The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Could you fall in love with you?

And here we’re talking again about relationships.  You know, watching my son Jason watching me and Tananarive together, soaking in every pixel of information about how to be an adult…what relationships are…it makes me want to tiptoe around him sometime, knowing that every word, every glance, every touch, every kiss…is registering with him.

I love my marriage to T, and it has provided me with a better mirror than I’ve ever had in my life.  Who am I?  What am I doing?  Where am I going?  Have I lived up to my abilities and expectations?  The answers vary day by day…but Tananarive is there, and we struggle to find the best way of relating and deepening what we have.

And my central question to myself, often, is: Am I being the best possible partner for her?

This column is about dumping out the stuff that comes into my head every day, so that I can keep moving forward.  You all know that I love the Hero’s Journey, the Chakras.  That I take racial representations in media as a serious indicator of what people think and feel on a level deeper than conscious thought.  And that I think relationships are mirrors.

This last part is fascinating, because so often, people want to believe that there are “no good X” (men or women) in the world, that all the good ones are gone.  Or that they, themselves, are worthless.  Or that their partners, throughout their relationship history, have been at fault.  Men accuse women of being too grasping, manipulative, domineering, etc.  Women accuse men of being too weak, needy, unfaithful, unfocused, etc.

One of the things I hear over and over again from women is “I intimidate men.”  And from men?  “All women want is to see what car I’m driving.”

And I beg you, all of you, to consider the possibility that in life, we see the world we expect to see.  That in relationships, we don’t get what we want. We get who we are.  God, that can be a painful point of view—and I’m not saying its true.  I’m saying that if you live your life AS IF its true, a very interesting thing happens…you see yourself as the living center of your emotional universe.

So I ask you, just as an experiment.  What would it mean if you were the mirror-image of the people you’ve dated and married?  What if they were actually you, hiding in opposite gender garb? 

More to the point…if you were the opposite (or same!) sex, would you be attracted to you?  Why, or why not?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

You know, I’d read horrible reviews of “Last Stand” around the internet, and so was rather underwhelmed with the prospect of viewing this entry in Marvel Comic’s cinematic juggernaut (deliberate pun).  And some fo the complaints were real” too many characters, not enough personality development, special effects that looked a little rushed, etc.  But the fact is that I enjoyed it just fine on its own comic-booky level, and if you give it a chance, you might too.

The tale turns on the efforts of two master mutants: Professor Xavier, and Magneto, who are trying to find the right way for these super-powerful beings to coexist with humanity.  Along the way, they shepherd a colorful, costumed variety of godlings.  Humanity is scared, and develops a “mutant vaccine” to remove the powers.  Chaos and mucho mutant smack-down ensues.  You know, officially, that’s all I’m gonna say, and will give it a “B.”
You know? From the beginning I heard the filmmakers, as well as the audience, refer to Xavier and Magneto as the Martin Luther King and Malcolm X of the comic book world, that the struggle for Mutant rights was deliberately intended to parallel Black civil rights activity in America.  That may be, but that brings up a pet peeve of mine, one that “X-Men” flirts with.  It is the subject of Hollywood giving lip service to issues that they themselves are guilty of.  But for Halle Berry (more on her, later) the producers are in the position of making a film about women’s rights that contains no women.

Halle, by dent of her heroic willingness to sacrifice her virtue by aggressively sexing a wide variety of white guys for the cause of, well, career advancement (hell, she played Dorothy Dandridge, and understands perfectly well that without those allies, she couldn’t become a star.  Note the sexual content of Halle’s films as opposed to any black male star, and you’ll get the point rather quickly) is an honorable white woman.  Heck—she’s about a Quadroon, anyway.  So Halle, as “Storm,” represents the only “black” face in a supposed Racial metaphor. 

From the beginning, Halle’s been criticized for flat acting in “X-Men” and it seems to me that two things are happening here.
1)     Halle is an actress who needs strong direction. Without that, she flounders.  With it, she has turned in powerful, honest performances. 
2)     Actors act subtext, not text.  They also rely on relationships to expose their inner selves.

Halle ain’t getting direction. And she is the ONLY major mutant with no relationships at all.  And that has been true from the beginning.  Professor X and Magneto are old friends and adversaries.  Wolverine, Jean Grey and “Cyclops” are locked in a three-way war of affections.  Rogue is in love, and so on and so forth.

Only Halle walks alone. 

In my mind, this might go back to the comic books—I’m not sure, and readers can tell me.  But I’ve had black actors tell me over and over again that the directors they work with on television strongly resist giving black characters home lives, love lives, personal existence outside the office context of the show.  That they had to fight for every inch of it, while their white co-workers got romances and inner worlds regularly.  Sorry, I’m not going to name names here—people have to work in this industry.

I would attribute this to that old 5% disconnect I’ve talked about so much…a difficulty with acknowledging the inwardness of the “other.”  They had two choices with Halle—either put her in relationship with a white guy, or bring in a non-white character for her to relate to. 

Personally?  I think it will be years before Halle has a non-white love interest on-screen.  She’s making entirely too much money as a token, as an honorary white woman.  Not until her goodies are approaching their sell-by date (reproductively speaking) will she lower herself to romance anyone but a BWB (what Tananarive and I refer to, with the greatest of respect, cough, as a Beautiful White Boy.)  Watch and see—she is perfectly aware of why she got that Oscar, and why she has raised her career to the level of first Black female superstar.  And she’d be an idiot not to work that vein as long as she can.

But in my mind, X-Men: The Last Stand is exploiting my pain without giving me any actual strength.  They could have done that with a single black male mutant with a good line of dialogue, a personality, a touch of “Inwardness”—just once in three movies.  No.  Apparently, mother nature only mutates white people, or those with lotsa white blood.

Or those willing to live alone, unloved, in service to raising beautiful little white babies to their full and glorious potential.  Halle Berry is a Mammy?  I never would have thought it.  But there it is. 

Shells and Spines

Just got a second review for “Great Sky Woman” last Friday.  This one is wholly positive (Booklist, May 15, 2006) and uses words like “magnificent” “engaging” and “adventure on a grand scale.”

Sigh.  MAN did I need to hear that.  Why?  Because I am insecure, because I care so very much about every book.  Because I pour my life into every project I work on, break my head open, remove the protective walls from around my heart.  I have to, because that is the only way to access my talent.  I CAN’T do less than my very best—that would immediately devolve to hack work, and that I cannot do.

But then, how do we protect ourselves?  My answer is that, in life, you can either have a shell, or a spine. I’ve chosen to have a spine, which means I’m continually stripping away my protective covering, peeling away my skin to expose the nerves beneath.  I have to show the world my obsessions and wounds and hopes and dreams and fears…and when you do that, you become vulnerable. The world can hurt you.

Like the rest of humanity, I’ve been wounded more times than I can possibly name.  We are all carrying damage, and the task in life is to carry those wounds with grace, and heal those we can heal…and pass along the wisdom we have learned to those who follow.

To me, THAT is the purpose of writing, of art.  That is the  nature of contribution.
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Sunday, May 28, 2006

"An Inconvenient Truth" (2006)

God, I wish we weren’t so partisan right now.  I wish that Al Gore had never run for political office, and that there wasn’t so much speculation about him possibly running in ’08.  Because the ideas, theories, and facts presented in “An Inconvenient Truth” need to be seen and discussed as clearly, calmly, and objectively as possible.

The most disturbing statistic from this filmed version of Gore’s ecological slide-show: That a sample of over 900 peer-reviewed scientific studies had not a single disagreement about the existence of Global Warming.  And that a review of articles in the popular press had about a 54% disagreement rate.

