The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Silent Hill (2006)

First movie I’ve walked out on in more than a year.  There were simply no recognizable human beings in it.  No one behaved with motivations I could believe, and the often awesome visuals were to no avail.  This tale of a woman seeking her child in the deserted town of…wait for it…”Silent Hill” is all atmosphere and no substance.  I finally decided that life was too short to waste my time so profligately…and went home to watch “Numbers,” which wasn’t great last night, but still five times as satisfying.  Besides: I got to pet my kitty while I watched it. 

Friday, April 28, 2006

Busy busy, and appearances...

busy, busy, busy…

Up at 5:00 am this morning to drive to the martial arts class in Pasadena.  Just an hour from 6-7 on Friday mornings, taught by one of my favorite people, Tim Piering.  We do Chinese breathing exercises, Karate drills, Boxing, Judo, and most fun of all, we move between the different ranges, going from long-distance hand and foot work to elbows-knees to throwing down to the “ground and pound” stage.  Ah, the spiritual depths of the martial arts…
Nah, just kidding. Today we were stressing the Hsing Hsing Ming text, a core Zen work.  The first line of the fourth paragraph resonates with me this morning (today is “cheat day”—the one day a week I get to eat whatever the @#$$ I want.  Stopped by Burger King on the way home for orange juice and a breakfast sandwich, got on the computer, and did 5 pages of “Final Draft” script on the new Dream Park book) and I thought I’d write it down, and see how it might connect with the Path workshop last weekend:
“To return to the root is to find the meaning, but to pursue appearances is to miss the source.”
There were physical exercises taught during the workshop, and I’d suspect few participants were familiar with all of them.  If they listened closely, they would have grasped that the intent was to teach some important things about integration of breath, movement, and structure—the “root” of motion.  Understand this root, and you have a grasp of the best stress-busting tool I’ve ever seen: the proper use of the body.  So this is also the “root” of the technique for incremental improvement, and the development of an accurate reality map.

But a couple of people let their egos get the better of them (no, not YOU) and they tried more advanced versions of the exercises than they could actually do while preserving an elegant sense of breath, motion and structure.  In other words, they tried to perform the outer appearance of the exercise.  People do this in Yoga class all the time.  They try to twist and torque their bodies into positions that cause their breathing to freeze up…and then wonder why their muscles are so tight.  Your body  knows it can’t trust you!  It tightens itself up trying to protect itself from your asininity!  Learn to follow the gentle thread of your breath, and you’ll find your body slowly and steadily unfolding.

Or to bring this back around, by “pursuing appearances” they missed the “source” of the technique, the triumvirate of breath, motion and structure.
I’d like to throw a question out there:  How many of you have pursued the outer aspect of a job, a relationship, or a physical activity, only to learn later that you were neglecting some far more important detail?  This might be as “trivial” as putting up with some hot guy’s nonsense rather than dating a “nice” but not quite so flashy dude.  Or trying to max out gross sales, while not noticing that you’re losing a penny on every dollar.  Or going for a body-builder physique without noticing you are tired, stressed out, and your overloaded joints hurt like hell. 

Any stories? 

Thursday, April 27, 2006

More on The Path

All right—I’m back, and have had an opportunity to rest, and beginning to think about the Portland Path seminar.  Let me make one thing clear—it was instinct that told me Scott and I could create something worthwhile, but the truth is that I didn’t know exactly what it would be.  I’m very familiar with his work, and it suggested to me that Scott has a singular vision of the connection between mind and body.

My own lifetime of work has been obsessed with the ways that human beings can improve the quality of their existence.  All of that led me to my current thoughts on the Hero’s Journey (the combined world wisdom concerning the path of development) and the Chakras (my favorite model of the levels of development).  And in the midst of all of it is the growing certainty that the body is the safest and most direct doorway for this development.  Why?  Because it is an infant’s first laboratory, the primary way they discover the world, begin to create a “map” of reality.

But between the tabula rosa of an infant, and the confused and knotted internal skein of an adult lies a twisted, unmarked road that can damage us on every side.  One can spend thirty years in therapy deciphering an unhappy childhood and still marry your daughter (Woody Allen, anyone?) So…the head just isn’t my favorite place to start.  Honestly, though, I couldn’t devise a physical path equal to the task.

Coach Sonnon’s FlowFit is the key I was looking for.  Now, understand, it isn’t some kind of miracle “take one of these every day for the rest of your life” type exercise.  No.  The truth is that as soon as you can do it for 20 minutes at third level, you can forget it—you’re ready to be free.  But the person who can do that is flexible, strong, balanced,   coordinated, and has excellent wind.
Such a person can find other activities, devise other ways of doing the same thing.

But the most important aspect of FlowFit isn’t the exercises at all…it is the guidelines that make FlowFit safe and effective: the idea of rating pain, exertion and performance grace on a scale of 1-10 and putting very specific standards into effect.  Pain must go no higher than 3 (a pinch), exertion between a 5 and a 7 (you can talk, but cannot sing) and grace at 8 and above (seeking beauty in motion).

A person who learns these things can turn any activity into an opportunity to unite mind and body.
During the course of the workshop, Scott was everything I’d hoped he’d be—and came up with a few intuitive connections that blew me away.  I’m still working with them, and will talk about them in the coming days.  One has to do with the connection between the Hero’s Journey and the body’s Neuro-Immuno-Endocrine response.  That the “Dark Night of the Soul” and the “Drunken Monkey” voices in our heads as we attempt to reach new and higher performance plateaus are Macro-cycles of the Mini-Cycle experienced physiologically as we approach fatigue and then reach second wind.  Bringing this up to conscious level gives us an opportunity to consider every day’s exercise to be a model of the way we deal with larger, more global life stresses.

Cycles within cycles.  The important thing is to evolve your life to the point where every aspect of it is connected to every other aspect.  Scott REALLY came up with a winner there, and for me, that was worth the price of admission…
And by the way…I’ve seen about ten workshop reviews at this point, all glowing.  Big sigh of relief, with a cautious eye to the future.  We have a spark. The trick now will be to nurture it carefully into a full flame…

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Publisher's Weekly Review: Great Sky Woman

Wow.  What a week.  The first Path workshop, more movement on that movie script project I'll tell you about soon, got paid on a project we negotiated LAST MAY first PW review on Great Sky Woman.  I won't comment, except to say that I pay very careful attention to what critics say...and then take my own council.  Here 'tis...
Great Sky Woman
Steven Barnes. Random/One World, $24.95 (368p) ISBN 0-345-45900-8

Hugo Award–nominee Barnes embellishes his 20th novel with folklore, spiritualism and impressive atmospheric detail. In prehistory, the Ibandi people thrive beneath the immense shadows of Great Sky Mountain—Mount Kilimanjaro. Two youths, Frog Hopping, a boy from the Inner Boma clan, and T'Cori, a girl from the Dream Dancer group, without much parental care miraculously blossom; T'Cori is reared by mystical visionary Stillshadow, while Frog is educated by his Uncle Snake, harnessing his sexuality, hunting ability and emerging powers of premonition. Minor intra-tribe squabbling becomes the least of their worries as the vicious Mt*tk invade their territory, assaulting and enslaving T'Cori and her sister Dream Dancers. As the hostility mounts into warfare, it's up to Frog and T'Cori to scale the vast and treacherous heights of Great Sky to appeal to the ominous, omnipotent Father Mountain to save their line from obliteration. While Barnes's narrative stalls and sputters in spots, it's daringly epic in scope and written with an undeniably rich appreciation for historical legend and human ties. (On sale June 27)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Inaugural Path

it's done.  Scott and I ahve finished the first Path workshop.  Over the next few days I'll do a core dump of my thoughts and impressions, but I'd be giving it short shrift to try to go too deeply into it today--still depressurizing.

What I will say is that most of the attendees were willing, open, and gave it everything they have, and I have no end of admiration and respect for them.  Was the workshop a success?  Only the participants can say that, really, so I invite any readers who attended to post their impressions, now, or later.  Also, please post questions and comments in the forum, where I'll have more room to reply.

Again, more on the workshop later.  My deep thanks to those who attended, and to those who could not, but held the space of positive intention.

(p.s.--Salina--why don't you email me directly, and we'll talk about the L.A. workshop.)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Path Beckons...

Tonight, I fly to Portland for the first Path workshop with Scott Sonnon.  For those of you who are interested, but won’t be able t attend, I wanted to try to explain what we’ll be doing.

Basically, we want to establish two different “triangles” and then link them together in the minds of the participants:
The Performance Trinity of Breath, Movement, and Structure.
The Outcome Trinity of Body, Mind, and Spirit.

The principle of I.D.E.A. hypothesizes that if you set solid goals for yourself in the three major arenas of life, you will be forced to deal with all of your illusions, fears, buried emotional damage, value conflicts, and what might be called the “Deep Self.”  Unlike trying to succeed in one or two of these arenas, aiming at all three calls for  laceratingly honest Self-evaluation.  But according to Chakric theory, as well as Maslow’s Heirarchy, if you genuinely deal with the problems at the most basic levels of life, you automatically evolve to the next level.  What is necessary to do this?  On the I.D.E.A. level, clear written goals, and the ability to turn off the negative voices in your head.

