Saturday, December 16, 2006

Integral Literary Criticism, Part 1

I've been toying with the idea of an integral model of literary criticism ever since I first read Ken Wilber back in college. At the time, I had no idea how to formulate such a model and what it might entail.

With the publication of Integral Spirituality, and before that the excerpts from Volume 2 of the Kosmos Trilogy (especially Excerpt D), there is finally a model that feels capable of handling the task. The quadrant model on its own is unable to account for all the various approaches one may take to a text, but with the addition of zones there is now a comprehensive framework by which to include all the various critical models.

I want to say up front that this is a tentative approach to the idea -- and that I am hoping to hear from other integral thinkers on this topic. One need not be terribly familiar with literary criticism, although that would help, but more importantly I want to be sure that I am fully understanding Wilber's new model. Integral Methodological Pluralism is not merely a big phrase -- it's a complex idea that I am not sure I fully grasp.

Literary criticism has as its goal the task of making the text more available to the reader. In order to do so, many different approaches have been developed that each claims to offer the most effective entry into the meaning of a given text. As Wilber might say, each is true but partial. However, some approaches offer more to a reader than others, and this is where literary theory gets messy.

To me, and to readers such as Camille Paglia, the text itself holds primacy over all else. With this in mind, the text is the "ground" upon which we might superimpose the quadrant model. We may look at a given text through the prism of each individual quadrant, and, of course, the text exists in each quadrant.

We gain a great deal, however, by adding the inside and outside "views" to each quadrant. As a human creation, the text is a report of sorts on some aspect of human experience (the inside), but it also exists in space and time (the outside).

So, in this first exploration, I want to try to outline in broad terms the individual quadrants and how we might read a text within those "zones."

I'm using Wilber's older charts because I can't find the newer versions on the web. In the newer versions, the plural zones are numbered 5-8 rather than 1-4 as pictured here.

Beginning with the singular or individual:

Zone 1: When we approach the interior-individual of a literary work, we are looking at what the narrator tells us about his or her experience, what is revealed in the text about her or his psyche. All texts have a narrator that may or may not be the poet or novelist. [Drama may be a huge exception here, and since I know very little about drama I have no idea how it might fit, or not fit, within this model.] In this view we are examining the first-person approach to a first-person experience of reality, the inside of an I

Zone 2: We can distinguish between the narrator and the author on many occasions, and this only adds to the depth of the work. We just as well examine what the text might reveal about the author as we can what it might reveal about the narrator. From this view, we are not as concerned about what the experience of the author or narrator might be, but with how we might take a third-person approach to the first person experience presented in the text.

Zone 3: This is the story, novel, or the text of the poem. When looking at Zone 1, we are concerned with what the text says, the information presented. In a story or novel, we can outline the plot points; in a poem we can look at what it says, literally. In this view we are concerned with insides of the text as seen from the outside, what Wilber describes as a third-person approach to a first-person reality.

Zone 4: In Zone 2 we look at the language, the diction, the structure, or anything that we can analyze from the outside without being concerned with meaning. In a poem, we can look at diction, rhythm, line structure, rhyme scheme if it exists, stanzas, and so on, all of which tells us a great deal about the poem. We are taking a third-person view on a third-person reality, the outside of the text.

If we only employed these four views, we have a good deal of information about the text, but we would be lacking just as much. We also need to include the collective or plural realm in which the text exists.

I'm still puzzling out these last two quadrants, but I hope to have the next post up soon. Once I have the broad outlines in place, I hope to loot at each view or zone a little more in-depth.

In the meantime, I welcome comments and criticisms, and most of all, suggestions from anyone who sees theoretical errors in my understanding of Wilber's model.

Affirmations for the Lazy and Cynical

I found this at Suburban Guerrilla's site this morning -- a bit of fun:
30 Attainable Affirmations

1. As I let go of my feelings of guilt, I am in touch with my inner sociopath.
2. I have the power to channel my imagination into ever-soaring levels of suspicion and paranoia.
3. I assume full responsibility for my actions, except the ones that are someone else’s fault.
4. I no longer need to punish, deceive, or compromise myself, unless I want to stay employed.
5. In some cultures what I do would be considered normal.
6. Having control over myself is almost as good as having control over others.
7. My intuition nearly makes up for my lack of self-judgment.
8. I honor my personality flaws, for without them I would have no personality at all.
9. Joan of Arc heard voices, too.
10. I am grateful that I am not as judgmental as all those censorious, self-righteous people around me.
11. I need not suffer in silence while I can still moan, whimper, and complain.
12. As I learn the innermost secrets of people around me, they reward me in many ways to keep me quiet.
13. When someone hurts me, I know that forgiveness is cheaper than a lawsuit, but not nearly as gratifying.
14. The first step is to say nice things about myself. The second, to do nice things for myself. The third, to find someone to buy me nice things.
15. As I learn to trust the universe, I no longer need to carry a gun.
16. All of me is beautiful, even the ugly, stupid and disgusting parts.
17. I am at one with my duality.
18. Blessed are the flexible, for they can tie themselves into knots.
19. Only a lack of imagination saves me from immobilizing myself with imaginary fears.
20. I will strive to live each day as if it were my 50th birthday.
21. Today I will gladly share my experience and advice, for there are no sweeter words than “I told you so!”
22. False hope is better than no hope at all.
23. A good scapegoat is almost as good as a solution.
24. Who can I blame for my problems? Just give me a minute…. I’ll find someone.
25. Why should I waste my time reliving the past when I can spend it worrying about the future?
26. The complete lack of evidence is the surest sign that the conspiracy is working.
27. Becoming aware of my character defects leads me naturally to the next step of blaming my parents.
28. To have a successful relationship, I must learn to make it look like I’m giving as much as I’m getting.
29. I am willing to make the mistakes if someone else is willing to learn from them.
30. Before I criticize a man, I walk a mile in his shoes. That way, if he gets angry, he’s a mile away and barefoot.