That is terrifying.  That suggests (to me) that there are powerful, powerful financial interests working very hard to skew public opinion on a subject that could be a matter of drastic concern, could change the nature of civilization on Earth within two generations.

The point he’s making is that something serious is happening, that there is largely agreement on this, and that the first step should be to return U.S. emissions to pre-1970’s levels.  This will take time, and along the way, we may learn other approaches to refine our actions.  But in reading articles in the Blogosphere, and the negative reviews, comments that this or that fact might have been wrong have to be tempered with the fact that those very reviews have often mischaracterized the nature of the film, and its message.

I’ve read good, scientific criticisms of Gore’s film, and most of the “mistakes” are either minor, or the sort of reasonable, debatable differences of opinion that happen whenever technical material of an extrapolative nature is presented. 

But Gore does not blame America for Global Warming.  He does say that, because of the relatively massive size of our contribution to global pollution, we can accomplish a disproportionate amount of good.  We can be leaders in this arena.  He doesn’t suggest that China (for instance) is doing better than we are in dealing with pollution.  He says that they are facing the same problems we face, and an emerging, exploding economy will drive them even further into danger in the near future.

He presents correlation after correlation, some of them going back 650,000 years, between temperature and CO2 percentages in the atmosphere.  No, it doesn’t prove a connection, but it is suggestive as hell, and straight-out terrifying in possible implications.

I think that the entire thrust of human history has been to produce more children, get more energy, harvest more resources.  Until the last couple of hundred years, it was very, very difficult to hurt this planet—we simply couldn’t multiply the power of our limbs and senses sufficiently to be more than really clever beavers.  But the creation of the steam engine changed that.  The discovery and utilization of electricity changed it more.  Our exploding population, all of the new citizens of Earth desiring “The American Dream” point a very steady finger at the potential direction of growth and change…

Human beings are NOT just another animal on this planet.  Hunter-Gatherer cultures come pretty close, but post-Industrial Man is a different creature, one capable of leaving the planet altogether, splitting the atom, consciously changing the genetics of animals.

This is different, very different.  For thousands of years, we were at the mercy of natural forces, and to a degree we still are…but there are important aspects of nature that are at our mercy, too.  We must learn to be gracious victors.

When I go to a zoo, to a circus, I see an odd entertainment: the animals we used to be terrified of: lions, tigers, bears, elephants…in cages and doing tricks for our amusement, a reminder that we are the lords of the Earth.  I hope to God that either:
Gore’s experts are wrong.
That if they are right, we listen, and more of us act NOW. 

IF “An Inconvenient Truth” is correct, failing to take heroic, massive, coordinated world-wide action is murder-suicide on a scale the planet has never seen.  It is difficult to change the habits of a thousand generations. Breed!  Grow!  Use it all!  Built it high! 

We have another perspective.  If Gore created the movie merely to promote a future political career, shame on him. But if ANYONE rejects what he is saying merely because it comes from the wrong part of the political spectrum, shame on them.

And if he’s right, there are those who oppose him not because they think he is wrong, but because it will affect their bottom line. Because they think the problem can be left to future generations, or that it is out of human hands, or they just don’t care.  To these (and NOT those who are honest, informed opponents of the views presented) I say: I hope there is a hell, and I hope you spend a long, long time warming there.

As for the rest of you: see the movie, or find non-political analysis of the material in it. Become an informed citizen on what may be the most important topic in human history.  I’m not saying he’s right.  I’m saying that if he is, the implications are so terrifying that many people wouldn’t be able to look directly at the Gorgon without blinking.  Many of us simply wouldn’t want to believe…and that tendency, this time, could be devastating to our Grandchildren.

At no point does he suggest crippling our economy, or anything of the kind.  He does sound a call to   bipartisan discussion, and thoughtful action.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Hi! My name is Mortimer! What's yours?

Have trouble staying in shape?  Motivating yourself to eat correctly?  Staying on an exercise program?  Once upon a time, you didn’t need an “exercise program”—we played outside, and our entertainments gave us skinned knees and pounding hearts and sweaty clothes.

Up in the northwest, I noticed a large percentage of overweight people who were descended from logging families, now working in warehouses.  Social eating patterns have not changed, and excess weight is the inevitable conclusion.  These are not lazy people, not stupid people, not self-hating people—these are people trapped by the human tendency to do as little as possible to achieve a given result.  By a culture that puts hamburgers on every corner, and makes it possible to buy an entire day’s food with an hour’s work.  Never in human history has animal protein been so readily available, and apparently risk-free.

Everything in civilization exists to lull us into thinking our animal instincts and urges are part of some distant evolutionary past.  I submit to you that that is a damaging lie, and that all of these subterfuges are part of an attempt to deny death and decay.

When you make intimate contact with the inevitability of your mortality, there are only two real reactions: a fatalistic “what difference does it all make” or a commitment to live every day to its limit, to outgrow your own limitations, to conquer your fears, to do everything in your power to bring your dreams into existence in the short time we have to do this dance.

There are secrets to success that can be put into words, and there are those that cannot.  One of the latter category is found in the arena of the body. I can mince around it, but unless you’ve experienced it, you may not understand or believe.

It goes something like this: when you are “in the zone” physically, when you are running, or sparring, or lifting weights, or dancing, and are totally absorbed in the activity, you reach a place where it feels that you are standing still, and the rest of the world is moving around you.  What is the color and sound of this place?  What does it look like? Feel like?  What is its temperature?

It is a purity, and one of the most illusive things in all of sports.  But when you experience it, know that it is analogous to the space you must access to be successful in any other arena of life.

To reach this space, you can’t train too often, or too infrequently.  Too intensely, or too gently.  Too competitively, or too “New-Age-y”.  There is a balance, and the character of that balance changes from day to day, person to person, activity to activity.

Here’s a clue: find an activity where you can reach “Second Wind.”  This is the space you’ll enter after 15-17 minutes of steady state activity.  At about 7-12 minutes, the demons in your mind will be howling at you, trying to get you to quit.  If you’ve found the right activity, in a few more minutes they will grow quiet.  The membrane, the edge, the place between noisy and quiet, the moment of “surrender” to the process will almost certainly happen while your mind wanders to something else.

PAY ATTENTION TO THIS.  This moment of surrender, of immersion, of floating the river of fatigue, effort, concentration, coordination, intensity…this is one of the doorways to success. The Monkey-Mind voices that rail at you to stop are analogous to the voices that will devil you in any other arena as well.

What do the voices say, when they talk you out of eating properly.  Stretching daily.  Walking in the sun.  Playing Frisbee with your dog.  Learning a new sport.  Hiking in the hills.  Biking with your kids.  HOW DO THEY TRICK YOU?  Do they say “we’ll do it tomorrow?” “It’s too late?”  “What difference does it make?”  “You’ll  embarrass yourself?”  “People will laugh?”  Whatever they say, WRITE IT DOWN.  Become familiar with what they do to you.  The more familiar you are, the less power they will have.  Start understanding the patterns. 

There is strength in knowing, and naming your demons.  My head demon’s name is Mortimer.  What’s yours, and how does she drag you down physically?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

What Feeds Your Demons?

Had an interestingly varied day yesterday: a lot of good work on different projects, but also a certain fear creeping in (a good time for Coach Sonnon’s “Fear Removal” exercise, for sure.) 

Truth is that there is nothing in particular wrong. In fact, there are so many potentials and possibilities that I should be excited beyond belief…the things I’ve already spoken of, as well as another opportunity to create a project for one of my very favorite performers.  I’ll talk more about this as soon as papers are signed.