It also requires massive energy to change, to move from one level of life to another.  And because our egos crave homeostasis, massive fear is triggered by the possibility of true change.  So we need to raise energy, and deal with fear.

Enter Scott Sonnon.  His RMAX technology is great exercise (raising energy) but far, far more.  By addressing the tension locked into muscles and postural deformation (“Fear Reactivity”) his Body-Flow and other work opens the doorway to a blisteringly efficient way of approaching the body-mind connection.  By concentrating on the triad of Breath, Movement, and Structure, we can learn to detect stress before it has an opportunity to become “strain” and damage our systems.

And stress appropriately dealt with causes the organism to make a positive adaptation.

For a year and a half, I badgered Scott to create a method that would allow the average person to experience Physical Flow, a deep meditative state that “turns off” the voices in your head, and removes fear, using an element of neuro-plasticity known as the neuro-immuno-endocrine response to “trick” the brain into mistaking the hormone cascade of cardio-respiratory distress for that of fear. Linking these two literally teaching the brain to deal with the biochemicals and metabolic byproducts of fear, anxiety, and anger more efficiently—in practical essence, reducing fear reaction drastically.

So, then, to make this work you need:

Writing goals in three major arenas.  Visualize yoru goal triangle every morning.
Progress toward them at a rate of 1%.
A physical practice (“FlowFit”) performed  for 15-20 minutes 3-4 times a week.  Attend to the Performance Trinity triangle as you perform.

Once a week specifically perform the “Fear Removal” exercise (if you have extreme abuse or fear issues, please consult with a therapist).

At a very basic level, that’s it.  Energy will increase.  Fear diminished.  As you move toward your goals, you will learn massive amounts about yourself and the world you move through, creating a more accurate “reality map” that enables you to find those beliefs and actions that positively affect all three arenas simultaneously—your own private store of wisdom.

And if you simultaneously understand the message of the Hero’s Journey (temporary failure is inevitable.  Fear is inevitable.  We need new resources to move to a new level), you will begin to control your own personal evolution.  How can you go wrong, if simultaneously attending to your career, physical health, and family/relationship obligations?  If you start with Self-love, and then project that out to the world?

This is the game we’re playing.  The Path is designed to be compatible with virtually any religion or philosophy. We  aren’t interested in replacing anything.  The agreement “buy-in” is a promise to practice FlowFit for one hour a week, with an INTENT to progress that to one “Golden Hour” of intensely personal time per day.  That hour belongs to you, to nurture and refine yourself.  It does not belong to your job, your family, anyone but you.  This might be reading time, writing time, meditating time…and of course that minimum one hour a week of movement.

Here’s the trick: you need never get to an hour a day.  Just the intent to take your life back from the world will call up every demon in the depths of your mind.  Everything around you will rebel if you have the temerity to suggest that your life belongs to you…

And if you learn to deal with that stress, you are setting yourself free.  And then, you can set your friends and family free, conducting the light outward from your spirit.

The world needs all of the autonomous warrior-healers it can grow.  I honestly believe that the Path is my best work EVER, and cannot wait for this new adventure to begin.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

More interesting race-swap stuff...

A thoughtful reader offered the followign commentary on my entries:

“"No one said that whites were identical."

Then who wrote this?

"I would consider Jews a sub-set of white people, and their resiliancy might (or might not) be matched by some particular group of Asians of Africans -- only white people care much about the difference between Jews and other white people..."”
That doesn’t mean that whites are identical—only that white people care more about the difference within their group than do Asians or Blacks—just as Asians care more about the differences between Asians, and Africans care more about the differences between Africans.  There’s nothing inconsistent in my attitude at all, as far as I can see. 

“If you had told Socrates that both he and the barbarians of the north were "white", he would have found the assertion quite interesting, but he'd have probably argued that it was also pretty trivial; what mattered was the distinction between Greek and barbarian. Likewise with the Romans (among whom it was entirely possible for dark-skinned northern Africans to own blond, blue-eyed Celtic and German slaves). And if you'd asked anybody from about 1200 B.C. onward whether they and the Jews were a single ethnic group, they'd have told you no.”
Once again, you’re just giving examples of how people WITHIN an overall racial group are extremely sensitive to the differences—far more than people OUTSIDE the group are.  Nothing inconsistent here, either.


"... you seem to want somehow these hypothetical whites in Darkush both to have and not to have the characteristics they had when they were in the real world here. On the one hand, you want them to be exactly the way they are now when it's emotionally gratifying, i.e., when you can imagine them being spoiled brats and suffering for it. On the other hand, when I point out to you that other whites might well have innate characteristics that made them somewhat less fun to watch, you suddenly seem to want to have them be controlled by their environment rather than by their innate characteristics."
First, I never stated that Darkush was an example of such a reversal.  As I pointed out, there were many, many ways in which that was not possible, either in the name of realistic extrapolation, or for the sake of writing a successful book.  Individuals obviously have some innate qualities, and some acquired.  The only argument is over which percentage of which is which.  My position is that the differing situations of black and white in America are due primarily to acquired differences doesn’t change the fact that I think that the type of person who has the least understanding of this would be the most likely to howl were the positions reversed.


"which led you to fall back on this line:

"... my basic premise, stated clearly, is that people are pretty much the same in their hardware, but their software varies greatly."

So, you believe that the whites who you'd like to see "howl" do indeed have "essential, intrinsic qualities":

"I've entertained myself by imagining the kind of black people they'd make. Usually in dealing with such a person, I come to the conclusion that the experience would break them. Not all, of course, but those who have a strong sense of entitlement would have a horrible, horrible time of it..."
Would the same soul be the same person, given the different life?  No, which is why this is a pure fantasy thought experiment, with no real way to believably bring it about.

“but, when I point out to you that other whites might well be talented enough to do humiliatingly well, then you snap back to the we're-all-the-same argument”

I’ve never said “we’re all the same.”   My position IS that the major racial groups have about the same stuff, and the differences between them in America are more software than hardware.  Obviously individuals have great differences, as do sub-groups within a major group.


"Of course, they would have to be raised from birth, with parents who have also had whatever deprivations we describe -- or else the situation wouldn't be the same. Nor could they have memories of ever being anything different--or else the situation wouldn't be the same."

I don't mind your arguing one side or the other; this is, after all, your personal weblog. I do think that your argument would be a lot more convincing if you could manage to stick to one viewpoint through the course of a single blog posting, though.”
I really don’t think I’ve taken more than one viewpoint.  You may not have grasped what I was saying—which may or may not be my fault.  I’ve made my position clear: I think it’s more software than hardware.  My thought experiment, to put whites into black lives, CANNOT really quite be done.  I probably came closer than anyone ever has with “Lion’s Blood” but there are still far too many differences to represent a real “role reversal.”  That’s why it’s just a blog post, and not a story or book.
“Either you think that the whites you dislike really are hardwired to have a "sense of entitlement", or you don't.”
First of all, I don’t necessarily dislike them.  I just disagree with their attitude and beliefs.  And as I’ve said, I understand that the experiment would be impossible to conduct.  No, I don’t think some people are hardwired to have a “sense of entitlement” (although they may—I don’t know) but that doesn’t stop me from thinking  that IF they found themselves in that situation, they would howl.  That’s a pure “what-if” suspension of a logical law for the sake of story-telling or point making.

“ If you don't, then your thought experiment wouldn't be very amusing for that unevolved part of your brain, since presumably the whites you dislike would acquire the same sturdy, uncomplaining virtues that blacks apparently have in real life.”
Sure it would. That unevolved part would listen to the howls and say: “serves them right.  If they were white, they’d probably be bigots.”  No, it’s not logical—that’s why I CLEARLY labeled that part of my brain “unevolved,” guy!  Vengeful, illogical, petty, childish—unevolved.
"... there is a HUGE amount of resistance to the idea, that deep inside, whites feel that, were positions reversed, they would do better than blacks have done."

The "resistance" you're getting from me, here is to the following assumptions:

“1. All cultures are equally stable under intense stress.”

I never said that.  However, black “culture” in America isn’t a natural culture, created after centuries or thousands of years of isolation and developing its own language, religion, etc.  It is specifically a sub-culture, created to serve as slaves.  In fact, I would say that different cultures definitely react differently under stress---but that white people, stripped of their culture and subjected to the same stress, would behave in the same approximate way.

“2. All behavioral variation is identical within ethnic groups.”

I certainly never said that either.  Not even sure what you mean by it.

"Asians", "blacks", and "whites" are homogeneous ethnic groups."

Never said that either.  Just that in looking at any of the groups, it is only fair to use the same level of differentiation.  If you split Whites into different groups, you have to split blacks into different groups, and Asians into the same number of sub-groups.  Otherwise, your arguments are going to get wonky.

“ Most biologists would like there to be zero difference genetically between different ethnic groups, and are really unhappy about anything (like academic test scores) that would tend to suggest any actual differences.

So my guess is as good as yours, as far as how-well-would-whites-do. There's little, if any, science yet that could even begin to address that issue, and may not be for a long time.”
Or never.  I didn’t say my position was truth.  I said that it is my position: that the differences are extrinsic rather than intrinsic.  I can support that position, but not prove it.