Am I a Grinch?

You're a Total Grinch

Ouch! You make the Grinch seem like Santa Claus. Holidays definitely aren't your thing.
Just relax, and create your own tradition. Even if it's drinking spiked hot chocolate and heckling carolers.

I'm not really a Grinch, I just think the holidays are banal. I'm not a Christian, and even if I were, I would know that Jesus was born in either the spring or fall based on the extant stories. And then there's the crass commercialism and greed. It's enough to make a man say, in his best Charlie Brown voice, "Aaarrggh!"

But, really, the thing that bothers me most is how people assume that if I don't plan to do anything for Christmas I must be depressed or lonely or whatever. It's not Christmas that I hate, it's the pervasive sense that if I don't participate in the chaos something is wrong with me -- it's just assumed that everyone wants to do Christmas stuff.

Friends and clients invite me to do things with their families, which is very kind and feels to me to be what the season should be about -- kindness and inclusion. But that isn't what I want. All I want is a day off from work, a good book, some hot coffee, and maybe a football game or two.

So am I Grinch for feeling this way?

Dharma Quote of the Week: Attachment

Snow Lion Publications' Dharma quote of the week:
Wouldn't life be boring without attachment?

No. In fact it's attachment that makes us restless and prevents us from enjoying things. For example, suppose we're attached to chocolate cake. Even while we're eating it, we're not tasting it and enjoying it completely. We're usually either criticizing ourselves for eating something fattening, comparing the taste of this chocolate cake to other cakes we've eaten in the past, or planning how to get another piece. In any case, we're not really experiencing the chocolate cake in the present.

On the other hand, without attachment, we can think clearly about whether we want to eat the cake, and if we decide to, we can eat it peacefully, tasting and enjoying every bite without craving for more or being dissatisfied because it isn't as good as we expected. As we diminish our attachment, life becomes more interesting because we're able to open up to what's happening in each moment.

~ From Buddhism for Beginners by Thubten Chodron, published by Snow Lion Publications

Democratic Candidates Finding Religion for 2008

The headline of the article says that Hillary Clinton has hired a "faith guru" to advise her on her 2008 bid for the White House, but she is not alone. Once you get into the meat of the article, it appears all the Democratic hopefuls are or will be making an effort to court "faith-based voters" going into the 2008 campaign.

From The Hill:
Clinton hires faith guru

Burns Strider, one of the Democratic Party’s leading strategists on winning over evangelicals and other values-driven voters, will join Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) as she prepares to launch her 2008 presidential campaign.

Strider now heads religious outreach for the House Democratic Caucus, and is the lead staffer for the Democrats’ Faith Working Group, headed by incoming Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.).

Incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) created the working group in 2005 when Democratic strategists recognized that the party lost ground in the previous election because of trouble appealing to centrist and conservative voters in rural areas, who tend to be church-goers driven by moral issues. Strider was an aide to Pelosi when the group formed and joined Clyburn’s staff as policy director of the Democratic Caucus in 2006.

Strider’s move to Clinton’s camp suggests that Democrats will woo so-called faith voters in the 2008 election. The plan is buoyed by the Democrats’ success in winning over religious voters in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania in the midterm elections.

Hillary has never hidden her faith, but many are cynical in thinking that she has been calculating in how she displays it. I personally think that everything she does is calculated -- I don't see in her the passion and fire that made Bill Clinton such a charismatic presence.

Be that as it may, Clinton is not the only candidate who has found religion. Her prime rival right now is Barack Obama, he of the smooth demeanor and wear-it-on-your-sleeve faith. And then there's the 2004 candidate who refuses to fade quietly into the irrelevance that is his presence, John Kerry, and is also trying to do something about his secular image.

But Clinton is not the only 2008 Democratic hopeful in position to appeal to religious voters. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) joined conservative Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) to speak about AIDS two weeks ago before the congregation of the evangelical Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. Last week Congress passed legislation sponsored by Obama that would allow people in bankruptcy to give to charitable and religious organizations.

Josh Dubois, an aide in his Senate office, is heading Obama’s religious outreach.

Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), who is also contemplating running for the 2008 Democratic nomination, has been active, too. In September, he gave a speech on “service and faith” at the conservative Pepperdine University. He has tapped Shaun Casey, an associate professor of Christian Ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary, to advise him on religious outreach.

Kerry also recently held a dinner at his D.C. home with evangelical leaders and traveled out to California for a four-hour meeting with Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, who wrote the bestseller, “The Purpose-Driven Life.”

That three of the top contenders for the Democratic nomination will have aides or advisers specializing in religious outreach is a dramatic change from 2004, when Democratic presidential candidates viewed reaching out to values-voters as a low priority.

Of these three, the only one I trust to actually be able to appeal to faith-based voters is Obama -- he seems more authentic in his beliefs, and they have been there from the beginning in his books and in his actions.