But the fact is that despite that, and a successful PATH workshop, and a book about to come out in a couple of weeks, and lotsa fun martial arts training (Indonesian martial arts with Cliff Stewart, Japanese arts with Tim Piering) the last couple of days have been tough.  Worries, phantoms, old response stuff—rising from my mind.

Yippie!  I know myself well enough now to know that that stuff is just what I have to go through prior to making another breakthrough.  I was up at 6:00 this morning, worked the Bruiser clubbell for fifteen sets of four Gama casts, then did Bikram Yoga.  Hard, hard hard.  I really had to dig deep, and find the place of light inside myself that didn’t feel the heat, didn’t feel the fatigue, didn’t feel the fear. 

And when I found it, it spoke to me in the voice of that little boy who has always been there, if I only get quiet enough to listen.  “You go, Daddy!” he said.  And I visualized a triangle of Body, Mind, and Spirit, within that triangle my family, and they were simply radiating love at me…and at that moment, after a couple of days of floundering, I found my balance again.

So…what feeds the demons?  What gives strength to the voices in your head?  Well, I want to talk about that a bit over the next few days, because I’m starting to dig a little deeper.  But what I’ll say right now is that their biggest ally is our own forgetfulness.  Our own awareness that WE HAVE HEARD THESE VOICES, FELT THESE FEARS BEFORE, that we have walked through these flames countless times, and emerged stronger and more whole.  We forget.  So every time we hear them, feel them, fear them, it seems that we forget that hard-won wisdom, and cower away from the fangs we ourselves sharpen so assiduously. 

I want to investigate the demons, and the way they attack in all three arenas.  But before then, I ask the question: how do your demons attack YOU?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Is Global Warming Real?

More specifically, is the perceived upward trend in average temperatures anything other than the normal fluctuations of Earth’s atmosphere?  And if so, is it produced by human activity?  And if so, what should be done?

I admit that this one feels pretty close to a slam-dunk to me: there is a problem, we’re part of it, and we need to act.  That’s an opinion based on casual observation and listening to tons of back-and-forth between people much better informed than myself.

What I’d like to do is remove two groups of opinions on the subject: those coming from the far left, and those from the far right.   In other words, information coming out of specifically pro-environmental think tanks MIGHT be considered suspect, and information coming out of specifically anti-regulation, anti-big government think tanks can be considered even more so.

After all, since forces on the Right have screamed that many of the specifically environmental agencies are merely stumping for research dollars, they’ve raised the reasonable specter of greed overpowering honesty. Once you’re entered that into the equation, you HAVE to note that Big Business has plenty of money to spread around, and that scientists who are willing to come out against Global Warming would likely be lathed with cash.

I do know that those who believe in Global Warming seem to have a presence across the political spectrum, but those strongly against it seem clustered on the Right…slightly suspicious to me.  In other words, clustered right there with them are people seriously concerned about Government over-regulation, costs to Big Business, and perhaps even Fundamentalists who believe that the Last Times will come.

What disturbs me is the potential penalty for getting this wrong.  IF we are disturbing Earth’s climate in a serious fashion and we don’t act appropriately, the maximum penalty could be death for hundreds of millions—or worse.  IF we are NOT disturbing Earth’s climate in a serious fashion, and sign treaties and enforce regulations inappropriately, we could disrupt our economy.  Maximum risk doesn’t seem to balance here.

So…just for my own peace of mind: who has references from scientists NOT in the paid pocket of either the Left or Right?  In other words, not working for specific Right-Wing think tanks, not working for Big Oil or other monied interests, and not working specifically for Greenpeace or other declared environmental radicals. 

I’m telling you that when I apply this standard, and just look down the middle, a large majority of what I see are worried scientists from around the world, of many political stripes, who are very, very, seriously concerned.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

What is Art?

The recent discussion about Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” opened a bit of a Pandora’s box. His book is loved by some, loathed by others, hotly debated, and one incredibly profitable page-turner.  In essence, he took a bunch of conspiracy theories that have been around for quite a long time, wove them together, and published them as “fiction” while protesting that the essence was truth.

Was this fair?  Was it honest?  Can we assume that his intentions were malicious?  Defamatory?  Revolutionary?  It is hard to say without reading the man’s mind, and I cannot do that.

A question that does arise, however, is this: what is the nature of Art, and what are the responsibilities of the Artist to the world at large, and to herself?

For me, the primary responsibility of the artist is to communicate her deepest sense of the world as it is.  Of her inner experience. Of any aspect of reality which has been inadequately languaged or expressed.  In this sense, there is a vast array of subjects that have been addressed exhaustively: love, sex, power, fear, yearning, pain, birth and death.  In my own work, I’ve been rather obsessed with the question of becoming a warrior—my own metaphor for simply becoming a man.  Without a father in my home, I was left without a clear guideline in this arena.  My mother, bless her heart, did the best she could, but all a woman can offer is her opinions about what a man is, perhaps some role models based on her friends, family, and perhaps relationships.  Most importantly, she can demonstrate what a mature, responsible HUMAN BEING is, which is more important than being either a man or a woman.  But I specifically wanted women to react to me the way I saw them react to other guys.  And I wanted men to respect me in the specific way they respected other men.

And this my mother could not demonstrate for me, bless her heart. 

This whole arena caused me more pain, more grief, more mistakes, more fear and doubt than everything else combined. Those who think that race has been the dominating issue in my work aren’t looking closely enough. 

This well of pain and concern HAD to be addressed before I could look at the next question, the deeper questions: what is it to be human, and what is it simply to be?

That last one is the corker, but I had to go through so much to get there: male, black, human.  Then, alive. And then, simply to exist. THAT is the core miracle.

But you have to work your way there.  I envy those with a cultural or family road map: Do THIS and you will be a man.  Do THIS and you will be an adult.  Etcetera.  However inexact or corrupt, the cultural maps at least provide us with a starting place, something to compare our own experiences and observations to.

To me, the artist pledges her life to asking the hard questions, and then expressing them—or the answers—in some form capable of communicating to an audience.  Dance, sculpture, poetry, music…or what of the artistic forms that are rarely considered in such context?  Raising children, crafting gardens, teaching…anything in life can be used as a form of artistic expression.  All we need do is commit, to decide that this challenge, the expression of deepest truth, is something worth the investment of our most precious commodity: our time, our energy, our life itself.

From this promise to the most eternal part of our being springs the font of art.

Of course, this is just my view.  What’s yours?

Monday, May 22, 2006

If the “Da Vinci Code” was right, would it affect your faith?

Personally?  No.  I can’t possibly imagine how Jesus having human urges would affect my own beliefs.  After all, as far as we know, he ate and drank and slept and bled…all very human, physical responses.  Why would sex and love be so radical?

The thought in the “Code” seems to be that it served the power elite of the church to remove the feminine aspect, possibly represented by Mary Magdalene.  Is this reasonable?  Well…since I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that all of the folks making decisions about what went into the Bible and what didn’t were men, we’re back to the old question of whether members of “group X” will tend to discount the accomplishments or significance of “group Y” in this case, X being men, and Y being women.  Every experience of my entire life with such situations suggests that, yes, that’s exactly what will happen unless members of “Y” are also represented.

Recently, studying biological anthropology, my teacher went into a lecture about arguments concerning early humans, and the male and female roles.  I noticed that she had also mentioned the roles of female anthropologists more than I had ever heard another teacher do.  And then realized that my other teachers had been men.  In fact, female literature teachers are more likely to mention female writers.  Science teachers, scientists.  Business teachers, business women.