And I then invited you, or any other reader, to clearly state your own position.  When you say that your guess is as good as mine, that is likely correct.  What you DIDN’T say was what that guess was.  Come on, guy—how about a clear statement?

Swapping Races

ah, the thought experiment of swapping races seems to have struck a nerve.  I got a few posts that seemed to think I think "all white people are alike"--and that, I find darkly humorous.
“I think there are striking differences between the behavior patterns of different ethnic groups -- even within allegedly identical racial groups, such as whites”

What?  No one said that whites were identical.  Only that you have to apply the same standards across the board.  If you break whites into sub-groups, you have to discuss blacks the same way.  If you don’t, or can’t, it is only fair to “lump whites together” in the same way.  So: English, Jews, Italians?  Great.  Break Blacks into Ibo, Masaii, and Hausa, or whatever.  Can’t?  Then just confine the conversation to whites, blacks, and Asians.

“I'm just awfully impressed by how disproportionately represented Azhkenazi Jews and east Asians are in molecular biology.”

So am I!  It’s great.

I also think this:

"I would consider Jews a sub-set of white people, and their resiliancy might (or might not) be matched by some particular group of Asians of Africans--only white people care much about the difference between Jews and other white people..."

is understandable, but pretty misguided. I am sorry, but even if they look that way to you, all whites are not identical!”

No one said that, and I’m surprised you’d think I thought that way.  Only that I react to race as a sociological phenomenon, and sociologically, it’s pretty clear that there is a wide and flexible group called “whites” and then there are “Asians” and “Blacks.” Anthropologists argue about how to draw these distinctions, whether there should be more, or even if any distinctions matter at all.  For the sake of social observer, I’m pretty simple.  I allow white people to define themselves for me in the following way: If watching a sexual or romantic scene between a white woman and a member of this ethnic group, do they have a powerful ab-reaction?

Yup, there it is.  And over the years I’ve watched Desi Arnaz, Ricardo Mantleban, Omar Shariff, William Shatner and so forth in various sexual and/or romantic situations with white women, and not a peep from the audience.  Hispanic, Arab, Jewish…all treated as family under the big tent.  Now…go far enough east to get Jackie Chan, or Jet Li or whoever, and the audience rejects them.  Look at The Rock or Vin Diesel, with that racial ambiguity going on…and they can have sex onscreen.  Any darker than that, and the audience rejects them, or has a serious discomfort reaction.  I’ve watched it happen in hundreds of movie theaters over the forty years I’ve noticed this, and it’s no fluke.

“As you would already know if you'd grown up in a family belonging to some elitist-minded ethnic subdivision (e.g., German-American) that actively demanded the "completely unambivalent love of intelligence" in a surrounding white majority culture that pretty much denigrated intelligence (e.g., mainstream L.A. in the 1970s).”

Again, an incorrect assumption.  I did grow up in such a group, called Bougouis black folks in L.A. in the 1960’s.

“It's your prerogative to talk and think and write as if all non-blacks were the same, and it's even understandable that somebody in your position would feel that way -- but that viewpoint's simply balderdash, and it'll lead you to write poorly about other people if you give it its way.”

Wow.  Are we being a bit too sensitive?  Again, I never said anything of the like.  But I won’t let people  break apples into Pippin, Granny Smith, etc., counting them each as different apples if you label  oranges simply “oranges.

Again the thought  experiment  was on the “what if Godzilla fought Superman” level—magical, not science fiction.  When I wrote “Lion’s Blood” I certainly didn’t “simply” switch races—that wouldn’t be possible, given any theory I could believe concerning the formation of civilizations.

But there were other changes I made, for the sake of readability.  For instance, the conditions of the Middle Passage were actually BETTER than those I found historically.  I did this not to make blacks look better, but so that white readers wouldn’t throw the book across the room. There’s only so much people can take, and as it was, readers still had a hard time.

And the slaves themselves were grouped ethnically, a no-no in American slavery, which worked very hard to specifically destroy ethnic groupings.  When someone says “I was taught that Irish were superpeople” that’s great!  But in a truly inverted America there would BE no Irish, no Jews, no Greeks—only a mish-mash, melded together with no memory of their language, culture, religion, or history.  No names.  Grew up reading history books without images resembling them at all.  Every dollar in their pocket would have the face of a black man.  Every president they are told to idealize would be a black face. In a perfectly inverted world, even the God they are told to worship from childhood would be personified as a black man, and every day, in every way, for the first 400 years they were in America, they are told in a thousand different ways that they are worthless second-class citizens.  So that foundation of strength, of identity, would be gone.  Just gone.

Instead, the only shared identity would be one of deprivation and pain.  Recent immigrants from Europe would look at American whites and feel pity: “you don’t know who your people are?  What is your name?” and feel a mild confusion and contempt, as African immigrants often do toward black Americans.

As I said, my contention is clear: that the difference between people is more in their software than their hardware, and that major racial groups are pretty similar.  There is much more in-group than out-group variation.  And that the historical differences between major racial groups are the result of external circumstances more than intrinsic differences.  THIS IS MY POSITION, and extrapolating from it, one clearly gets that, if you slipped white and black babies from their skins and swapped them, and swapped families,   those “white” babies would be performing like typical blacks, and the “black” babies would be performing like typical whites.

That’s my position, clearly labeled.  I suggest that there is a HUGE amount of resistance to the idea, that deep inside, whites feel that, were positions reversed, they would do better than blacks have done.  Just as many or most blacks feel that if the positions were reversed, THEY would do better than whites have done.  This is a natural, and human thing…and I invite you to look more closely at reactions and assumptions, and see where that programming affects you.

Of course, you could take the position that, no, the way we are in the world is an indication of essential, intrinsic qualities, and that whites would indeed have done better.  That is a position that many intelligent, honorable people hold.  The only problem would be with not being able to look directly at the fact that you feel that way.  That preassumption, sitting deep in the back of your mind, will filter much of the way you see reality.  I invite you to dredge it up, look at it directly, and decide if that is really what you want to believe.  If so, cool—but be clear, and honest about it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

If I were President...

Let’s finish up with this, and get on to some new things.  First, let me back up to a prior subject:
1) Health.  Specifically, Obesity.  As a major health factor strongly influenced by personal habits, I would definitely put major emphasis here. People who sold fake weight-loss products would be in serious trouble. A combination of proper exercise and   eating patterns is primary: together, they CANNOT fail unless you stop.  It is just simple physics.  The third part of the triad is emotional health.   Over the years I’ve come to realize that people “store” a gigantic amount of pain and fear in their bodies.  This is a major factor in weight loss, and without health in this arena, the extra flesh is hell to lose, and the instant you take your attention away, it creeps right back.  As President, I would present honest information about these factors.

Drug addiction. In my entire life, I’ve never seen a single piece of anti-drug propaganda, or heard a single “expert” voice the simple truth that people get into drugs because they like the way it makes them feel.  Without addressing this aspect of the pain-pleasure equation, I think the problem will be impossible to address.

There is another hypocrisy: people who drink setting drug policy.  Frankly, I would love to have only teetotalers set the policy for both drugs and alcohol.  It wouldn’t be likely to be loved by many, but we’d avoid the problem of people who feel guilty about drinking alcohol projecting their guilt onto those who use another substance.  I think it’s vile to watch people drink as they discuss the marijuana “problem.”  Jeeze. 

Other than that, frequent readers know my solution: use any battery of substance-neutral tests you want, and apply it across the board to all mind-altering substances.  Anything that tests as no more toxic or addictive  than alcohol and tobacco is immediately decriminalized and/or legalized, and sold in plain brown wrappers. No advertising for any of  them is allowed.  All profits go into drug treatment and education programs held strictly accountable for success and recidivism rates.

This would save massive amounts of money in law enforcement and  prison expenses.  Considering the amount of street violence surrounding people trying to get their supply, or fighting for drug-dealing territory, I suspect violence would go down.  Drug use itself would probably drop, if the treatment and education programs were honestly addressed, not created by people who have a gigantic blind spot as to their own usage.

We’d also cut the profit motive for the gangs and cartels, diminishing violence in Latin America, and the vast amount of money that has corrupted so much of our Southern Neighbors—because of OUR demand for product.

I suspect we’d also increase respect for the law, because one gigantic hypocrisy    would be gone.

Education.  I don’t think the problem is that teacher’s aren’t paid enough.   I think that the problem is that the worst teachers are paid the same as the best.  I say let the teachers themselves come up with some kind of standard of excellence, designed to produce informed, contributing citizens.  Let it be weighted so that teachers who work in poor districts would score (slightly) higher than those who work in wealthy districts. 

Once the best teachers are being paid like superstars, examine their methods.  I am certain that there will be techniques of teaching that are FAR more efficient than what is often used (although I personally have no problems with rote learning.  Yes, it frustrates some of our brightest students, but history simply teems with brilliant, accomplished people of all cultures who began with rote learning.  Anything else I’ve seen seems to require entirely too much individualized instruction to be practical in a wide sense.)