Beliefnet is hosting Obama's seminal speech from this summer on faith an politics. Check it out to see why he has the best relationship with faith-based voters, and why he may have the best shot at winning in 2008.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Rolling Stone's 10 Best Movies of 2006

Rolling Stone picks their top 10 movies, with trailers.
High five! After a box-office slump, movies made money again in 2006. Kill-me-now depression sets in only when I list the big winners (Pirates of the Carribbean: Dead Man's Chest; X-Men: The Last Stand; The Da Vinci Code). Luckily, it wasn't just Borat that hit pay dirt without getting slimed by formula pap. Martin Scorsese had his biggest hit with The Departed. And Dreamgirls proved a musical could have grit as well as glitz. And what of terrific movies that barely made a dime? They, too, have pride of place on my list of movies that mattered this year.
Here are the top ten -- you'll have to visit RS to see why and view the trailer.
1 The Departed
Directed by Martin Scorsese
2 Dreamgirls
Directed by Bill Condon
3 Letters From Iwo Jima/Flags of Our Fathers
Directed by Clint Eastwood
4 Volver
Directed by Pedro Almodovar

5 Babel
Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
6 United 93
Directed by Paul Greengrass
7 The Queen
Directed by Stephen Frears

8 Borat
Directed by Larry Charles
9 Little Miss Sunshine
Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
10 Prairie Home Companion
Directed by Robert Altman


10 MORE BESTS David Lynch's Inland Empire twists your mind into scary shapes; Todd Field's Little Children is a model of literary adaptation; Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth is a surreal study of war; Michael Mann's Miami Vice sees the crime genre with laser-eyed freshness; Jason Reitman's Thank You for Smoking blows satiric smoke up Big Tobacco's ass; Christopher Guest's For Your Consideration blows satiric smoke up Oscar's ass; Christopher Nolan's The Prestige makes magic out of magic; Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy digs deep into the nature of friendship; John Hillcoat's The Proposition, an Aussie Western, is criminally underrated; and Mel Gibson's Apocalypto, despite a taste for gore that's near pathological, brings a poet's eye and fierce energy to a Mayan civilization that mirrors our own.

Best Animated film John Lasseter's Cars is a visual miracle, sweet as hell and mischievously funny. Oscar, take note. Runners-up: Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly and George Miller's Happy Feet.

Best Foreign Film Volver. Runners-up: Rachid Bouchareb's Days of Glory, Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, Deepa Mehta's Water and Jean-Pierre Melville's 1969 Army of Shadows in its U.S. debut at last.

Best Documentary Davis Guggenheim's An Inconvenient Truth cuts Al Gore loose on global warming. Runners-up: James Longley's Iraq in Fragments, Deborah Scranton's The War Tapes, Doug Block's 51 Birch Street and Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck's Shut Up and Sing.

1 Bobby
Emilio Estevez tacks on RFK's assassination to a series of soapy star cameos and calls it humanism. Wrong, pal, it's risible exploitation.
2 The Da Vinci Code
Blockbuster book becomes a blockheaded movie.
3 Snakes on a Plane
The Internet hyped it, but audiences rightly spit venom.
4 x-Men: The Last Stand
Let's hope so.
5 Basic Instinct 2
So bad, you wanted Sharon Stone's legs to stay crossed.
6 The Nativity Story
The Virgin birth staged like a stuffy Christmas pageant.
7 Lady in the Water
M. Night Shyamalan loses his sixth sense for scary.
8 Click
Adam Sandler in a sentimental mood; it's like drowning in drool.
9 Death of a President
A fake doc that imagines Bush dead, and it's still boring.
10 All The King's Men
Southern-fried politics, and even with Sean Penn it's duller than dog shit.

BBC: 100 things we didn't know this time last year

From the BBC:
Each week the Magazine picks out snippets from the news, and compiles them into 10 Things We Didn't Know This Time Last Week. Here's an end of year almanac.
Here are a few that aren't totally based in British-only interest.

4. An average record shop needs to sell at least two copies of a CD per year to make it worth stocking, according to Wired magazine.

5. Nicole Kidman is scared of butterflies. "I jump out of planes, I could be covered in cockroaches, I do all sorts of things, but I just don't like the feel of butterflies' bodies," she says.

6. WD-40 dissolves cocaine - it has been used by a pub landlord to prevent drug-taking in his pub's toilets.

7. Baboons can tell the difference between English and French. Zoo keepers at Port Lympne wild animal park in Kent are having to learn French to communicate with the baboons which had been transferred from Paris zoo.

8. Devout Orthodox Jews are three times as likely to jaywalk as other people, according to an Israeli survey reported in the New Scientist. The researchers say it's possibly because religious people have less fear of death.

9. The energy used to build an average Victorian terrace house would be enough to send a car round the Earth five times, says English Heritage.

10 butterfly eggs by Peter Rettenberger
10. Humans can be born suffering from a rare condition known as "sirenomelia" or "mermaid syndrome", in which the legs are fused together to resemble the tail of a fish.

11. One in 10 Europeans is allegedly conceived in an Ikea bed.

12. Until the 1940s rhubarb was considered a vegetable. It became a fruit when US customs officials, baffled by the foreign food, decided it should be classified according to the way it was eaten.

15. Lionesses like their males to be deep brunettes.

More details

19. The = sign was invented by 16th Century Welsh mathematician Robert Recorde, who was fed up with writing "is equal to" in his equations. He chose the two lines because "noe 2 thynges can be moare equalle".

22. The length of a man's fingers can reveal how physically aggressive he is, scientists say.

23. In America it's possible to subpoena a dog.

Full story

29. When faced with danger, the octopus can wrap six of its legs around its head to disguise itself as a fallen coconut shell and escape by walking backwards on the other two legs, scientists discovered.

35. The name Lego came from two Danish words "leg godt", meaning "play well". It also means "I put together" in Latin.

36. The average employee spends 14 working days a year on personal e-mails, phone calls and web browsing, outside official breaks, according to employment analysts Captor.

37. Cyclist Lance Armstrong's heart is almost a third larger than the average man's.

38. Nasa boss Michael Griffin has seven university degrees: a bachelor's degree, a PhD, and five masters degrees.

39. Australians host barbecues at polling stations on general election days.
More details

52. You're 10 times more likely to be bitten by a human than a rat.
More details

60. Newborn dolphins and killer whales don't sleep for a month, according to research carried out by University of California.

61. You can bet on your own death.
Full story

Satire: Christmas Brought To Iraq By Force

This is from The Onion, so you know someone will be pissed off about it.