I remember when I first noticed this in college, the typical male answer was that women seemed to be giving credit where credit was not due, and that male teachers were already mentioning all the women who deserved to be mentioned.  The rest was, in their words, “political correctness.”

Hmm.  I remember maybe twenty-five years ago, a very very conservative friend asking me why we needed “Black History” classes.  Wasn’t American history enough.  Well, it would be, if it had ever represented people who looked like me.  And in order for that to happen, apparently, you needed serious political pressure, and black people on the school boards.  Otherwise, you would have just white people, discussing things from a purely white perspective.

So…if the church was formed primarily by men, it is almost inconceivable that they would have represented the interests and contributions of women adequately.  How could they?  If the position were reversed, I’m quite sure women would have promoted the idea of men as second-class citizens.

I think that the Da Vinci Code brouhaha is primarily due to the fact that there are, indeed, very dangerous ideas in that book.  But the ideas are dangerous more to the formal organization of the church, than to the spiritual values that Christ proclaimed. 

Of course, I could be wrong.  Am I missing something here?

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Da Vinci Code (2006)

Really, a splendid, cerebral mystery story of a college professor (Tom Hanks) caught up in a centuries-old conspiracy.  If you’ve been under a rock for the last five years, you may not know anything about the story, so this part is spoiler-free.  The performances are a bit dry and sober (except for Sir Ian McKellan, playing a helpfully uber-informative scholar), and the film is necessarily talky at times.  But ultimately, I enjoyed it hugely, and give it a B+.
I am frankly disturbed by the unanimity of critics lambasting this flick, and more disturbed by a bit of familiarity in their criticism.  They say Hanks is wooden, that he and the female lead have no chemistry, that the movie is boring when it should be sensational.

Those words came up so often, in review after review, that it almost felt like someone had handed out talking points to all the major media: “how to kill interest in this dangerous film.”  Dangerous?  I was wrong  yesterday: the movie says (in my opinion) nothing about Christ’s divinity.  Makes no comment for or against.  It doesn’t say he survived his crucifixion, or that he didn’t come back from the dead.  ALL it suggests is that he married Mary Magdalene, and sired a child by her.  And this is what all the furor is about.  Why in the world   this idea triggers more than a “wow!  Think of that!” reaction can only, in my mind, be related to a deep-seated horror of sexuality.  After all, Christ ate, drank, presumably slept—all basic body functions.  Why would sex be any different?  But clearly there is nothing neutral here—this very idea seems absolutely poisonous.  I’m a bit baffled.
But I’ll tell you why I ignored the critics.   I hate to bring this up, but the ultimate point of these words is not to rake up my personal wounds, but to  speak of human nature.

Over the years, I’ve watched critical—and public—reaction to black films vary greatly depending on whether or not those films had sex in them.  And ESPECIALLY if it’s a black man having sex with a white woman.  Overt bigotry is simply not done any more, so no one will say “yuck” in print, and proclaim aloud that black sexuality turns their stomach.  No.  What happens is that, well, the movie is dull.  The  actors have no chemistry.  The acting is wooden…

Familiar?  Now, there is certainly no coordination of these comments I’ve read over the years.  Nobody gets together in hidden rooms and decides how they’re going to deflate a movie.  No.  I think that what happens is that, when a movie image cuts too deep, is too disturbing, the critic (or viewer) looks for flaws in the film.  They pointedly remember they are sitting in a theater, and pop out of the cinematic  reality.  They put down an emotional wall, and from that point everything looks flat, just not quite appealing.  Oh, no, it’s never about the racial images, heaven forbid.  I just didn’t like the movie…

Right.  And that’s what I think is happening here.  This movie is absolutely cultural dynamite.  All over the world, an incredible percentage of potential viewers are aware it exists.  The war for public opinion has begun.  And I think critics are nervous.  They don’t want to come out positively for this movie, perhaps were raised in the Faith, and know that many fellow Christians are deeply offended.  And their minds were eager to find some way to criticize “Code” without seeming to bow to doctrinal prejudice. 

I could be wrong, of course, but damned if I don’t wonder if that’s happening here. 

Isn’t the wrong part of The Da Vinci Code controversial?

Something that has bothered me for a long time about the book, and now the movie, and it’s source material, HOLY BLOOD, HOLY GRAIL.  It’s this: most of the squawking I’ve heard is a complaint about the idea that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had children.  Excuse me?  Why in the world is THAT the most controversial aspect?  Shouldn’t the controversy be over the idea that Jesus survived the crucifixion, and was therefore not resurrected?  Pardon me, but I thought the crucifixion and resurrection were the primary images, the primary miracle underlying the entire faith.

But I’ve heard so many people talking about the book and movie, and in almost every case, they fixate on the possibility that Jesus might have had a love life.  Wow…that is actually a bit disturbing to me, something that I don’t understand at all, and would love any readers who can offer opinions about this.  Of course, I have my own, but I’d love to hear some feedback on this one…

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Is Poseiden (2006): Good news for our gay readers?


First, the review: Poseiden isn’t a disaster, but nor  is it on a par with the original  1972 film.  Eschewing that boring forty minutes of character development before the wave hits a giant cruise ship, director Wolfgang Peterson goes right for the throat with plenty CGI marvels, but ultimately, the actors might as well have been animated by computer as well.  We just don’t care about them, and this is a major, major misstep.  Yes, they try to introduce us to the band of survivors as, after the ship capsizes, they attempt to traverse a lethal obstacle course to escape through the propeller tubes. Who will live?  Who will die?  Well, they could have made that a bit harder to figure out, and this is where this review becomes a diatribe…

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I consider the content of popular film to reflect the taste of America.  Not any individual film, no…but patterns, especially patterns that have existed for decades, are, I think, excellent measures of what people really feel: Hollywood responds strongly to market forces.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, in disaster, adventure, and horror movies, a strict hierarchy was observed, so reliable that you could make damned good money betting on it to someone unfamiliar with the rules.

Folks survived, in general, based upon their genetic usefulness to the tribe, or by their moral virtues. In other words, screw or smoke pot, and you’re dead.  Women and children first—you know the drill.

But there was a darker (pun deliberate) underbelly to all this.  You could also predict that non-whites would have the life expectancy of mayflies, and even more insultingly, would often die protecting white people (poor Paul Winfield made a career out of this.)

If you were fat, gay, old, black—in other words, not considered a breeder/warrior type for White America—you were disposable.  White children were the most precious.  White females of child-bearing age next.  Then came white males.  Non-white children were in there somewhere.  Everybody else came last.

In the last few years, there has been a concerted (and overdue) gay rights movement.  I always knew that, in terms of media images, gays would kick butt—after all, many of them are the very same white males who control so much of media and government.  Even more, almost every single white person in a power position has a gay brother, sister, uncle, aunt, son, or daughter.  Statistics just work that way.  So eventually, the pendulum would swing that way. 

And the last year has seen a couple of interesting indications.  Of huge importance is “Brokeback Mountain” which solidifies the fact that white males can have sex with anyone—even each other—and it is preferable to non-white males having sex with anything at all, even themselves. 

In “Poseiden” you have a gay archetect, played by Richard Dreyfus.  Seems a nice guy.  At once point an Hispanic ship employee gives Dreyfus a chance to “go first” in a time-critical situation.  Dreyfus rewards him by booting him in the face, kicking him off to certain doom.  Not the usual moral behavior rewarded in such films, but Dreyfus survives, while not a single person of color does. The black ship’s captain gives the most wrong-headed advice since the black guy in “Night Of The Living Dead” tells everyone to stay on the ground floor.