When these new techniques are identified, they should be tested carefully in pilot programs.  If they prove, over time (say, 10 years) to be more efficient, go wider.

School voucher programs?  I would ask my experts to submit proposals, arguments and evidence for and against.
Understand one thing: I care NOTHING about the job security of teachers, in comparison to how much I care about the safety, security, and proper education of the children they are sworn to serve.  When I’ve discussed the above plan with teacher friends, I don’t much like their reactions: they seem to be far more concerned with their pensions and salaries than with the welfare of the children…

Except for a few, who are competitive, and like the challenge. It seems to me that they have a “bring it on” attitude…and think that THEY would be the winners in the top 20%, who would make as much money as the bottom 80%, as is true in most realms of human endeavor.  Man, oh, man—would I have loved for my education to have been dominated by THOSE men and women. 

But that’s just me.  I could be wrong.

If I were President--the Covenant

And here’s one that would be my downfall.  As President, I would find a way to support the Covenant With Black America.  I don’t know exactly how, because I’ve seen (or believe I’ve seen) that any time you have a race-based initiative to address historical grievances, it is criticizes and dismantled by disgruntled whites.  I am sure that many of them are good and sincere people, but it also stands to reason that  bigots would embrace such tactics happily.

And do I think there are serious historical grievances?  You bet, and fairly unique ones, too.  You all know that I embrace “Guns, Germs, and Steel” as an explanation for the differential social development between say, Africa and Europe.  Given that difference, when Europe plundered Africa there was little they could do to resist.  ABSOLUTELY, some African rulers collaborated with the theft of their own people.  And some white people sell their children to molesters—that doesn’t reduce the crime of molestation, of diminish the tragedy to the tykes.  You can always play the divide-and-conquer game, and the society with the guns has mighty leverage to do so.

Perhaps 10-15 million Africans came to the Americas between the 16th and the 19th Centuries.  Depending on who you listen to, this represents somewhere between 1/2 and 1/5 of the total number displaced or killed in the process of slaving.  Quite possibly, a holocaust without parallel in human history. Europe then divided up Africa with little concern for tribal boundaries. Remember this the next time you watch massacres in sub-saharan Africa.  

I’ve got a problem with the “humanitarian” explanation for Iraq.  That problem is that the people I know who plead desperately for anti-genocide action in Africa tend to be Liberals.  Those who, in my PERSONAL experience, imply or say outright that we shouldn’t interfere, that it’s none of our business, that there’s something “wrong” with those people…tend to be Conservatives.  The same Conservatives who want me to believe that their interest in Iraq is humanitarian.

As I’ve said before, I noticed this during the Vietnam war.  The people in favor of the war tended to be disapproving of the Civil Rights movement right here in America.  Those who were in favor of the Civil Rights movement in America tended to be against the Vietnam war. 

So…while I believe that there are good-hearted Conservatives who honestly belief in the humanitarian motive, I think they’re being used by those who really don’t care, have other motives, and know that they can mobilize their base by crying crocodile tears.

I digress.  Africa was raped and battered by Europeans, whose descendants piously point the finger and blame her for limping.  I say that the West has a moral responsibility to undo the damage, and as President, I would promote this simple truth.
And what of the descendants of Slaves in America?  Simply put, there are two basic positions one can take.  The first is that blacks are different and lesser—there are simply too many statistical indicators of differential performance.

The other is that the descendants of slaves, and the descendants of immigrants (Whites, Asians, Blacks) have traversed very, very different territory.    I have heard white historians claim that it took 60-80 years (until World War II) for the South to recover from the Civil War, an event that transpired over five years.

To my knowledge, it ALWAYS takes longer to heal than it took for the injury to occur.  Forest fire?  Earthquake?  Skiing accident?  Rape?  Childhood abuse?  PLEASE, tell me what injury takes less time to heal than it took to occur in the first place. 

To look at the 300 years of horrific rape, torture, under-compensated labor, murder and brainwashing and not expect drastic problems in the descendants of such treatment, is selective amnesia of the very, very worst and most destructive kind.

But what can be done?  Remember that prejudice is hard-wired.  The descendants of those who did the damage are not, as a group, going to feel terribly comfortable addressing those problems.  Please take a look at the number of movies about the civil war, and compare them to the number of movies that deal with slavery, the single most intractable issue in that conflict.  Probably 100:1 ratio.  Black educators fought like cats and dogs to get black history placed into our schools, while whites argued that it wasn’t necessary, every step of the way.

You know what?  When I study literature or science with a female teacher, she mentions women writers and scientists more often than my male teachers.  It’s just a fact of human psychology that members of group X will try to ascribe all good to their group.  In the entire twelve year history of my public school education, not one single hour was devoted to black history. 

So here, I cannot trust to good intentions, or a sense of fair play, or anything else.  Here, I would have to ram a bill down the country’s throat, betting all my political capital on it, knowing that I  would never get a second term, and that in time all the good I had done would be undone.  Homeostasis.

But I would find a way to support the Covenant.  Is that a form of “Reparations”?  Perhaps.  But I’ve never heard of a reparations scheme that sounded to me as if it would work.

Lord God, if I could push a button and reverse the relative positions of black and white, I’d do it in a moment, and laugh grimly at the howls.  But that option isn’t open.   Supporting the Covenant will have to do.

Monday, April 17, 2006

the End of Nations

“Erich I would have to agree with you on what you said.
The more I look at what is happening in the world the more
I get a feeling of hopleness Yet at the same time I am getting
the feeling that the human race need to go though this to evol
into a better world IF IT SURVIVES.
I’d like to offer my perspective on why I think that nations are a thing of the past, and why I think a “one  world gvernment” is pretty much inevitable..  

Some of it is logical, and some of it has to do with intuitions and belief systems.  I cannot make a complete argument based upon logic alone, but I think I can sketch out the basics of it.
I think that, in large part, our sense of what is happening in the world, and the ultimate disposition of Man, is based on a basic sense of what we are as living beings.  Those who think we’re basically “bad” are often pessimistic. Those who think we are basically “good” tend toward optimism.  Failed Romantics look at the potential of man, note how far short we fall, and can get quite depressed indeed.  Me?  I don’t think we’re good or bad—I think that’s basically an external judgement about the results of our actions, and varies depending on point of view.

What I do think is that we are creatures driven by the need to avoid pain and gain pleasure.  To survive.  That when the basic drives are satisfied, we tend to begin to address higher, more complex and evolved drives, marching up the Chakras—or Maslow’s hierarchy.
When humans first evolved a few million years ago, the basic unit was the family, and the tribe.  The family, as the basic biological unit of reproduction, is STILL the primary unit.  Because there are a limited number of actual intimate connections we can make in life (somewhere between twenty and eighty?) tribal/herd size is fairly small, as is the number of our intimate connections to this day.

Nonetheless, the larger the overall unit of association, the greater the safety—in certain senses.  Also, the more differentiation of skills, leading to the ability to specialize effectively.  There are other values too, dealing with security and biodiversity.
However that stuff layers up, it’s pretty clear that the first social groupings had purely to do with territory.  Villages, states, and eventually the first nations were all a matter of territory: they stretched from HERE to THERE, and communication was a matter of talking, writing letters for strangers to carry, paying someone to take them on horseback—whatever.  But within that nation, there were what used to be totally independent villages and family groupings, subsumed under the umbrella of some overarching government or trade relationship, enabled by the quality of communication and ease of travel.
And things remained pretty much that way—mostly geopolitical entities, the beginnings of distant colonies, trade, so forth, knitting the world together.  Just remember that, in earlier times, every group of 100 or so used to be a different village.  They just grew or were knitted together. You need isolation to create a truly new and distinct culture.  About 150 years ago we got the telegraph, and that started changing everything.  Instant communication over distance.  In my mind, the body human got its central nervous system at that point.

Radio, telephone, television, the Internet—they followed in a cascade, so that now I can pick up a cell phone and talk to a Masaii in Tanzania.  And that is the effective end of Nations. 
Oh, Nations will continue to have names, and strut, and preen.  But there are already Multinational companies with greater power than some nations.  Multinational trade unions.  Multinaitonal social service organizations.  Groups like NATO and the United Nations and the European Union seeking to coordinate the  behaviors of separate groups into dynamic agreement.

And OF COURSE they have problems.  Families, made up of separate individuals, have problems.  But what I see as the language, trade, travel, communication, and other barriers fall is that in a few generations there will be the same difference between, say, the United States and Japan that there currently is between Texas and New England.  In some ways?  Tremendous differences.  In others?  Not much at all.
I’d suspect that everyone alive today, and all of hteir grandchildren, will have to be dead, because those who grew up with the concept of Nations will cling to it—what I suggest is a strange new world, in one sense.  In another, I merely see it as the end result of people trading, intermarrying, fighting, traveling, working, and talking with the folks “on the other side of the mountains” and seeing we are pretty much all the same.

