournelle is Executive Officer of the HSV2 Swift, a ship which is herself worth a section in this column. Swift was about to set out from Texas to Virginia when she was ordered to take part in the rescue operations. For reports from the scene by Phil, see my web site at .

There are many lessons to be learned from Katrina. One should be obvious, although it doesn’t appear to be: the primary responsibility for disaster management remains at the individual, local, and state levels. The Federal government can and should respond, and in some cases – see Phil’s reports about his crew – does so heroically. By the nature of our federal system, though, they can only assist and manage. Most of the effort will have to be made by local citizens working through local and state organizations – and that effort will be effective to the extent that those organizations have personnel, training, and equipment.

I have lived through several California earthquakes. In one of them I was an Assistant Scoutmaster and our Boy Scout troop of considerable assistance to local Civil Defense authorities. We still had Civil Defense in these United States in those days. We needed, and were grateful for, Federal assistance in the days that followed; but it was our problem first and foremost, and it was up to us to get the city functioning again. All our efforts were directed toward supporting people in their homes, not moving them to displaced persons camps. We thought of them as property owners and citizens who wanted to rebuild, not as nuisances.

Much of California is built in an earthquake zone. Much of New Orleans  and its suburbs are built on a flood plain. In both cases we can doubt the wisdom of locating cities in such danger spots. In both cases we, as individual citizens of the United States, and as citizens of our local cities, have chosen to stay here for reasons that seem best to us. That’s the nature of self government of a free people. And in both cases, I would think, we understand that while we may be grateful for any help from the people who have chosen not to live in such danger zones, we can hardly call on them to be the primary responders when the inevitable happens.

California has wisely chosen to build a network of volunteer and professional organizations, issue identification cards, pay some of their expenses, and provide them with equipment under the condition that they be part of a state organization with a clear chain of command and channels of communication. Those organizations are called up in times of fire, flood, storm, and earthquake. Most of the members are volunteers – not paid and often not even reimbursed for out of pocket expenses. This is not a perfect system, and in my judgment remains inferior to the old Civil Defense organizations that were superseded by FEMA in the 1970’s; but it’s a system that is a lot better than many states have, and clearly a lot better than anything in place in New Orleans in August, 2005.

The first lesson from Katrina should be that every state ought to build and train disaster response organizations at least as well as California has, and make certain that everyone understands that the primary responsibility for emergency preparedness and management is local and state, not federal. All the organizations should understand the chain of command, have the ability to communicate with their members, and designated persons within them should have the ability to communicate with other organizations including local professional services like Police and Fire Departments. The communications capabilities need to be tested at intervals, and designed to operate when the power grid is out. This is all elementary – but a majority of the states do not have even that much. They should look to it now. Hurricanes and earthquakes are not the only natural disasters. Tornados are more common some places than others but there is no place entirely free of them. Blizzards are rare in parts of the country, but I recall a late spring in Memphis, Tennessee when an ice storm destroyed all power lines and made the streets unusable for nearly a week; I ice skated to high school down Central Avenue. Every part of the country faces one or several potential disasters.

The second lesson, in my judgment, is that we ought to think seriously of returning to the old Civil Defense networks, organization, and name. Civil Defense is by its nature a paramilitary operation, and requires training and discipline. You need volunteers to build non-bureaucratic organizations. If you make use of volunteers, they ought to be rewarded, even if only with titles that bear no authority except in emergencies. It is easy to make fun of Kentucky and Tennessee Colonels, but when I was a lad those were honorable titles, often earned by dedicated public service. Leave that: my point is that Civil Defense implies something entirely different from “Federal Emergency Management Administration.” It implies that the local organizations are more important than a Federal bureaucracy which, since its main activity when there is no emergency is compliance with a host of regulations issued by dozens of government departments, will be shot through with lawyers and quite often headed by lawyers (as both FEMA and DHS were when Katrina struck).

There is much to be learned from Katrina. One is that our Armed Services are among the most efficient and dedicated organizations the world has ever seen. Another is that other nations do have some gratitude for the United States: Bangladesh, beset by its own woes and desperately poor, raised money for relief of Katrina victims. The effect was mostly symbolic, but it was significant to the donors; and we ought to be grateful for that, as well as to our neighbors Canada and Mexico. Mostly, though, we need to relearn lessons we seem to have forgotten: in a republic of free citizens, the primary responsibilities remain with citizens, local governments, and the states. In that order.

Maintaining Communications

The Internet as we know it consists largely of a number of Cisco routers interconnected in various nodes. Most of those are physically located in basements, largely because the rents are lower. One reaction to Katrina ought to be a quick study of just what parts of the Internet backbone are vulnerable to what kind of disaster, with a view to remedies.