Everyone who listens to him dies.  What is there to learn from this?
1)     Be white
2)     Only listen to white men.
3)     Gay is fine now.
4)     It’s alright to kill brown people who have sacrificed to help you—that’s their appropriate station in life.
5)     If you’re a woman, be young or you’re not worth saving.

Poseidon isn’t doing well at the box office.  I wish I could attribute that to its racially retro attitudes, but I’m afraid that if it had been a good movie, folks would have been happy to overlook its unfortunate subliminal attitudes.

I’m gonna give it a C+ for some spectacular visuals, and a few good, gruesome scenes where white people died screaming.  Hey, I’ve got to flush my anger SOMEHOW…

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

What Happened To Your Childhood Dreams?

I watched my son Jason in our overcrowded garage last Sunday.  Crawling through and around boxes, exploring, testing his two-year-old agility and strength…I suddenly remembered what it was like to be in my father’s garage, a place of magic and mystery where untold secrets to the universe were hidden.  It was here that the pathway to manhood unfolded (I was convinced) and everything was incredibly important and wonderful, even the dead bugs that lay curled in the corners.

Jason could have stayed out there all day.  He didn’t want to go to the park.  He didn’t want to ride his wagon.  He just wanted to play in the boxes.

And I asked myself: where does that simple fascination with life go?  I ask that, because the eyes of a child are central in living a high-energy, creative life.  Children dream.  Children turn everyday objects into castles and dragons and far-away mountains.  There is no limit to the possibilities, because they haven’t learned to put walls around themselves.  Every shadow is a soldier, every sound a trumpet, every  stranger a giant, every  new experience an unexplored land.

It is said that wisdom is the ability to combine the eyes of a child with the mind of an adult: the ability to embrace each new day as an ultimate opportunity, filled with infinite potential.  If we’re not careful, this attitude gets leeched out of us one day at a time.  It takes its toll in our writing, our relationships, our commitment to graceful physical movement and sensuality.  It costs us, in other words, our very lives themselves.

One of the most powerful things you can do is to make a list of the things you wanted to be and have and do, as a child.  To what degree is your current life an adult version of those dreams?  To work to align your outer life with your inner world, you access a stream of creativity and aliveness that may be wholly unprecedented in your experience.  A thousand books could be written about people trying to make such adjustments, but in order to write them, you have to start by examining the question for yourself.  So…what happened to your childhood dreams?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

What is more important: Honest Government or Free Speech?

In a recent lecture, John McCain  said that an honest government with no free speech would be preferable to a dishonest government with free speech.  You know?  In a fantasy novel that might well be true. In the real world, that strikes me as a horrible choice.  In the real world, people are not all good or all bad.  In a real world, people mistake faith for logic, and believe that they know what is best for others…even if the others disagree.  In the real world, powerful men and women collaborate for the good of their own families, friends, and corporate or organizational or political interests…and then justify it in retrospect.

An honest government without free speech would be fine—FOR THOSE IN GOVERNMENT.  You know something?  I treasure my free speech.  It is worth dying for.

Also, if such a government ceased being honest, the mechanisms for oppressing the population are squarely in place.  And as we all know, entropy is a simple fact of life.  The system WOULD degrade, there is no question about it.

And the dishonest government?  It would, at least, have a chance of being talked about, malfeasance reported, and the people could take their citadel back once again. 

This is, in essence, one of those “security versus freedom” questions.  But it is, I think, one worth talking about.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Why Is Honesty Important?

A seemingly strange question in the realm of writing…but vital.  Just a few days ago, in a meeting with two producers I’m working with, they needed to communicate something to me: helping me calibrate my presentation for a pitch today.

They hmmmed and hawed and finally spoke their minds…it was clear that it was difficult for them, embarrassing, even.   The problem was that they didn’t know how I would react to criticism.  It was VITAL that I hear what they had to say, and yet, obviously, similar discussions with others in the past had been disastrous.

I sat, and listened.  It wasn’t comfortable.  But my commitment is to the work. To actually producing the results in my career and life that I crave.  The discomfort was irrelevant.  I was able to respond to them swiftly, to get their input and (hopefully!) improve the quality of my presentation just a few hours from now.

The fact is that direct communication in any arena of life is rare.  People are so incredibly confused about who they are, what they want, what is important.  Note that the “communication” chakra (5th) is right between mind and heart.  This should suggest something about its proper usage, and I leave that as your own thought experiment:  How does communication reconcile head and heart?  Why is it important? 

Why is lying so damaging to relationships?  Why and how does it damage the individual?  These are all questions that impact us in our personal as well as business lives…and are potential fodder for countless stories and books. 

But first, your opinion.  Why is it important that we be honest?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

General Michael Hayden and the Fourth Amendment

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Excuse me, but did anyone else hear the interview (confirmation hearing?) Where General Michael Hayden, former head of the NSA and Bush’s pick for head of the CIA denied REPEATEDLY that the fourth Amendment to the constitution used the phrase “Probable Cause”?  I was shocked.  He said it repeatedly, insisting that the 4th amendment was one the NSA understood quite well.

Unless there is something going on here I don’t understand, I find the implicaitons absolutely terrifying.  Did anyone else hear this?  And while we're at it, a poll suggested that 65% of Americans would sacrifice personal liberties to the anti-terrorism effort.   While yes, people sacrifice liberties in a time of war, this "war" isn't normal--it could, quite literally, continue forever.  In my mind, the idea of a government grasping more and more personal liberties is FAR more terrifying than a few Muslims plotting to set off bombs.  But I'd love to hear thoughts from the Group Mind.  I swear to God...listening to that interview scared the piss out of me.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Charles Murray's "Plan": 10,000 for every American

Charles Murray’s book “The Plan” suggests that we rid ourselves of poverty by giving everyone 10,000 a year, with the condition that they spend 3,000 of it on health care, and the strong suggestion that they invest 2,000 of it in some kind of investment plan.

I haven’t read the book, but have mixed reactions to it, some of them on the face, and some due to my own (admittedly) prejudicial reaction to the man based on his book “The Bell Curve.”  I’m going to try hard to keep that part of myself under control, but can’t promise to succeed.

First, because this is the first time I’ve heard of this plan, I have to give credit for original thinking.  At least the man has an idea, and an idea that is pretty broad in implication, and designed to address a variety of social ills.  On the surface.  And possibly, it should be considered honest, straight-forward, with no hidden agendas.

My problem is that I do think he has hidden agendas.  In BELL CURVE, Murray lays out a gigantic grid of social problems, from teen pregnancy to crime to poverty, and suggests that all of them are influenced strongly by lack of intelligence. No argument: certainly the less intelligent ARE going to find themselves making more life errors.  However, he also suggests that the playing field is virtually level, and that racial differences in tested IQ are primarily genetic and intractable.  I interpret that as saying that blacks are genetically predisposed to criminality, immorality and, well, laziness.

Part of the problem here is that the popular image of a “Bigot” is a robed Klansman type, spewing racial hatred into the media.  Even politicians like David Duke, Lester Maddox and George Wallace have apologists, who suggest that they merely took positions in order to harvest votes or represent a constituency.  In other words…by such definitions there really ARE no bigots, or not in any significant amount.

Well, you know my position: to me, this is pure fantasy, designed to cover a truth that ALL human beings are wired for preferences, and that racial preferences are very, very close to the core of who and what we are, and must be guarded against.