Christmas Brought To Iraq By Force

December 15, 2006 | Issue 42•50

BAGHDAD, IRAQ—On almost every corner in Iraq's capital city, carolers are singing, trees are being trimmed, and shoppers are rushing home with their packages—all under the watchful eye of U.S. troops dedicated to bringing the magic of Christmas to Iraq by force.

Enlarge Image Christmas Brought To Iraq By Force

U.S. soldiers instruct an Iraqi to tell Santa what he wants for Christmas.

"It's important that life in liberated Iraq get back to normal as soon as possible," said Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz at a press conference Monday. "That's why we're making sure that Iraqis have the best Christmas ever—something they certainly wouldn't have had under Saddam Hussein's regime."

To that end, 25,000 troops from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and 82nd Airborne Division have been deployed. Their missions include the distribution of cookies and eggnog at major Iraqi city centers, the conscription of bell-ringers from among the Iraqi citizenry, and the enforcement of a new policy in which every man, woman, and child in Baghdad pays at least one visit to 'Twas The Night... On Ice.

Immediately following the press conference, high-altitude bombers began to string Christmas lights throughout the greater-Baghdad area, and Wild Weasel electronic-warfare fighter jets initiated 24-hour air patrols to broadcast Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" over the nation. Armored columns struck out from all major allied firebases to erect a Christmas tree in the town square of every city, while foot soldiers placed fully lit, heavily guarded nativity scenes in front of every Iraqi mosque.

"Thus far, Operation Desert Santa has gone off without a hitch," said Gen. Stanley Kimmet, commander of U.S. armed reconnaissance-and-mistletoe operations in the volatile Tikrit region of central Iraq. "There has been sporadic house-to-house fighting during our door-to-door caroling, but that's to be expected in a Christmas season of this magnitude."

According to Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top American military commander in Iraq, every precaution is being taken to ensure the peaceful enforcement of the Christmas season in occupied Iraq.

"All American military personnel have been instructed that the observation of Christmas should be carried out efficiently and tastefully, with minimal emphasis on the season's commercial aspects," said Sanchez, who addressed reporters while a decorations division strung wreaths and garlands outside his headquarters. "We must keep in mind that the reason for the season-oriented campaign is for Iraq to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

An aide for Sanchez later explained that, in order to ensure a meaningful holiday season for all Iraqis, provisions were made for those Iraqis who elected to observe Hanukkah.

Enlarge Image Christmas Brought To Iraq By Force

A mosque in Baghdad decorated by U.S. troops.

Like many U.S. operations in Iraq, Operation Desert Santa has met with some resistance. A convoy transporting fruitcake and gingerbread came under rocket attack Sunday night just outside Checkpoint Noël in Basra, and unidentified bands of Iraqis exchanged gunfire with Marines operating an armored Humvee simulated sleigh ride in a Baghdad suburb. In spite of these troubles, regional commanders report progress, with only eight U.S. casualties resulting from the operation.

Still, Iraqis report that they are unable to get into the Christmas spirit.

"Why am I supposed to feel joy for the world?" said 34-year-old Baghdad mechanic Hassan al-Ajili as he stood in line for his mandatory visit with Santa. "My country is still at war. I need an American identification card to get anywhere in my own city. Now, for some reason, men with machine guns have placed two rows of jingling antlered pigs on the roof of our house. This is insane."

Bush, speaking from his Crawford ranch, praised the brave men and women of Operation Desert Santa and asked for the understanding of all Americans.

"We must be patient with the Iraqis," said Bush, seated before a Christmas tree dotted with Scottish terrier ornaments. "The holidays can be a very stressful time, especially for people not yet used to the customs. I'm sure Iraq will enjoy the happiest of holiday seasons if we show resolve and commit to making sure that they do."

President Bush then called for 30,000 new troops to be deployed in the next week to ensure an effective and precise enforcement of Christmas throughout the region. Salvation and Eighth Army detachments will be stationed on every corner by Christmas Eve to make sure that every last Iraqi citizen spends the holiday at home, with family.

Sanchez said he is confident that he can meet that deadline.

"A merry Christmas in Iraq means peace in the Middle East has finally been achieved," Sanchez said. "God bless us, every one."

My Camille Paglia Review

Matthew Dallman has posted my review of Camille Paglia's Break, Blow, Burn over at POLYSEMY online. The article posted there is an expanded version of my original review posted here a week or two ago.

Please check it out, and while you are there, check out the conversation between MD and Paul Salamone, meeting of the arty-farty minds, via instant messaging.

And hey, why not take a look at Elegant Thorn Review while you are in that neck of the woods.

The Biggest Loser

Erik, a deli owner from NY, was the winner for this season of The Biggest Loser. In the picture below, taken at the beginning of the show, this 35 year old man weighed in at 407 pounds.

By the end of the show, after the eighteen weeks (or whatever it was), Erik had dropped 214 pounds to finish at 193 pounds. He lost more than half of his body mass.

Here is the after picture:

I'm not a big fan of reality shows -- most of them seek to exploit or embarrass the people who go on them (The Amazing Race on CBS is an exception, and there might be others). But with The Biggest Loser, all the contestants have an opportunity, whether they win or not, to seriously impact and change the quality of their lives. All it takes is the desire to do it.

Everyone who competes gets a chance to learn proper eating skills, proper exercise techniques, and how to deal with the emotional aspect of who they are. Obviously, NBC shows the most dramatic moments these people face, but many of them seriously struggle with who they have been and who they are becoming.

The Biggest Loser might be a truly all-quadrant reality show -- which is not to say that it is integral. The show obviously deals with weight, diet, and exercise. It also deals with emotional eating, self-esteem (building some), motivation, and self-awareness. Because millions of people watch (including many of my clients who use it as motivation), it has the power to shape cultural values in terms of weight and health. And as a TV show, it makes money for NBC, sells products (like the 24 Hour Fitness logo that is everywhere), provides some compensation for the contestants, and generates a cascading flow of economic impact.