At that point, geopolitical entities start meaning less than groupings based on shared values and interests, shared monetary systems, religions, and what-not, a web of overlapping priorities that will eventually dwarf the question of who you happen to live next to.  Once upon a time, the people “on your block” were your dearest friends, the potential mates for your children, the ones with whom you hunted, farmed, and celebrated.  Now our friends and workmates can be scattered around the country.  This, to me, is the future of mankind—and in the face of that human drive to find commonality, the formal structures of the traditional nation are so 19th century it’s almost amusing.  To me, nations are dinosaurs searching for convenient tarpits.  I feel that I’m already seeing it, but it won’t happen in any kind of straight-line progression, nor can it be micro-managed.

I just think it’s the basic nature of life to evolve into more complex forms, and of human beings to evolve toward enlightenment.  Nations were a temporary solution.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Back to saving the country...

Had an important meeting yesterday that took me away from home most of the day…sorry!  Anyway, back to the serious question of what I’d do if someone were nuts enough to put me, kicking and screaming, into the White House.  We’ve listed the following areas:
Terrorism and National Security
b) Iraq/Afghanistan  (doing good and getting out ASAP)
c) The National Debt
d) Health Care
e) Energy Consumption and the environment
f) Civil Rights (addressing the principles in the  Covenant)/Constitutional
rights as well
g) Katrina/preparing for disasters in general  all kinds
h) Education
i) Drug Enforcement/re-think the war on drugs
j) Immigration

And dealt with several of them.  These seem to remain:

d) Health Care
e) Energy Consumption and the environment
f) Civil Rights (addressing the principles in the  Covenant)/Constitutional
rights as well
g) Katrina/preparing for disasters in general  all kinds
h) Education
Drug Enforcement/re-think the war on drugs

Let’s try HEALTH CARE.  I lean toward offering all citizens the same health care they’d get in a Federal or state prison.  Since all they have to do to get it is KILL YOUR FAMILY, it would seem to me to be a good idea, even from the most selfish point of view, to provide a safety net.  I imagine a basic health care, with “buy-ins” to allow greater levels of service, and greater flexibility of doctors and clinics.  So poor people would have their minimum, and the working class would have more, and the well-off could do just about whatever they wanted.

But I would want to check with citizens in Canada and other places with socialized medicine, and get a sense of their satisfaction, and the quality of services. 

THE ENVIRONMENT.  Here, there are scientists I know personally who have done deep research into these areas.  In one case, I happen to KNOW his work was misquoted by a certain famous author who twisted it to fit the “what global warming?” pov.

It seems to me that we have a problem, and that the only people who DON’T think we do are oil companies, their advocates, and a percentage of people on the far right.  Aside from that, a generous portion of citizens and scientists otherwise across the political spectrum are growing more convinced that something very serious is going on, and that human actions can and must affect it.  What should be done? 

Well…all right, here’s the nutty proposal to start the discussion.  Hydrogen.  All other forms of energy can be used to create liquid hydrogen, a clean-burning (if somewhat tricky) fuel.  Let’s have a crash program to create safe, hydrogen-burning vehicles.  Then geothermal, tidal, solar, wind, petro, nuclear, or anything else can be used to dissociate water into liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen to be burned in cars, or electricity to run plants and homes.

Again, this is just to get the conversation going.  I admit to great ignorance…but am convinced that global warming is a genuine, human-influenced trend, based not just on popular advocacy, but on private conversations with honest, ethical, knowledgable scientists.  They might well be wrong, but man, oh man, if they’re right, our grandchildren are in deep, deep trouble if we don’t change our ways.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Addressing a question

A question asked that should be addressed, concerning my comment that:

"My confidence is that, if they actually open their eyes and make a decision, that those decisions will express the true intent of the people, and I happen to trust people to do what is in their own best interests--when they are awake."
The reader asked:

“Steve, who is going to decide when they are "awake"? Whose definition are we going to use? Yours? Why should your definition be any more accurate or legitimate than Jerry Falwell's or David Koresh's?”

In an absolute sense, it isn’t.  I’m not seeking the office of President.  I’m just saying that if I had it, I would have to make tough decisions, and this is the basis I’d make them on.  There is NO WAY for a leader to have the support of all the people, and some will ALWAYS consider him to be a tyrant or a weakling.  I can live with that.

“My interpretation of what you said above is "I trust the people to do what is in their best interests- when they adopt my point of view and agree with my decisions." Taking your above statement, you've said that you do not trust your fellow citizens to make the "correct" decisions.”

I trust them to make “correct” decisions when they have “correct” data and clearly understand what they want—long term.  I would only enforce my opinions about these things within the limits of Constitutional Law, however, and remember that just because I have an opinion doesn’t make me correct.  Ultimately, if I am the Chief Executive, I’d have to make executive decisions.  I clearly, honestly, said that I don’t think I’m smart enough to be President.  But if I had the job, I think I know how I’d approach it: by putting my ideas out in public and letting them be savaged.  Then take the most reasonable and intelligent of the savagers and get their advice on who to talk to.  Then talking to those, and seeing which of them can interact in the most fluid and ego-less fashion, and creating my braintrust/cabinet from those.  But always, always, ultimately I would have to decide.  That’s the job. 

“Again, I think you are taking a distinctly fascist point of view here. How many horrors have been perpetrated in the name of inducing people to think correctly?””

Most of them.  And anyone who thinks they  could be President without people justifiably thinking some of his behaviors fascistic is kidding themselves.  I would solicit all the opinion I could…but ultimately, would have to make decisions.

“The equilibrium of a free society is not groupthink, it is a variety of opinions all exisiting in the public sphere in competition. It is the freedom to stand in Times Square and yell at the top of your lungs "The President is an ass!" and the worst thing that happens is some people look at you funny.”


“You don't trust your fellow citizens because you think they aren't "awake". Fine. A great number of your fellow citzens don't trust you and think that you aren't "awake" either. Of course, to you, the idea that you are less awake than them is ridiculous. Well, vice-versa applies as well.”

You’re wrong on a number of points here.  I don’t think their opinion is ridiculous.  I merely, in my scenario, find myself as President.  There is no way in the world to get everyone to agree.  Someone will always think me a monster, fool, or tyrant.  Ultimately, within the laws of the land, I would have to find a way to make peace with my conscience, and make decisions.

“That aside for a moment. Let's say you get your chance to spend your four years inducing people to "awaken". “

What will you do if 90% of the media who you rely upon to transmit your message voted for the other guy and routinely let their dislike of you and your policies shape their reporting. As the old joke goes, you could walk on water and the headline says you "can't swim". What do you do then? Do you bring the machinery of the state onto play to induce people to think differently?”

Not illegally, no.  My task would be to find a way to use the legal machineries to move us forward.  If I believed that there was a circumstance that would not tolerate the usual legal machineries…dear God, I hate to contemplate that.  Here’s what I’d say: if I had to become dictator in order to create a solution, unless I was willing to die after eight years, I would assume it was just ego and power hunger blinding me.  I would never, ever want that responsibility.  I think no human could handle it, no matter how positive their initial intent.

“”Imagine for a moment- every reaction you have against Bush- his media appearances, his speeches, any gov't announcement- the feeling you have towards those that you've written about. Imagine trying to get past that reaction in roughly half of the population. How would you do it? Ask yourself- how difficult would it be for Bush to induce you to think differently? (no cheating- you can't say "well if he did what I want him to I'd agree with him more") If he was to change not one policy but simply communicate with you differently. How would he have to do it to persuade you?”

He would have to show me the building blocks of his thought, one step at a time, and convince me it didn’t originate in hatred, prejudice, cultural contempt, or greed.  This would be difficult, but not impossible.

“If you have the perfect answer on how he'd do it. Great. Now find the means he would tailor his message to change the mind of Susan Sarandon, Michael Moore, Dan Rather, Al Gore and 50 million other Americans.”

Again, I feel that the problem isn’t one of communication—it is that his actual intentions don’t match what he has said.  Might his real intentions be positive and just?  Possibly, and if they are, I think that there would be far fewer than 50 million (or whatever)
Americans disagreeing.  Some would hate him just because they are haters…just as you have with any other leader, or party.  But most people can be reasoned with, if you demonstrate how what you are doing is in alignment with their values.
“For real ambition, try to figure out how this would work if you were president of the world, and you were trying to get the world as a whole to awaken to ideas such as women's rights. How would you peacefully persuade several dozen cultures that regard women's rights as an abomination?”

Actually easy, but I wouldn’t expect to do it in a generation.  I would start with the assumption that all of these beliefs are based on cultural survival memes. Remove the fear that they protect, and the beliefs begin to waver.  As long as people think they will lose power, or sex, or life itself if things change, they will not.  So I’d look deeply into the survival value of the negative belief, and address that, trusting to time and the evolutionary nature of Mankind to take care of the rest.

“Somewhat ironically, you stumbled across the answer to why Bush doesn't spend all of his time attempting to induce changes in people's opinions and keep his support 50%+ or higher.

"I’m sure some of you will think me a moron. Fine. My ego is less important than the future of our children."”
--That’s assuming that he is an honest, moral man.  History has shown us that we cannot automatically assume that of our leaders.  What has he done to earn my trust, my confidence, my belief in his honesty?  Not enough, I’m afraid, and after 9-11 I suspended ALL judgments about him, wanted with all my heart to believe that our Commander In Chief was a good man, a man worthy of sending our children into battle.  Sadly, I no longer believe that…but there was nothing automatic at all.  And I don’t believe in a “Liberal Media” that twisted and perverted his positions.  Not by any definition of “Liberal” that I understand.   Conservatives think the media tilts to the left.  Liberals think it tilts to the right.  Split the difference.