Of course much of this was done in the original design. The Internet has great redundancy; it was, in original concept, designed to withstand at least a partial nuclear attack on the United States and still function as a means for military communications. Most Internet users aren’t aware of its origins in ARPA (later DARPA) and various Pentagon 3-star generals, but some of us can remember when that was the case. To this day we say “the Internet sees censorship as damage and routes around it,” but many saying that have no idea of what kind of damage it was designed to route around.

The backbone itself is fairly durable, but there are local nodes that are vulnerable to fire, flooding, and power outages; and finally, the last few hundred feet, from utility pole to homes and shops, is vulnerable. Some of those vulnerabilities are easily seen and remedied, and they ought to be.

Much of the local vulnerability is being overcome through widespread deployment of wireless nodes. Some cities are making wireless free within the city. In other places private competition is forcing many kinds of establishments – coffee shops, book stores, copy and printing shops, shipping centers, etc. – to provide low cost or even free wireless. Readers may remember that nearly a year ago we reviewed D-Link equipment ( that could take any broadband Internet connection and turn that into a wireless hot spot complete with ticket receipts and automatic control of timed access. It’s getting a lot easier to provide wireless, and as that grows, so will the robustness of the Internet.

Voice Over IP in New Orleans

Communications are arguably the single most important public service requirement in a disaster. Amateur radio has traditionally been helpful in disasters, but for actual control of emergency service workers like fire and police it is important that the crisis control center be able to reach the dispatchers, and that the usual emergency service communications networks continue to work.

In New Orleans both those communications broke down, largely due to lack of electric power. When the power grid shut down the City crisis control center communications depended on emergency generators, and those had insufficient fuel to run for more than a few hours. Within a day or so the city officials had no communications whatever. Their telephone systems were gone, and so were their radios.

An ingenious office worker discovered a working broadband Internet connection in the crisis center. He was able to connect to that, then use a Vonage VOIP system to connect to the rest of the world. For more than a day the only way the Mayor of New Orleans had for communicating (other than when CNN or Fox News teams with remotes could briefly reach him) was that Vonage VOIP. Moreover, not long after the VOIP system was set up, the telephone rang; it was the President of the United States calling from Air Force One.

The Internet was designed to be robust and durable. A bit of planning can make it more so – but finding and fixing elementary weaknesses has to be done in advance of the disaster.

I realize this is all trivial – but I also see that much of it was not done. The only way such identification and quick fixing will be accomplished is to appoint people to identify the weaknesses, and have them report to people with channels of communication to those with the authority to fix them. Once again this sounds trivial, but trivial or not, it has to be done, and there are very many places where it has not been done.

The usual reasons such disaster planning is not done is that it costs money to hire people, and most cities have managed to get into a situation in which they don’t have enough money to meet present crises, much less to plan for future problems. Having been Executive Assistant to the Mayor of Los Angeles I have my own ideas on how cities get into such a mess, but leave that: my point is that volunteers can make a first cut at identifying problems, and in most cities there are suitable volunteers eager to serve. All that’s needed is to give them commissions and titles, and appoint a city administrator to schedule an afternoon a month to meet with them. It is astonishing how much a team of retired teachers, engineers, and military people can accomplish in a few weeks, at trivial costs.

Using volunteers in local government has a long and honorable tradition in these United States, and for most of the life of this republic was part and parcel of the self government of a free people. What we have done, we can aspire to…

Some Random Observations

I asked my staff and associates for suggestions on what we might be doing to improve the survivability of communications in general and the Internet in particular. These were worth recording.

Dan Spisak: “A data center is a critical piece of infrastructure to maintain in a disaster and is also one of the few places most likely to survive a major disaster and have self sufficient power generation and stored supplies to ride out major events. They are also crucial in helping bring other telecommunications infrastructure up (think City Hall data lines for example). Email is an important conduit for communications.

    “When you need to keep your tech running, especially portable communication and data processing gear, i.e. cellphones and laptops, keep in mind the few places with backup power generation won't have an outlet available just because you need it. Alternative means for charging small batteries are a must. In such circumstance muscle and solar power become very valuable.

   “ Freeplay is good source for this kind of gear. We've talked to them at CES and I imagine current events are going to get them a lot of new business.

Many major cities have data centers, although some, like New Orleans, haven’t thought through the problems of being without the power grid for several days. Some smaller cities haven’t any such centers at all. If your town doesn’t, this might be a useful topic to raise with public officials.

Coleman also makes hand-cranked flashlights and radios, and we have those easily available in the Chaos Manor earthquake readiness kits. If you don’t, you might think about them. Even if you can’t get your town or city officials interested in emergency preparedness, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be. Here endeth the lesson; long time readers will remember that I was once an editor of SURVIVE magazine and colonel of a survival company…