Maybe some other shows can demonstrate the same impact, I don't know.

I encourage my clients to watch this show, and we discuss the methods used and the lessons learned. Most find it inspiring (and it makes me seem like a softy compared to how hard the contestants on the show get pushed).

Congratulations to Erik on his incredible transformation!

The 20 Funniest Videos of 2006

From, the 20 funniest videos from this year. All of them are political, which makes sense since this is the political humor site. Which one is your favorite and why?

1) Stephen Colbert Roasts Bush
Watch the video of comedian Stephen Colbert's biting "tribute" to President Bush at the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

2) Bush Meets Bush Impersonator

Watch a video clip of President Bush appearing alongside Bush impersonator Steve Bridges at the 2006 White House Correspondents' dinner.

3) 'President' Al Gore on Saturday Night Live
Al Gore addresses the nation as if he were president in this hilarious Saturday Night Live clip.

4) Daily Show: The Decider
It's time for another installment of "The Decider," featuring President Bush as a comic book hero.

5) SNL: A Special Message from Nancy Pelosi
Watch an amusing skit from Saturday Night Live spoofing House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi.

6) Frank Caliendo's Bush Routine
Comedian Frank Caliendo does a spot-on impression of President Bush's various idiosyncrasies in this clip from the "Late Show With David Letterman."

JibJab's Year in Review: Nuckin' Futs
JibJab looks back at 2006 with another in a series of great animated cartoons, this one featuring elementary school children singing about political figures such as Dick Cheney, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and Saddam Hussein, and pop icons such as Britney Spears, Mel Gibson, and Lance Bass.

8) George Bush Drunk?
Has Bush been drinking again? Watch this funny video clip from the "Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson" and judge for yourself.

9) Rumsfeld Rolls a Joint at the Podium
The Late Show with Craig Ferguson has a little fun at Rumsfeld's expense.

10) Daily Show: Cheney's Got A Gun
The Daily Show reports on Dick Cheney's shooting accident, in which Harry Whittington became the first man gunned down by a sitting vice president since Alexander Hamilton.

Jay Leno Interviews Dick Cheney
Jay Leno scores an interview with Dick Cheney and asks the questions FOX News Channel's Brit Hume was afraid to ask.

12) Dick Cheney, The Notorious VP
Watch a funny spoof video from HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher," featuring "Dick Cheney, The Notorious VP."

13) Colbert's Election-Night Meltdown
Colbert: "The people have spoken. And apparently they're tired of freedom. Don't get me wrong, I'm not angry, I'm just disappointed -- I thought this country would last longer than 230 years. That's it, folks, America's over."

14) The Simpsons' Iraq War Satire
Watch a clip from The Simpsons' annual "Treehouse of Horrors" Halloween special, featuring a biting satire of the Iraq war.

15) The State of the Union Is Good Enough
George W. Bush vows to cut taxes and stay the course in a preemptive parody strike on the 2006 State of the Union address.

16) Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert at the Emmys
Colbert to Emmy audience: "Good evening godless sodomites."

17) Mark Foley IM Reenactment
Watch a dramatization of Mark Foley's instant message exchanges with an unidentified male teen, presented by the comedy troupe Invisible Engine.

18) Last Laugh '06: Re-Elect Congressman Brisbane
Rob Corddry impersonates a family values congressman as part of of Comedy Central's "Last Laugh '06."

Classic Rumsfeldisms
Watch video clips of memorable Donald Rumsfeld quotes.

20) Daily Show: That's All Folks
The Daily Show bids farewell to the 109th Congress.

Speedlinking 12/15/06

This morning's image is of Ridge Run County Park, West Bend, WI, from Live Science:

Happy Friday!

~ Holiday Workout 2007: The politically correct holiday workout, (of T-Nation). A quality program for those short on time -- not for beginners.
~ Do Low-Fat Foods Make Us Fat? The answer is yes, just in case you don't want to read the article.
~ Low testosterone - high cholesterol -- men need this natural hormone to be healthy.
~ Too Much Exercise Not So Good -- the body needs time to recover.
~ Why Applying Insulin To Wounds Significantly Enhances Healing -- insulin helps skin wounds heal faster.
~ Strengthen Your Bones With Exercise AND a Healthy Diet.

~ Religion and Memory -- "In the paper I discussed the other day, Atran and Norenzayan argue that one of the most important factors in determining whether a religious narrative is successful is how memorable it is."
~ Study Finds Bizarre Eating Differences in Men and Women. "Women with body-image problems eat less in the presence of other women. Men eat more."
~ Why Teens Do Stupid Things.
~ Coolest... Experiment... Ever.
~ A little emotional boost going into the weekend: Top Ten Happy Stories of 2006.
~ From ebuddha: Discernment of Self versus Not Self and Spiritual Intelligence (SQ) and Competencies to Define It.

~ The Yajur and Sama Vedas.
~ Pythons were the oldest gods?
~ Why are women more religious? "Once people admit that this gender gap exists, the most popular explanation is that women are "socialized" to be more religious."
~ The origins of gods -- "My own view of religion is that it is a side effect of social dominance behaviour in a particular ape (i.e., us). And moreover, it is my view that gods themselves are just socially dominant individuals who either really existed and were subsequently elevated even further by the tribal affiliations . . . . ."
~ Dem voters and global warming.
~ Get some interesting insight into what is happening in Iraq at Iraq Slogger -- tip provided by Tom Armstrong.