Well, here’ s a hot-button. And I expect to be called nasty things.  Fine.  I’m not President to make friends.  Let me first define the situation:
I would assume that any nation, tribe, or family has the right to decide who becomes a part of it, and who does not.  This would seem to be pretty close  to a universal, and America isn’t lower than whale shit if it claims the same right.  Period.
We have a huge border, hard to patrol properly.
There is a real differential between style of life in America and Mexico.  We’ve been broadcasting the wonder of our lifestyle for a century, it is hardly surprising that people would crawl across broken glass to get here.  There is nothing intrinsically evil about people trying to improve their lives by going to a new place.
We already have 10-12 million illegals here now.  We cannot deport them all—it would make no sense.  So we spend uncounted billions getting them south of the border.  And they come back.  So we spend uncounted billions more to ship them again, and they come back again, ad nauseum?
We can’t jail them.  Our penal system couldn’t support it.
Not that anyone sane would suggest it, but just to be clear, we can’t kill ‘em either.

Those are the basic components of the situation.  In general, nobody’s bad here.  Mexicans have the right to seek a better life, and Americans have the right to define the terms under which someone becomes an American.  No evils, just a matter of utility.  An organism that cannot define the “edge” of its body cannot live, and in a very real sense, a society is an organism.  Remove the shouting and emotion, and let’s see what we have…
We can’t have unlimited immigration.  We have to address the underlying causes, and also see that there will be no simple solutions.  Some of this won’t be fun at all.  I see it as a carrot-and-stick approach.

Clearly define a road to citizenship for illegals already in the country.  Include fines, taxes, language requirements, etc…but actually create that road.
Fence the most porous parts of the border, and increase the patrolling.
Fine employers who hire workers without proper identification.  The fine should be escalating based on number of violations, and ramped up over a 10-year period.  The identification cards will have to be tied into our Social Security system and general citizen identification system.
A worldwide campaign to slow population growth is vital—for general environmental purposes if nothing else.  But this single factor, population growth, will screw all of our attempts to heal the world if it is unstemmed.
A renewable energy program might call for billions of acres of ethanol-producing grasses and vegetables.  A flourishing crop-base in Mexico, supported by America, could create a flood of decent jobs, reducing border pressure.
The draconian Science-Fiction writer part of me would like to take repeat offenders (those who have snuck across the border, been returned, and snuck across again) and have them implanted with the equivalent of dog-training “shock collars.”  The discomfort signal is broadcast all over the  Continental United States, and would grow more and more painful the longer you stayed…ah, I’m just kidding.

I think that the above covers most of my thoughts: fair play for those already here, a plan that doesn’t involve endlessly shipping people back across the border, an acknowledgement that as long as there is a better life here than there, good and honorable people will seek to reach it.

As YOU would, my friends.  As the Ancestors of about 85% of the population did.  But mark my words—the humanitarian concerns DO NOT include an open border.  I see no reason to hold America to some higher spiritual standard than the rest of the world.  It simply doesn’t work that way. 

I can see a world meshed together sufficiently to make borders irrelevant.  But that is a better, more evolved world, and you can’t just sprint there, or pretend that there are not economic, cultural, and security concerns.  As President, I cannot close my eyes to any of that…although I refuse to demonize those simply seeking a better life.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

If I were president, continued...

a) Terrorism and National Security
b) Iraq/Afghanistan  (doing good and getting out ASAP)
c) The National Debt
d) Health Care
e) Energy Consumption and the environment
f) Civil Rights (addressing the principles in the  Covenant)/Constitutional
rights as well
g) Katrina/preparing for disasters in general  all kinds
h) Education
i) Drug Enforcement/re-think the war on drugs
j) Immigration

So, these are the areas I’m going to offer opinions on.  You guys can then tell me where I’m an ass.  If I was actually president, I would also ask you  to list the smartest people you know in these arenas.  If I have no personal opinions about who might have the expertise, I would get in touch with the people mentioned most often, and ask THEM who THEY think the  smartest and best people are.  Those mentioned most often, once again, are asked to come to a symposium, to discuss proposals and ideas. Those who interact most fluidly, and with the least ego, get invited to join my  team.  I will make up my own opinions, after hearing what everyone has to say.
My first proposal was to reinstitute the draft, and to roll back taxes.  The one comment re: the draft that really hit me was that an all-volunteer army is actually more efficient.  If this is true, it would influence my decision.  This is why I need smart people with specialized knowledge.

I do not equate a draft with slavery.  Indentured servitude, perhaps.  I personally would have no problem with tying the right to vote to some kind of public service: military, teaching, Peace Corps, forestry service, WPA…something.  But I’m not putting that proposal on the table, and please remember that I am admitting to my ignorance and inexperience UP FRONT.  So we have the first proposals for my experts to debate and educate me upon.

More on terrorism and National security.
I don’t buy the “we’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here” argument.  To me, that’s like saying “let’s swat flies in Montana so we don’t have to swat them in Texas.”  Just specious reasoning, based on the idea that there are a limited, pre-existing number of terrorists. I think this is REALLY bad thinking.  For America to be secure, we need both a lethal, willing military, and policies of fair-play and contribution. We need a world community united in a common vision.  There will always be terrorists, just like there will always be bank robbers. The trick is to have a world fair enough that the sanest and most competent potential terrorists have no  rational motivation for wanting to hurt us, leaving only the loonies.  Frankly, I  think Bin Laden had motivation—the removal of an American presence from Saudi Arabia.  It boggles my mind that sane, rational Americans will argue for Saddam’s involvement in 9-11, and ignore the vastly greater connections to Saudi Arabia.  Arrgh. 

So my proposal has to deal with Iraq, which, were I a Muslim, could easily be seen as American imperialism and incompetence, evidence that America is a rogue nation that needs to be taught a lesson.  Let me have a parent or sweetheart killed in an American raid, and I might be willing to strap on dynamite and walk into a mall.  It’s possible.

Set a deadline for leaving Iraq.  Tie it to a specific number of trained Iraqi brigades meeting a specific standard of readiness.  Have the process of training and evaluation as transparent as possible.
If this is a war, Americans should feel it.  I keep my draft and tax proposals on the table until my experts convince me otherwise.
Institute a CRASH program to wean American autos from fossil fuels.  Huge prizes for entrepreneurs who develop ways to adapt existing cars to ethanol or liquid hydrogen, and more for people who can demonstrate safe ways to produce and ship such alternate fuels.  I mean a “Manhattan Project” type program, total energy independence within twenty years.
Rebuild Afghanistan.  Make THIS our showpiece of democracy and possibility
Rebuild our international reputation.  Frankly, I don’t believe the threat of terrorism can be addressed by having the biggest, baddest hammer on the block. Sometimes, you need a screwdriver.  In this instance, you can’t do it with  the most Yang, masculine approach alone.  That seems to be what this administration is trying to do.  It will also take a very, very serious commitment to nurturance of relationships and a sense of worldwide connections.
Here’s what I think: we are in the last days of the Nation-state as we understand it.  Another generation or two, and nations will mean about as much as the difference between California and Kentucky.  Organism and social structures continually strive to re-integrate at higher and higher levels of complexity.  That’s evolution.  It is obvious to me that in some undetermined period of time (a few hundred years?  A few generations?) there will be one world government.  The trick is to make that transition as pleasant as possible, and to ask ourselves what kind of government we want to see.   I’M NOT SAYING I LIKE THE IDEA. I’M SAYING I THINK IT INEVITABLE.  There’s a difference.  Terrorism can either be effectively combated by  such a world government, to it can frighten us into giving up our liberties to a crushing, brutal world dictatorship.  We have to ask ourselves how that transition would best take place, and stop pretending that the past will equal the future.

So…those are more proposals placed on the table.  I’m sure some of you will think me a moron.  Fine.  My ego is less important than the future of our children.  So…hack away, tell me what you think, and we’ll have more imbecility tomorrow.

Monday, April 10, 2006

If I were president...

Remember, I said that, if I were president, I'd post my solutions, allow people to attack them, convene the smartest people I could find to comment on the attacks, and then make up my own mind.  Here we go...
My first solution has to do with both the Iraq war and the National debt.  I would re-instate the draft, and undo the tax cuts for the upper brackets.

The reasoning:
I don’t believe in trickle-down economics.  In a closed system, maybe.  But not in a world of off-shore accounts and outsourcing.
If this war is important enough to fight, it is important enough to hurt.  We need to feel the pinch.  Right now, I feel too much of the country is asleep.  It isn’t their children dying over there.  I would wake them up, and trust that the combined wisdom of this country is more powerful than a dozen men making policy in Washington.  I believe in an awake, aware people, and pain wakes us up.

My guess?  We would know, very very swiftly, what people wanted in terms of this war.  We would also stop foisting the debt off on our grandchildren.