If I take the position that
The “Bell Curve” was written to support a point of view (that social programs cannot alleviate the problems of crime and poverty in minority communities because their base is a genetic difference in capability.  Whether I’m right or not, this is hardly a fantastic assumption: thousands of books are written every year primarily to make one point or another.)
Murray, deep in his heart holds the point of view he defended in the book.

What, then, would MURRAY think, really think, would happen if his plan went into effect?  I suspect that he thinks that much of that money would end up in the hands of retailers, that savings plans would come to naught, that in essence, it would be a transfer of government money right back into the hands of the rich.

And I have some agreement with him, but not for the same reasons.  I’d think that the problems of the poor have a wide range of origins.  There is some lack of innate capacity among some, certainly—it would make no sense to suggest otherwise.  But there is also historical oppression, and a system where the more powerful have greater access to resources and law-makers.  This last probably CANNOT be averted.  The only question is, again: how shall we live together?

I’ve spent most of my life around high-I.Q people, and their personal lives are just as much a mess as anyone else’s, in general.  Just as much tendency to obesity and relationship dysfunction…they do make a little more money than average.

Ever go on a diet and then drop the diet?  Or watch someone do this?  Did they go straight for the salad bar?  Hardly.  And it’s not “intelligence” per se.  I could see the exact same thing happening with such a plan to dump billions in cash in to poor coffers. 

But what is the alternative?  Just bigger government?  Well, that comes right back to the question of: what services SHOULD a government provide?  Personally, I think that there needs to be a tension, a pull, between the public and private sectors.  That if “Business” were allowed to run all the schools, and businesses, and medical programs, and so forth, that it would obey the only law that any Corporation can possibly follow (in my mind): make as much money as possible, as fast as possible.  Individual human beings within a corporation might feel differently, but the corporation itself is a mindless monster with a bottomless maw.

But is Government any better?  Certainly, the urge of Government would be to grow as large as possible, and take as much power as possible.  The potential dangers are obvious.

What I think it comes down to is a few basic human traits:
We are hierarchical.
We think “we” are the best.

That means that almost any group that can define itself will define itself as being better than others, more capable, moral, and deserving than others.  Deep inside, I think that Murray would love for his plan to be adapted.  Then he would sit back, wait for disaster, and say: “See?  I told you nothing could help those people.  It is pointless even to try.”
But I cannot claim to read his mind.  I am not saying he is a vicious monster.  I do think he is not entirely honest, and that he believes that blacks, for instance, are on the average inferior to whites both intellectually and morally—and won’t publicly cop to it, although that is the clear implication in his work.  I’m afraid that anything he says, I’m going to hear it through that buffer, and that may be unfortunate.  I may be doing him a disservice—I’m really not sure.

But I’ll stick with my position.  He strikes me, entirely, as the sort of person who, if we were to have a polite conversation, would, after I left, turn to his wife and say, “charming and intelligent fellow.  If only all of them were like that, we’d have no problem.”  I’ve met so many of those over the course of my life…it’s not hard to imagine that he is simply another.

But I could be wrong.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

What do we owe each other?

What do we owe to each other?

A while back, I was having dinner with some friends, one of them a lady I’ve known for decades. She is wealthy, very overweight due to lifestyle choices, riddled with health problems and under the care of a dozen different doctors.  During the meal, she spoke about how Government shouldn’t be in the health care business. 

Initially, she tried to make her point that Universal Health care was bad for the patients.  Frankly, that isn’t what I’ve heard from, say, Canadians and Brits.  Then she fell back on a relatively unassailable position: it’s not her responsibility to pay the bill for the poor.

Considering that this lady would be dead without her husband’s money, I felt that she was being…hmmm, somewhat ungracious, but that’s just me.  I’d be lying if I didn’t say I understood her position.

But  invariably, living within a society means your tax dollars going to support things you disagree with. That’s just the cost of living among others, I always figured.  The lady claims to Libertarian principles…and I suppose she’s right.

My problem isn’t the idea of “Limited Government.”  I’ve never met anyone who didn’t want government to be limited.  But everyone wants it limited to those things THEY think valuable.  Public schools?  Roads?  Military?  Everyone I’ve talked to who espouses Libertarian principles can agree on certain things…but school lunch programs, welfare, health care, and certain other things tend to be anathema.

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that human nature will always have those at the top suggesting services be cut for those at the bottom.  And those at the bottom will always want those at the top to be taxed more heavily, to pay for certain services.  The problem is the question of what should be done by government, and what by private entities.

I’ve always thought that governments and corporations have much in common with single-celled organisms: they want to grow and grow and take as much power as they can.  So there is a natural, and desirable tension between the two.  Will competition naturally drive down prices without government intervention?  Only if the corporations are prevented from collaborating with one another—and who will stop that? 

I remember a line from “Thank You For Smoking” where a spokesman for the tobacco industry asks an interrogator why an industry would  deliberately kill its customers.  The answer, of course,  is that it makes sense to kill your  customers if all you have to  sell them is something that kills them.  That, yes, you would prefer they live a full, healthy life, but as long as more are born to replace those who die, the industry really isn’t hurt much.  If tobacco is what you are selling, you can get very very rich indeed selling death.

I can’t imagine anything other than government intervention that would have forced the tobacco companies to admit their product kills, and label their products  accordingly.  In my mind, very good show, because these bastards KNEW tobacco was addictive and carcinogenic decades before they were forced to admit it.

But does government go too far in banning tobacco from public places?  I’d say in many instances, yes.  Banning tobacco in all bars strikes me as slightly absurd.  People aren’t going there for their health, dude. 
But back to my thoughts on my friend.  You know what?  I think that rich people who have a “let them eat cake” attitude would, if they were poor, be in the “tax the rich until they’re dead” category.  And wealthy people who feel a sense of compassion and obligation to the least fortunate among us would be the same ones who would deal with poverty with grace and dignity. 

But I’m not sure.  What I wanted to ask is: what services do YOU guys think the government should provide?  And what services now provided should they stop “wasting” our tax dollars on?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

No Subject

"How do you measure the horror in the Democratic Republic of Congo?
Add up all of the American deaths in every single war we've fought in
since 1776, including World War II and the Civil War (1,540,665). Now
add to that the estimated deaths from the recent tsunami (169,752
confirmed dead, 127,294 missing). Next, add to that the estimated
death toll in the conflict in Darfur (400,000). Then, add to that the
victims of genocide in Rwanda, one of the most horrific slaughters of
the 20th century (937,000).

"Add all of the deaths together–and you still have a smaller number
than the 3.5 million people who have died in the conflict in the
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since 1998."
After reading "King Leopold's Ghost" I chalk this up to teh kind of horror that happens following a brutal colonialization experience, where tribal boundaries laid down for thousands of years are scrambled by outsiders.  I remember reading many accounts of Africa pre-colonialization.  Some were more positive, some more negative--but NONE decribed slaughter, starvation, and general disaster like what followed.

I remember the one positive note to the ethnic cleansing and violence following the fall of the Soviet Union--white people at parties stopped asking me "so what's wrong with Africa?"
I would really, really love to read a quantitative and qualitative study of the results of colonial rule on indiginous populations.  I'm quite certain there would be some positive results...but also genuine social horror.

Monday, May 08, 2006


For the last weeks, there’d been speculation that Tom Cruise’s antics might hurt the box office for MI3.  Now, they certainly didn’t hurt “War of the Worlds,” which did just fine, but the 43 million weekend box office—10 million dollars lower than MI2 six years ago—has tongues wagging in Hollywood.