~ Oregon Prescription Drug Discount Program For All State Residents Begins -- I wish Arizona had this.
~ Average Wholesale Price Lawsuits Might Lead To Prescription Drug Pricing Changes.
~ Rare White Dolphin Declared As Extinct. That sucks.
~ Mile-High Mountains Found on Saturn's Moon Titan.
~ Photo in the News: "Ancient Gliding Beast" Changes Mammal History.
~ White House Tightens Publishing Rules for USGS Scientists -- "The Bush administration is clamping down on scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, who study everything from caribou mating to global warming, subjecting them to controls on research that might go against official policy."

~ A New Open Source form of Religion Spreading Across the Planet via the Net.
~ From ebuddha: Integral Diagnosis 101 - What Perspective Is Hope Coming From?
~ From Joe Perez: Integralists just want to have fun, on the new integral wiki page.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

On US Soccer and Youthful Dreams

I am that rarest of American males -- a soccer fan. I have played the sport most of my life and I love to watch it played, even the pathetically sloppy US version of the Beautiful Game.

When Freddie Adu came on the scene a few years ago as a brilliant 14-year-old, I hoped that things would change. He was left off a US squad that embarrassed itself at this year's World Cup. He never broke into the starting line-up with DC United, his pro team. And now he has been exiled to Real Salt Lake, a second-tier team in a second-tier pro league.

Adu had a much-hyped two-week tryout with Manchester United last month, but this was orchestrated more by Nike than coach Ferguson according to Mark Starr at Newsweek.

Starr writes that Adu was over-hyped, and with him the future of US soccer.
My pal, Boston Globe soccer writer Frank Dell’Apa, says casting off the kid to—even by already low MLS standards—a lesser outpost is the inevitable result of unrealistic expectations created by media hype. “Adu,” writes Dell’Apa, “always had a better chance of ending up with Real Salt Lake than with Real Madrid.” I was, as I have already admitted, part of that hype. A passionate fan of soccer and, like many Americans, a dreamer concerning the potential of the game here, I had heard lots of talk about the coming of this kid, this Ghana-born American Pelé. So I wrote one of the first stories about him to appear in the national media, featuring the 13-year-old Adu in our year-end “Who’s Next?” issue. And if I want to be literal, I was right. He was indeed “next”: soon after came the Nike deal; a big contract with D.C. United, a rare network showcase for his MLS debut, and his anointment, at age 15, as an MLS all-star. Everything pointed to this youngster being something very special.

For three years now, I have watched this boy against men. And my reluctant conclusion is that, while he is quite talented and, at times, dazzling with his feet, Adu is not the magical player that will someday lead American soccer to the Promised Land. He is neither big enough nor fast enough to dominate on the big pitch. And he has shown a bit too much of an NBA-superstar temperament for a still-unproven player. He has groused over playing time and playing position. Granted that playing on the wing rather than in a more creative—and for him more natural—central midfield role, may have limited his effectiveness. Still, 11 goals in 59 games with D.C. United does not resemble a LeBron-like impact.
I agree with this assessment. Adu has all the skills that Michael Jordan had in college (I know soccer and hoops are apples and oranges, but you get my point), but without the heart and the absolute craving to win. Until he gets that heart, he'll be a flashy player with no substance.

US soccer without Adu, or any other young players who can hold their own on the international stage, is looking pretty bleak. We had a chance to sign the brilliant German coach Jürgen Klinsmann to replace Bruce Arena, who took all the blame for the 2006 World Cup collapse, but it didn't happen. An inexperienced Bob Bradley was named interim coach.

US soccer is soft. When I watch the Italian Serie A, or the German Bundisliga, or even the British Premier League, US soccer's MLS looks like the minor leagues in comparison. We are sloppy, disorganized, and we lack any brilliant scorers. Landon Donovan seemed to be the savior a few years ago, a creative passer, a scorer -- but in 2006 he looked afraid. Like Adu, he's too small to play at the international level. A brief stint in Germany with little playing time brought him back to the MLS, where he is an all-star and a former MVP.

This has been said by many soccer fans in the past, but if our best athletes grew up dreaming of World Cup glory the way kids do in Italy, Germany, and Brazil, we would field better teams with better chances. Our best players tend to be smaller guys -- which is what happens when good athletes aren't big enough to play football or basketball, the glory sports -- they play soccer.

When I was growing up I dreamed of World Cup glory. I was an exception in terms of size -- bigger and stronger than many other players -- but I didn't have the professional-level skills. I got to play college ball, and then it was over. A few knee injuries hurried that process along. Until I moved to the desert, I played recreational soccer for fun and fitness, but I don't even do that now.

We need our best athletes to consider playing soccer if we are ever to compete on the world stage. And until we pay them a descent salary, that will never happen. And until US soccer offers a good product, there will never be the fan base to pay the players well.

It's not looking good.

Dan Savage on The Colbert Report

My favorite sex advice columnist (though I often disagree with him) was on Stephen Colbert. Funny conversation.

Poem: Michael Ondaatje

The Cinnamon Peeler

If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed
And leave the yellow bark dust
On your pillow.

Your breasts and shoulders would reek
You could never walk through markets
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you. The blind would
stumble certain of whom they approached
though you might bathe
under rain gutters, monsoon.

Here on the upper thigh
at this smooth pasture
neighbour to you hair
or the crease
that cuts your back. This ankle.
You will be known among strangers
as the cinnamon peeler's wife.

I could hardly glance at you
before marriage
never touch you
--your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers.
I buried my hands
in saffron, disguised them
over smoking tar,
helped the honey gatherers...

When we swam once
I touched you in the water
and our bodies remained free,
you could hold me and be blind of smell.
you climbed the bank and said

this is how you touch other women
the grass cutter's wife, the lime burner's daughter.
And you searched your arms
for the missing perfume

and knew

what good is it
to be the lime burner's daughter
left with no trace
as if not spoken to in the act of love
as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar.