All right, tell me why I’m crazy, and what you would do to  address these issues.

Fear Itself

The Dark Side is the belief that the wrongs which were done to you in the past justify your current behavior.
            My parents were mean to me, so I will be a mean person.  I got dumped by a girlfriend once, so I'll cheat on my wife, because women are evil.  I had a hard life, so I can do anything I want, because the world owes me.”

The above was sent to me by a reader pondering the nature of evil, and how it effects us. 

Here’s the truth: I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a perfect excuse to be a bad person.  A failure.  To strike out at the world.  Every human being on this planet feels alone and afraid. 
The only question is: what will you do with your loneliness and your fear?

Another reader commented that the Neocons use fear to manipulate the public.  Yet another commented that Democrats do the same thing.  Let’s be even more honest: Politicians use fear to motivate us.  No, let’s be even more honest still: human beings use fear to motivate each other, and themselves.  Fear, and loneliness.

The vast majority of commercial products are sold using the hot-buttons of fear and sex and power.  It is arguable that power is only desired because it protects us from fear, and enables greater access to sex (especially for men.)
So we’re down to the lower two or three chakras.  Brothers and sisters, if you are trying to get a crowd moving, and you appeal to their intellects while the guy across the street is talking sex and fear, YOU WILL LOSE.
After 9-11 America, like virtually any country that wants to survive, went into crash mode, collapsed to a two-dimensional view of the world, and heightened the “If you’re  not with us, you’re against us” attitude more severely than I’ve ever seen it in my lifetime.  Anyone who disagreed with the administration was a traitor or a coward, an attitude that shut the Democrats up so soundly that they’ve yet to really recover.  Do you think that Bush invented this?  Or that America invented this?  NO! It is ancient stuff.  I am hurt, the world turns red, I lash out and destroy anything that isn’t instantly identifiable as “family” or “ally.” 

EVERYONE gave Bush the benefit of the doubt.  His approval ratings went through the roof. Absolutely predictable. We wanted, needed to belief that he was the right man, in the right place, doing the right job.
There is only one way to stop politicians, or Hollywood, or Madison Avenue from manipulating you with your fear: you must face it yourself.  You must, on a daily basis, look at the demons crawling in the depth of your mind, and realize that you are NOT, regardless of what you may think, primarily motivated by logic.  Nope, and never have been.  Logic operates at the pleasure of your emotions, which are linked directly to survival drives.

In other words, most people think that they think, and then they feel.  No.  They feel, and then try to justify their feelings with thought.  This is why two intelligent people can look at the same situation, and have completely different sets of “explanations” for it—there are ALWAYS multiple ways of looking at things.  Whenever you get the “you  fools!  Can’t you see!” response, this is a person with a frozen emotional attitude, whose intellect is scurrying to justify a pre-set point of view.
I have a friend whose father owned land with black sharecroppers on it.  He was told by his father that god made these poor people lesser, and that it was the white man’s obligation to care for them.  He was also raised Catholic, and taught by nuns.  He believes in a literal, burning hell.  This man, highly intelligent, is intractable on the issues of race.  He discards any data that might infer that black people are as intelligent and capable as whites, or that slavery caused any long-term damage.  (In fact, he insists that the only damage to the black family was done by liberal welfare policies!)

Over the decades I’ve known him, ever so very slowly, he has begun to admit that maybe…MAYBE…the racial IQ differences have some environmental basis.  But every time he heard an expert speaking on the subject, unless the expert agreed with him, he simply branded the man a fool or a liar.

His beliefs about race are tied together with his belief in God, don’t you see?  His fear for his soul makes it impossible for him to dig deeply into the attitudes he was given as a child.  They are the bedrock of his reality.  You couldn’t get to his racial attitudes with a jackhammer.
And we ALL have prejudices and preconceived notions that evade the light of consciousness.  If you meditate, you merely become more aware of them, which can be depressing for some, and drive people away from the very practices that would set them free.

Don’t blame the Neocons, or Republicans, or Bush, or the Democrats for using our fear to motivate us.  If you want someone to blame, look in the mirror and ask why you are so afraid of your own fear.  Why human beings, whom some say are the only animals conscious of their own deaths, tend to use that knowledge to weaken rather than strengthen themselves. 

And as you question, question yourself.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Philadelphia Inquirer article

One of my essays (Escaping the Matrix) was recently republished in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and I'm getting interesting responses, one from a lady who thought it made no sense at all (and therefore would win me a Pulitzer!) and the other a gentleman who sent the following:
Dear Mr Barnes,
I read your interesting, if sometimes difficult to understand, article in today's Sunday, April 9th issue of the Inquirer. I was curious about a few of your perceptions towards the end of the article:
1. What do you mean by hitting muck at each level of searching for the light? When you find the light why do you need to keep digging and hit muck again?
That in meditating, you are forced to work through your unresolved emotional pain and damage.  The Light is not a static thing, but more like a perfectly pruned and tended garden...if you stop too long to admire it, the weeds grow to choke it.

2. When you episodically reach the state of spiritual clarity, what takes endless vigilance? Why do you want to stop and rest? What is so tiring in that state?
The spiritual clarity is there in the meditation, and to a certain degree in the hours and days that follow.  But if one gets smug enough to think "hey!  I'm there!" you immediately backslide.  It takes real work to engage in a struggle with your demons, and it seems that the more of them you conquer, the more your subconscious starts sending in the "A-Team."  Luckily, if you work constantly, you also grow stronger as you go.  The ego is a powerful enemy.
3. What are the contents of your reminders everyday of who you are and what you are committed to? Who are you and what is it you are committed to?
I am a father, a husband, a brother and friend.  I am a writer, a teacher,  a seeker of truth.  I am a warrior, a healer.  In other words, I bring it back, every day, to my three arenas of concern: my family, my writing, my martial arts.

4. Do you reach the state of spiritual clarity (approach GOD) by being acutely aware and vigilant of your thoughts (voices in your head) or is it by trying to achieve a thoughtless state?
Is it heads or tails?  These two things are joined.  Become aware of your thoughts by becoming aware of the space between them.  Deepen that space.  Ultimately the thoughts fade, and you are left with the space itself...quite an experience, if you've never had it!

Within that clarity, you can build anew, and create your life in the image of your deepest values, of the creative Force that you hold closest to your heart.  If you call that God, or Jesus, fine.  Works for me.  But there are other paths and labels as well.  And, not trying to be confusing, but there are paths without labels.  They can be mighty interesting and valuable as well.

Lucky Number Sleven (2006)

Yet another movie in the “Let’s rip off Pulp Fiction” genre (“Things to Do In Denver When You’re Dead”, etc.) this film starring Josh Hartnett   as the hapless dweeb caught in a (sometimes) hysterical web of mistaken identity.  This web involves Ben Kingsley as a mobster called The Rabbi (why?  Because he’s a Rabbi, of course.) Another mobster (Morgan Freeman) called the Boss (why?  Oh…nevermind)  Bruce Willis as a deadly hitman, the delectable Lucy Liu as the kooky coroner next door…oh, it just goes on and on.  Filled with incredibly unlikely coincidences, lotsa cute dialogue, and some genuine suspense as Hartnet’s character “Sleven” tries to negotiate some very dangerous waters without drowning…I really should have liked it more.  Really.  But there is an amoral core to this film that goes beyond “Pulp Fiction.”  In Tanantino’s masterpiece, we cheer for Jules, the hit-man, because of what he is becoming, or attempting to become, not because of what he has been.  Even on those terms, no one is killed who did not at least tacitly agree to become part of a system where death is a possible result.  The moral landscape, while dark, is clear.

In “Sleven,” it is muddier.  Not only that, but the movie cheats—it is a trick, you see, and some of what you think you know, you don’t know at all.  Things that are shown onscreen never happened at all, and that violates some very basic rules for the audience, rule that, while stretched in a brilliant film like “the Usual Suspects” are never quite broken.  So there you are…a bad taste in my mouth, rather than a cracking good time.  Give it a “B-“
On another subject, Lucy Liu is sure cute there with Hartnett.  Let’s see…how long has it been since we’ve seen an Asian male being sexual with ANYONE in an American film?  Try “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” in 1993.  Thirteen YEARS ago.  But wait, that was a biopic. How about a fictional movie?  Try “the Big Brawl” with Jackie Chan, in 1980, twenty-six years ago.  There was a movie called “The Dragon Flies” with Jimmy Wang Yu and George Lazenby back in 1975, but you’re starting to see the pattern, I hope.    One suspects the distribution is roughly similar to the proportion of female to male Asian television reporters.  A female in every city, a male in every state. 

Pretty disgusting.

If I were President...