There may or may not be a connection, but it is certainly interesting to speculate how couch-jumping, Scientology, gay rumors and general weirdness might have changed or influenced public perception. After all—what exactly IS stardom, other than some incalculable connection with public good will.  It certainly isn’t acting skill, and may have more to do with sex appeal than anything else (which factor, alone explains to me why so many gay performers remain closeted). 

Personally, I couldn’t have cared less about Cruise’s histrionics.  To me, it’s all calculated public theater, and I have no idea what the man is like in personal life.  He has some strange opinions, but I’ve never met anyone who didn’t.  And I find that I’d love to spend a day talking with him about his life and philosophy.  But I do wonder if the public actions haven’t taken a toll…

Like Russell Crowe’s phone throwing, Meg Ryan’s adultery, Michael Jackson’s fondness for boys…the public does sit in judgment, fair or not.  And it’s hurt careers for a long time.

What exactly is the thing called “Charisma”?

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Those eleven rules...

Now that everyone else has had their shot at those pesky rules, I thought it would only be fair for me to add my own ideas…

Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!
Absolutely vital.  Of course, that doesn’t mean life is “unfair’ in the usual sense, either.  Life just “is.”  We make judgments about it, and that’s when we run into trouble.  Work to make society more responsive and “fair”?  Certainly.  Scream at heaven when a child dies of cancer?  Normal and natural…but expecting the world to be as kind as it was to us when we were children can drive you insane, or break you. 

Rule 2: The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Self-esteem is great—when it gives you the personal power to actually believe you can accomplish your dreams, and sends you out to work harder than you ever have in your life to do just that.  It’s a tricky balance: to me, real self-esteem is believing that there is no one better than me.  False self-esteem is thinking I’m better than other people.  Thinking that the world owes you anything, or that other people should sit up and recognize your right to act the way you want without regard for the wishes and rights of others…that’s something different.  I often hear that “criminals have too much Self-Esteem.”  I have no idea what that means, and certainly doesn’t jibe with my observations.  In the criminal classes, murders and violence often happen because of a verbal insult, a hostile look, an imagined slight.  This is not self-esteem. This is a gigantic, fragile ego, terrified that deep inside there is nothing.  Unless the world reflects the image such a person  desires, it is hugely threatening.  REAL Self-esteem is not affected by the slights and opinions of others.  Whatever these psychologists are measuring, they most definitely are not measuring the same thing I’m talking about.

Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

I’ve known few people deluded enough to think they’d instantly get rich…this is true enough.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.
Amen.  Or a mortgage banker.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

Again, amen.  It’s great to have the connections to immediately land some cushy job.  But useless to complain if you don’t have them.  Study the lives of people who’ve worked their way up from the bottom, and model their attitudes and actions.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them. 

Actually, I’ve seen instances where it IS the parent’s fault.  However, it is still every individual’s responsibility to make their lives work, to have the vibrancy, relationships, and career that they desire.  Thinking it is, or could ever be, someone else’s primary concern is deadly to your dreams.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Hah! I love this.  And it applies to so many things in life.  Not a teenager’s problem—it is darned near universal.  That’s where the sayings about glass houses and motes in the eye come from.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

You know?  I disagree with this a bit.  Opportunity comes in life again and again and again.  If you learn the lessons of your mistakes, you can start over again with a new relationship, a new health program, a new job, career, or business.  We get many chances to get it right.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

Very true.

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Actually, a huge percentage of television shows have always been about occupations: cops, lawyers, firemen, teachers, doctors, whatever.  This is a rather snide comment.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

Hah!  Some truth here, if by “nerd” you mean someone who actually cares about learning the lessons placed before them.  But as someone observed, the real winners tend to be those who can learn the abstract information AND manage people well.

Just my thoughts.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Mission: Impossible III

Wow, what a rush.  Truth be told, I liked the other two, even though the 60’s series I loved had been transformed from a team-oriented caper series into a star vehicle for the hyperkinetic Tom Cruise.  But here, under the steady hand of J.J. Abrams (“Alias,” “Lost”) they actually do recapture some of that feel, and it’s all for the best.  Cruise is something of a phenomenon, a true “movie star” who people identify with so strongly that outbursts on Oprah or opinions about the medical establishment or his choice of religious philosophy create headlines in tabloids across the world.  Whatever a “Star” is, it is something separate from acting ability, cannot quite be quantified, and has something to do with that mysterious quality called “Charisma,” and here Cruise displays it in spades.

In many ways this is Cameron’s “True Lies” played straight, and that’s a smart choice, because a better deconstruction of the Bond mythos has never been offered.  Cruise’s indestructible Ethan Hunt begins the film battered, bruised, and forced to watch the woman he loves threatened with death.  We flash back to happier days, before he had the temerity to challenge a deadly arms dealer played to succinctly devastating effect by Phillip Seymour Hoffman.  The Impossible Missions Force, in taking on this supremely powerful and mysterious figure, has finally overreached itself, made crystal clear in a sequence when Hoffman is rescued by his underlings in an horrific, exciting, table-turning five minutes of bridge-blowing mayhem that rocked the theater.  Wow.

The action ranges from the Vatican to Shanghai.  The IMF team has never been better, and we’ve never seen more of the way they operate…and despite their excellence, these guys are one step behind Hoffman the whole time. The guy has maybe ten minutes of screen time, and dominates the entire movie.  THAT is acting.

At any rate, I had a great time.  In some ways I liked the second one better—but that’s just because I have a crush on Thandie Newton.  But I’ll bet this one does better.  It kicks the summer off with a bang, not a imper.  The Bond franchise had better watch its back—between this and Jason Bourne, 007 is facing greater danger than he ever did from SMERSH or SPECTRE.  An “A-“

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Ah hah! Not Gates, but...

Apparently, the "Bill Gates" quote was misrepresented. I got the following note from Adam Crafter...

"I like these but they are from
Charles J. Sykes, author of the book /Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why
American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can't Read, Write, Or


Wisdom From the World's richest man

The following was posted on the RMAX forum, and I just had to share it.  We may well want to talk about some of these things in the days to come...

Bill Gates recently gave a speech at a High School about 11 things they did not and will not learn in school. He talks about how feel-good, politically correct teachings created a generation of kids with no concept of reality and how this concept set them up for failure in the real world.

Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!

Rule 2: The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

United 93

United 93 (2006)

Grueling.  That’s  really the operative word for this fine, fine film about the events of September 11, 2001.  The actors are all unknowns—in fact, many of the actual air traffic control officials played themselves. The families of the dead approved the film.  It is glaringly obvious that in every way he could, the filmmaker (Paul Greengrass) did what he could to simply depict what might have happened in that plane.  No leering villains.  No Wesley Snipes-style martial arts heroics.  Frightened, committed people on all sides, whose intentions place them on an irreversible collision course.

Man oh man, I watched the movie wondering if there was a plausible loophole, a way I might figure I might have survived the tragedy of that day.  I don’t see it, I honestly don’t.   There is a very good reason I don’t hold the Bush administration, or some secret cabal of insane neo-Cons responsible for those events:

I believe that that particular gambit, hijacking a plane and flying it into a building, would have worked almost anywhere.  It had never been done before, and ANYTHING that is new will work once.  You could spar with the greatest martial artist in the world, and if you suddenly grew a third arm in the center of your chest, you could hit him.  Once.  And as soon as the people on that plane knew what had happened to the World Trade Center, everything changed.