You touched
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
Peeler's wife. Smell me.

Reviews of "Letter to a Christian Nation"

James Wood of The New Republic offers up his review of Sam Harris's recent addition to the war on fundamentalism, Letter to a Christian Nation, in an article called The Celestial Teapot. This title, of course, refers to a favorite trope of Harris, who uses Bertrand Russell's little metaphor often.

The article is more than a review of Harris's book, it is a look at atheism by an atheist. So you have to read a bit to get to the review in this review, but once you do, it's over quickly:

We are in the midst of that tragedy, and America is drowning in God's attributes. The Lord will increase your salary, teach your children, raise your self-esteem, boost your career, be a lifelong friend, and take you into his heart if you only take him into your heart. He is love, and gentleness, and charity, unless he is forbidding homosexuality or stem-cell research or punishing New York with September 11 for its high proportion of gays, lesbians, and degenerates. He greatly dislikes evolutionists, largely because he created the world six thousand years ago. He certainly dislikes Nancy Pelosi -- and now, alas, Pastor Ted Haggard. The Bible is his inerrant word. According to recent polls, 53 percent of Americans are creationists, and 87 percent -- or 260 million people -- claim to "never doubt the existence of God." An avowed atheist cannot be elected president. And so on. You know the stupefying recital. Many millions across the world are absolutely sure they know what God is like, and what he likes. Heine's unbelieving joke, reported by the Goncourt brothers, rises up: on his deathbed, while his wife was praying that God might forgive him, he interrupted her to say, "Have no fear, my darling. He will forgive: that's his profession."

The rise of evangelicalism, and the menace of fundamentalism, along with developments in physics, and in theories of evolution and cosmogony, has encouraged a certain style of public atheistic critique. Many of these names are well-known: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris. The events of September 11 were the direct spur for Harris to write his best-selling book The End of Faith, which vibrated with an admirable anger. It has a suggestive thesis, too, which is that America cannot possibly fight fundamentalist Islam while it is itself gripped by Christian fundamentalism. This symmetry of fundamentalisms means that America will not stoop to defeat the religious content -- and dangerous idiocy -- of its foes. I am not sure if this is exactly provable. Britain, for instance, almost 40 percent of whose citizens profess not to believe in God, has not yet mobilized its secularism in victorious ways (though Harris would doubtless point to Tony Blair's strong Christianity). But it is not his job to win the so-called war on terror, and the essential intellectual approach seems right: attack all the troops of irrational religiosity at once.

The End of Faith starts well and then becomes a bit predictable, because it begins to follow the rules of its rather thin genre. Letter to a Christian Nation, which is an open letter to the many Christians who wrote to Harris in complaint, is even thinner. I have an almost infinite capacity for the consumption of atheistic texts, but there is a limit to how many times one can stub one's toe on the thick idiocy of some mullah or pastor. There is a limit to the number of times one can be told that the Bible is a shaky text, and that Leviticus and Deuteronomy are full of really nasty things. Ratio vincit omnia, but the page-by-page demonstration of this rationalist conquering can become wearisome. This may be no especial insult to Harris so much as to his family; Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian made a great initial impact on me when I was a teenager -- it was like seeing someone in the nude, for the first time -- until I began to get bored with its self-exposure. Russell complaining that Jesus was not a moral teacher, that he was really rather a bad example because he threw the money lenders out of the temples and cursed the fig tree, seemed somehow a little undignified. Russell is reliably at his least philosophical when he is at his most atheistical.

The genre tends to proceed thus: the atheist must first remove all possible respect from religious belief. The tone is a little perky, and lively thought-experiments bloom. They go a bit like this: if I told you that President Bush prays every day to his vacuum cleaner, you would judge him insane. But why is there any evidence that the God he prays to exists? It is fun, knockabout. Harris likes to compare belief in God with belief in Wotan or Zeus: "Can you prove that Zeus does not exist? Of course not. And yet, just imagine if we lived in a society where people spent tens of billions of dollars of their personal income each year propitiating the gods of Mount Olympus."

Read the whole article here.

If you'd like to see how a Buddhist reads Harris's book, check out the review by

Daniel Dennett "On Faith"

On Faith is a feature in The Washington Post that invites prominent people to write on matters of faith. This week featured scientist and atheist Daniel Dennett writing on faith in government: Protecting Democracy Comes Before Promoting Faith.

Of the big three atheists currently getting so much media attention, I find Dennett much more level-headed and reasonable than Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. I enjoy his writing even when I disagree with him -- mostly because I do not feel in him the fundamentalist zeal I see in the other two.

From the article:
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This wise maxim, applied to the First Amendment principle of the separation of church and state, has permitted the principle to drift into disrepair. People are encouraged to think that while there may be all sorts of borderline cases and vexing conundrums about just where to draw the line, examining them will only arouse anxiety and discord--so let’s just cover everything with a fine fog of pious, presumed consensus. We all honor the First Amendment and that’s that, and that’s fine. So it would be, if it weren’t for the steady pressure of those who would exploit our benign neglect, encroaching gradually on what makes the principle work–to the extent that it does.

For instance, the Christian conservatives in the country who wish to declare that this is a Christian nation are becoming bolder and bolder in their willingness to impose their own viewpoint on those who disagree. Fortunately, there are the beginnings of an organized resistence to this takeover, such as the Interfaith Alliance, chaired by Walter Cronkite. I enthusiastically support this effort, even though I am myself an atheist. Atheism is one of the live rails of American politics-touch it and you're toast. Fair enough. Those are the current facts of life. Not so long ago, you couldn’t be elected if you were Catholic, or Jewish, or African-American. But shouldn't we install another live rail, on the opposite side of the religious spectrum?