Taking up the gauntlet

All right, several readers have accused me of “Bush Bashing” in the sense of criticizing his decisions without offering alternatives of my own.  Fair enough, I suppose.  Not fair—I didn’t ask for the job, and anyone who does is totally open to criticism.  Note the hack job Right-Wing radio did on Clinton (and they haven’t stopped yet—according to them, everything wrong in the world is the responsibility of a guy out of office for seven years.  Pretty funny, actually)—but fair enough.  Let’s get to it.
There are really two questions here: what would I have done differently, and what would I do now.  Fair enough.  We also need to define the arenas of question.  The biggest one has to do with 9-11 and the aftermath.  Simply put:

I think Bin Laden pulled off a genius-level coup on 9-11, and I think he could have pulled it off anywhere except Israel.  Honestly, I think only sheer luck could have stopped it.  I wonder about the “Bin Laden determined to attack in the United States” memo left Bush by the Clinton Administration, and reports that there wasn’t a single meeting on that subject…but I’m willing to give that a pass. 
Afterward, the attack on Afghanistan—well done, and totally justified in my mind.
That was where it went wrong.  Instead of staying in Afghanistan, rebuilding, and concentrating on capturing Bin Laden, Bush went utterly off the rails with the attack on Iraq.  I happen to believe Richard Clark and others who say that Bush was dead-set on attacking Iraq.  Why?  No doubt a combination of motivations, some of them perfectly justified and understandable.  Others…I suspect less so.  Whatever the justifications, now we understand why Bush I, a smarter, better president,  didn’t push the Gulf War on to Bagdhad.  He understood perfectly well the disaster awaiting a power vacuum.  I would have stayed in Afghanistan and tried to turn THAT Islamic country into a democracy, built up ITS infrastructure.
Those are the only things that seem crystal clear to me.  There are other issues: Katrina, the national debt, security leaks, etc.  But here, I would like readers to define for me what areas need to be addressed.  Because this is what I would do if someone were stupid enough to put me in to the White House today:

I would first clearly define the arenas that need addressing.  Now, there are so many of them, in so many arenas, that I am PERFECTLY aware of my incompetence to handle them.  But, as Dirty Harry said, “A Good man always knows his limitations.”  Ahem.  But if I WAS there, just for this thought exercise, I would start by defining the 10 most important areas of concern for the American public.  I ask readers to help me define the top 10.
I would start by formulating my best opinion on the approach for each of them.  Then I would post them on a public forum of some kind, and solicit opinions.  My first act would be to find the smartest and best people in each arena, from both sides of the political aisle, and have them tell me why my ideas suck, and react to the public reactions to my ideas.  Look at the short and long-term effects.  And this is where I would learn, and begin to get a sense of what might actually work, and from these interactions I would create a team to propose answers, and from those answers get an overall sense of what is politically feasible within my term.
With total admission of my ignorance, I submit the following arenas of concern (in no particular order of importance), and ask readers to tell me what I’ve omitted, or if one of them shouldn’t be in the top 10:

Terrorism and National Security
The National Debt
Health Care
Energy Consumption and the environment
Civil Rights (addressing the principles in the  Covenant)
Drug Enforcement

I will then make a fool of myself by posting my thoughts on each of the areas.  I would then like people to tear me a new one, showing me why my thoughts would not work, and hopefully pointing toward actual solutions, or experts who have them.

Let’s get a conversation started.  None of us have the answers, but all of us damned well do.


Friday, April 07, 2006

Compassion for Conservatives, and the Path

The unfortunate thing about our political system is that it is, to many, a zero-sum game.  In other words, I believe many will support a candidate or sitting official because if that person goes down, they take the party with them.  And people identify with a party for a variety of reasons, not all of them sound and rational.

We have a situation right now where an increasing number of Conservative Republicans are questioning their support of the Bush White House.  At this point, beyond almost any doubt, I think Bush is the worst, most dishonest and incompetent president of my lifetime…but, of course, I could be wrong.  If I’m right, though, dear God are we in trouble.

As more Republicans begin to admit their dismay, it is VERY important that they be allowed to expose weakness without being laughed at, attacked or “I told you so’d.”  One day the shoe will be on the other foot, I promise you.  As citizens of this country, we have to be able to admit to weakness and mistakes without being savaged.  I can’t do anything about the hyena laughter on Air America as new information strongly suggesting Bush lied to our faces, or at the very least, stretched truth to the breaking point.  I don’t approve of the mockery…but then again I didn’t approve of Rush Limbaugh or Micheal Savage either.  Their job is to stir the masses, not encourage reasoned discourse. 

If things fall apart as badly as they seem to be, remember that we’re all in this together.  Welcome them with open arms, and realize we’ve all made mistakes.  Let’s do what we need to do to heal the country…

Then, after it is healed, we can go back to fighting amongst ourselves again.  Right now, our children are dying, and our grandchildren are being saddled with impossible debt, and our great-grandchildren face an environmental nightmare.  I’d say we need sober talk, not mockery.
Back to the PATH.  I promised to talk about the core of it.  I have to dance around this, because much of my thought was feeling…was experiential, although guided by conceptual structures.

There are several different structures I’ve studied quite a bit, chief among them the yogic Chakras, Maslow’s Heirarchy, and the “Core Transformation” pattern created by Connirae Andreas of NLP Comprehensive in Colorado.

All of them suggest that when lower, more basic needs are satisfied, we automatically evolve toward the next level.  (The Hero’s Journey says the same thing, of course.)

That, in essence, any human behavior, no matter how venal or violent, is an attempt to reach the Divine.  That it is the intrinsic nature of humanity to evolve in a spiritual sense.  Let’s just say that I had come to believe in this strongly.

Three years ago, I got ahold of an audiotape of Coach  Scott Sonnon’s called the Flow State Performance Spiral.  In it, he describes a model of human activity where all techniques are composed of breath, movement, and structure.  Each of these is “created by” the other two.  Interesting, and his “Be Breathed” technique (incorporated into my Five Minute Miracle DVD) provided a practical example that I could understand on a physical level.  Cool.

But he talked about the interaction of two combative athletes, and how YOUR job is to remain unified in these three aspects, while simultaneously disassembling your opponent: hampering his breathing, his ease of motion, or his structural alignment. That this was a hyper-efficient focal point for your strikes and punches, your throws, your locks and chokes.  And that the differential BETWEEN your efficiency and his creates the “Time Distortion” effect noted in master-level martial arts performance, where the expert seems to be moving almost in slow motion, but still “gets there” before his opponent. 

This was the first time I’d heard an explanation of this phenomenon that made sense to me, that matched my own experience.  I was hypnotized, and listened to that darned tape about fifty times, over and over again, disbelieving what I was hearing.  What Scott had done was provided me with a critical mass of understanding.  After forty years of continuous study, some part of me finally had a toehold on a Path  I’d glimpsed in yoga, in Martial Arts, in Christianity, in Contemporary Shamanism, est, NLP, Zen all of the varied things I’d explored over the years.  I FELT what they were all talking about.  And it boils down to this:
As you move through life, you confront obstacles within and without.  If your will is strong enough to move through them, you learn.  If you find the right allies and resources, you grow.  If you pay attention to the actual results of your behaviors and thoughts, you gain wisdom.

Pain and fear are stored both in the mind and in the body, which are inseparably linked.  These emotions compete with love for room in your heart, and love is the primary evolutionary power.  These negative emotions impact your health and ease of movement, cripple your energy.  If you learn to move your body as it moved before these negative emotions infected you, in effect, you release the emotions.

If you don’t release them, they will hide in whatever arena of your life where you put the least attention.  For most of us?  Our bodies.  They become sacks of rotting meat where all of the disappointments, rage, pain, and fear fester.  And the joke is that the poison will kill us, but not hurt us.  If we start digging into it, it hurts, but heals.  Man oh man, is it ever painful to awaken to that reality.

So, then, given all of this, a possibility presented itself to me.  A way that you can maximize your own, or a student’s chances of success.  Understand: I know of no way to choreograph a true epiphany,  although temporary “kundalini jolts,” “Cracks in the cosmic egg” CAN and have been orchestrated by teachers for thousands of years.  Without a continuous practice of some kind, however, the insights are quickly lost.  So, this is was I saw:

1)     If you created goals in a balanced matrix, body, mind, and emotions, your demons have nowhere to hide.
2)     “Spirit” needs not be addressed directly, and in fact, it is possible that it cannot be.  Dealing with body, family and community with love and honesty and integrity puts you on the path…you cannot help but grow toward spirit, if you are properly rooted.  On the other hand, trying to access spirit directly can lead to delusion and disillusionment.
3)     As you address your life in balance, you will fail again and again.  Fear and pain will attempt to encode itself in your body, your ego’s way of slowing your progress.  Therefore, some daily practice must be devised, a way of simply cleaning out your inner rooms daily.
4)     The practice must be both mental and physical, preferably one that simultaneously can lead to fitness and increased energy: energy is VITAL to the evolutionary process

I think that those are the basics.  Understanding the course of energy, raising energy, cleaning the energy, patterning the energy, balancing the energy.  Refining it so that it functions as a laser in your life, with nothing wasted, everything, all mind and muscle and emotion, moving in the same direction.
When I looked at this model, I realized that it made sense of everything that I had ever learned.  Over the next year I experimented with it in my own life, and satisfied with the results, began to wonder if there wasn’t some way to share it with others. 

And that was when I reached out to Scott, and pled with him to create a physical technique that could be taught to beginners, that would allow them to remove the negative emotional obstructions at the same time they raised their energy.  It took him two years to create, but we have it now.

And the first Path workshop is in two weeks. I cannot wait.