You see, the basic theory pre-9/11 was that if you cooperated with the hijackers, you were more likely to live.  That froze good, strong, smart people in place for the critical moments it took for their position to progress beyond the point of no return.  I feel sorry for most of the conspiracy theorists: such a plot would require such razor-tight collusion on the part of so many people, combined with their silence afterward—literally hundreds of people would have to know about it all.
Sorry.  I have no belief that people are that smart, that capable of keeping a deadly secret, one that would have to weigh on all their souls like millstones.  No, I don’t buy it.
Some have criticized the film for not demonizing the hijackers.  This was one of the things I liked most.  Man, if you’ve got to fight someone, you’d better respect them and try to understand what motivates them, or your chances of losing skyrocket.  Only an immature warrior needs to hate his enemies in order to kill them, if necessary. 

I remember the days just after that horrid attack, and the way radio commentators were calling the hijackers “cowardly.”  Wow.  That doesn’t correspond to any definition of cowardice I’ve ever heard.  What they meant was that the deliberate targeting of civilians is anathema.  I can understand that. 

But I remember being back in grade school, and a bully twice my size picking fights with me every day.  Kicking my butt with monotonous regularity.  One day, I punched him in the crotch.  He doubled over, screaming.  The other kids called me a coward for my “unfair” attack.  Hmmm…let me see.  I’m courageous if I play by rules where I am doomed to lose.  But if I express myself in an actually effective manner, I’m a “coward” for going outside the rules.

Friends, if you think like this, and don’t see the hypocrisy, we’re going to lose this “war.”  In my mind, there is only one way to deal with this, and it’s the Tao of Terrorism.  We need some combination of a Male/Female approach:
Male response: kill everyone connected with any attack on us.  Ruthlessly, efficiently, at their dinner tables in front of their children if need be. 
2) Look deeply in to the legitimate grievances that create people willing to die to achieve their aims.  Where have our actions, as an empire, as human beings with an hierarchical bent, alienated people and fostered such rage?  We must do EVERYTHING in our power to give  no  rational reasons to hate us. 

Not grasping that the hijackers, as well as the passengers, are human would be a hideous mistake, and the kind of thinking that creates more terrorists.  You cannot “kill all the terrorists” any more than you can stop the flow of drugs with law enforcement.  Just as the scarcity  of drugs drives up their price, making it more profitable to take a risk, the repression and violence used to kill terrorists creates more terrorists.

And yet, there we are.  And as bad as my One-Two punch of “Male” and “Female” approaches might sound, either without the other would be far, far worse.  Lethally worse.  And the people who think that either approach would work, alone, scare the hell out of me.

Eventually, we will have a web of communication and cooperation that will treat these actions as what they actually are: criminal acts.  Criminals to be hunted down and killed or tried.  The concept of a “War on Terror” is, in my mind, simply the wrong metaphor, used by people who think that having the biggest, baddest hammer in the world means that they are ready to fix any broken appliance.   It’s a really bad joke, and the punch line will be at the expense of our grandchildren if we’re not careful.
See “United 93.”  Never forget.  There are just fallible human beings up on that screen. The moral high-ground belongs to the passengers, there is no doubt in my mind.  I wish I could feel as certain about the things we did in response to the events of that terrible day.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Path and weight/abuse issues

“I've tried therapy, because I truly believe that my weight is a combination of having a very physically traumatic childhood and my mental state. But all the therapists only want to talk and most of the seminars like you are doing warn "to see a therapist is you have severe abuse issues". ::double sigh::

Gwenny: All right, you instantly have my attention.  All right, you have severe abuse issues.  I am incredibly sorry for that fact.  However, there is hope, and in my mind your best bet is a multi-phasic approach, and some of that is under your control…and for some of it, you’ll need outside allies.

Imagine a pyramid pretty much set up like this:


In other words, the foundation of all of it is
your mental/spiritual/emotional well-being. 
2) Then the establishment of health: joint integrity, posture, general energy and well-being.  Waking up in the morning feeling good.
3) Fitness: Cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, strength, flexibility, coordination under stress, etc.
4) Skill: specific coordination and development of attributes.  Specific endurance to specific muscle chains used in your chosen activity.  Selective deep relaxation for recovery, etc.
Competition: ability to perform skills under pressure.

Note that Skill and competition are not necessary for health.  In some ways, neither is “fitness” by most people’s definitions.  Fitness and health are NOT the same thing, and Health should NEVER be sacrificed for fitness.  NEVER.

In your situation, I picked up on the following thoughts in your post:
a couple of years ago I joined a free form exercise class, to "up the ante" on my daily 3 mile walks, and went every morning. After a few days I was feeling really crummy. But I kept pushing myself until I collapsed and now, over 2 years later, I still am in terrible shape. Not only have I re-gained the 60 pounds I had lost, they diagnosed me with fibromyalgia”
Sweetie, you screwed yourself, with Society’s happy cooperation.  We are encouraged to race toward the finish line, and in the process, our Shadow-self gets to fulfill its intention (to keep you right where you are!) by inducing you to push yourself too hard!  Hurting yourself in training is another way to stop yourself from changing.  It is an absolutely standard tactic of our Shadows, and you need to look at that WITHOUT experiencing guild, blame, or shame—three MORE ways that our “Shadows” screw us over and keep us from blossoming.
So…here’s what I’d suggest:
For the “base” of your fitness pyramid (adapted from the fine, fine work of Scott Sonnon) you need therapy, meditation, dream journaling, and good friends who will love you and support you 100%.  As you begin to change, you WILL run into bad emotions, you WILL experience a wide variety of ab-reactions.  The deeper your abuse issues, the more important actual professional counseling becomes.  Prayer, positive visualization…anything that allows you to “drain the swamp” on that emotional level. Make your peace with the fact that it will be hard.  Be the mother to the little girl inside you, and simply put on your war face, sweetheart. You are going to go through the fire, so that the beautiful child within you can dance in the sun.  Parents have done this for millions of years.  You can do it too.
2) For the basic health, I would suggest Yoga.  Find a class that knows how to deal with different body-types, and do NOT let some body-Nazi “ripped to the bone” gymnastic-wannabe guy or gal impose their standards on you.  I suggest Iyengar (if you can find a compassionate instructor), Viniyoga (very good at adapting postures) or Bikram (I’ve seen a number of round ladies doing quite well in class.) 
3) Fitness.  Walking is GREAT for fitness.  Remember that your body grows while it is RESTING, not when it is exercising.  So the day off is as important as the work.  Think of working RELATIVELY hard (say, 5-7 on a subjective scale of ten.  You should be able to talk, but not sing!) three days a week, with three days off—or possibly, additional days of even lighter work.  THIS is where Coach Sonnon’s FLOWFIT could come in well.  I suggest whole-body work, NOT machines.  You need to amp up your metabolism while protecting your joints and back. 

You don’t need skill work, although a goal of taking dance classes or something else you enjoy would be great.  What you DO need is to take a closer look at your food intake.  Master the physics of this, and the physics are simple: if you take in fewer calories than you burn up, the body HAS to lose weight.  This means adjusting your lifestyle, not “going on a diet.”  Make no changes you are not prepared to sustain.  A good suggestion?  One day a week is “Cheat Day,” on which you can have that ice cream or pasta.  The rest of the week, discipline.
As for The Path—we had several round ladies in the workshop, and some round guys, too.  No human being walking this planet is perfect, sweetheart.  We are all carrying wounds: some of them show up in silhouette, most don’t.  My insistence, from the very beginning, is that The Path must be designed for people at all levels of development and health.  I would say that if you have a severe abuse issue, TALK with your health professional, but unless they disapprove, get to the next Path workshop—we can adapt the movements to your needs.

And good luck to you!