It ought to be just as much a fact of life that anybody who declares that their allegiance to their religion comes before their allegiance to democracy is simply unelectable.
I agree completely. Any politician who places their faith in their particular religion before the best interests of the people and the nation should be excluded from politics. Straight up, no exceptions.

It will never happen, much like the revolution from the previous post.

There are far too many people, many of whom are in power, who would never agree to such a test for candidates. They argue that the majority of the people in this country identify as part of the Judeo-Christian tradition, making this by default (in their minds) a Christian nation. If you don't like it, they might say, move to France.

Dennett argues:
Consider the situation in Turkey. There are radical Islamic groups intent on using the democratic process to vote in an Islamic state that would then throw away the ladder and abolish democracy, replacing it with theocracy. What should be done about this is not at all obvious. If the people democratically vote to demolish democracy, isn't this just like a club voting itself out of existence? It would be the will of the majority, after all.
How much different is that situation from what the radical religious right wants to do here?

In the United States, the problem is no less real for being less dramatic: There are many deeply religious people who believe that they may democratically impose more and more of their creed on the nation, by simply exercising their First Amendment rights to free expression and creating thereby a climate of opinion that renders opposition by secularists politically ineffective. This is a grave danger to democracy, more subversive, in fact, than anything Al Qaeda threatens.

Many of us believe that American democracy is the best hope of the world, that it provides the most secure and reliable–though hardly foolproof–platform on the planet for improving human welfare. If it tumbles, the whole world is in deep trouble. We therefore put the securing of American democracy–America's secular democracy, with separation of church and state–at the very top of our list of priorities.

I guess I'm working a theme today, because Dennett goes on to say:
That [democracy] is something worth giving our lives for, if it comes to that, but only because, and so long as, we continue to believe that America plays this role of political lifeboat for Planet Earth. Isn't this what America asks of all of us?
He concludes the article by suggesting that because we are asking the Sunnis and Shiites of Iraq to put their nation before their particular form of faith, we owe it to ourselves and the world to do the same thing here.

This article is an example of why I like Dennett. He is a clear thinker who does not resort to ridicule to get his point across. He argues his points with the faith-based as though they are as smart and educated as he is -- the others talk down to those they engage in debate.

Esquire: You Say You Want a Revolution

When the founders drew up the documents that created this country, they had in mind the power of the citizens to overthrow the government should it ever get out of control -- i.e., no longer reflect the best interests of its citizens. Well, that day has come and gone. And could we overthrow the government if that is what we decided to do? Not a chance.

From the new issue of Esquire:
You Say You Want a Revolution
Well, you know, it ain't gonna happen. Not here.

By Chuck Klosterman
January 2007, Volume 147, Issue 1

I do not want to overthrow the government. In case you misread that, I am going to type it again, this time more slowly: I. Do. Not. Want. To. Overthrow the government. I don't want black helicopters landing on the roof of my apartment building, and I don't want to be hunted by death squads through the jungles of Bolivia. I always pay my taxes. I think paying taxes is fun! If someone asks me if I enjoy the music of Rage Against the Machine, I usually say, "Oh, they were only okay." Whenever I see people using the metric system, I punch them in the pancreas.


Something has been occupying my mind as of late, and I can't tell if this thought is reassuring or terrifying: I've been thinking about the possibility of revolution, or—more accurately—the impossibility of revolution. I've started wondering what would have to happen before the American populace would try to overthrow its own government, and how such a coup would play itself out. My conclusions are that a) nothing could make this happen, and b) no one would know what to do if it somehow did. The country is too large, its social systems are too complex, and its people are too complacent, too reasonable, and too confused. I've decided that the U. S. government is (for lack of a better, preexisting term) "unoverthrowable." And this would probably make a man like Patrick Henry profoundly depressed, were it not for the fact that he's been dead for 207 years.

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants," wrote Thomas Jefferson, and his thoughts were far from unique: Almost all of the Founding Fathers were obsessed with the potential for insurgency on U. S. soil. "Future citizens will need muskets to assassinate their oppressive viceroys," James Madison might have hypothetically remarked during the intermission of a slave auction. "In fact, this is probably the second most important freedom any of us will be able to come up with. Somebody should write this shit down." Superficially, such preemptive legislation worked perfectly: There are now roughly two hundred million guns in America, and that's only counting the NBA's Eastern Conference. We have enough privately owned firepower to instantly kill a billion grizzly bears, plus a few dozen prostitutes. But it's hard to imagine these weapons employed in any kind of popular uprising, even if a majority of American adults unilaterally agreed that such an event was necessary. Whom would they presumably shoot? Probably no one, and possibly one another.
Read the rest.

I found this to be an amusing little piece of satire, sort of. But it raises some serious issues.

I have no doubt in my mind that if the Founding Fathers could see what their vision has degenerated into that they would want the citizens of this country to retake their government. They would argue that the 2nd Amendment was written for precisely this reason.

But as Klosterman argues,
Modernity has created a cosmic difference between intellect and action, even when both are driven by the same motives; as such, the only people qualified to lead a present-day revolution would never actually do so. Contemporary leaders are not rock-throwing guys. And this is a problem, because it's the rock throwers who get things done.
Seriously, if someone started calling for a revolution, the people who should be leading it would politely decline. The ones out front would be the unemployed conspiracy theorists with the semi-automatic "hunting" rifles wearing belts of Vietnam era grenades.

So-called "men of ideas" no longer see violence as a means to a just end. I'm one of those people who would not, under any conditions except possibly immediate threat of death, fire a weapon at another human being (and maybe not even then). So I deserve the government I have been saddled with. I vote, pay my taxes, and blog my occasional disgust. I'm a good American: docile, educated, and employed.

I have too much to lose to be a part of a revolution. Who would train my clients? Who would make my student loan payments? Who would water my plants?

And that's exactly how they want it to stay.