Sunday, May 29, 2011

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (review)

Dawkins seems to belong to a small “sect” which includes Christopher Hitchens, the former Nation correspondent who capitulated to the war-hawks but retains a totally imcompatible (with most war hawks) point of view on religion, expressed in his provocative title, God Is Not Great. I think both books are great fun in their merciless unmasking of those who, with a solemn and perfectly straight face, embrace perfectly nonsensical ideas. They do not spare the “respectable” middle of the road church-goer their mocking analysis as they challenge societal assumptions about belief. Dawkins is particularly annoyed at the near-requirement that we must “respect” those who “faithfully” refuse to question whomever reaches them first, the religion they’re raised under. He even suggests that to indoctrinate children into religious belief is a form of abuse.

I get frequent emails from “faith-based” groups requesting signatures for anti-war petitions, which I sign with some trepidation since I have zero faith, in the sense that the “faithful” seem to embrace. I agree with Dawkins’ question, why should believing nonsense without question give more weight to my opinion?

Politicians are frequently pressured by fundamentalists to throw them a bone, like the “under God” addition to the pledge of allegiance, or the movement to “put God back in our schools” – meaning, force all students to endure religious indoctrination. I always try to point out to those who complain that we can no longer pray in school that any student can pray anytime they want to, they just can’t force everyone else to join them. And that is the point Dawkins gets most agitated about, the forcing of unquestioned “faith” that he sees as extremely tiresome, yes, but also dangerous, as illustrated by doctor-killing anti-abortion fanatics (I won’t accede to their propaganda brigade by calling their position pro-life) and of course the jihadist, if that’s what they’re called, martyrs of 911. Dawkins sees this refusal to question, faith, as at the center of what the church teaches, needs to teach to perpetuate itself – otherwise it would become science, but which prepares the ground nicely for the scourge of demagoguery and war. I don’t think Dawkins has the whole picture here but he’s got a good bit of it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Arrival: Crime Fiction set in Atlanta

This is a promo of my first crime-fiction novel:

Whatever brought musician/artist Mellifluous LaRue fleeing south, alone and embittered, involved heavy drugs. Observing a transaction in a greasy spoon, the Tater Haus, she offers her free-lance services to the police. Betrayed immediately by a bent cop, a serendipitous conversation brings the now gun-shy entrepreneur to Pete Malvasio, an honest Atlanta narcotics officer. Mell begins to bring in those elusive bucks.

The chief villain, Jaime Montecarlos, oversees a small illegal-substance importing operation. A local Capo from the New York Mafia, already frustrated by his failure to collect a percentage of BMF (Black Mafia Family) income, demands a cut of Jaime’s. The bought cop, he who betrayed Mell earlier, precariously balances loyalty to the Mafia with a side relationship to the Latino faction.

Jaime seriously wounds Pete’s spouse Leigh in his first attempt on Mell, finding her through the bent cop. Mell and Pete, seeking revenge on a rainy night stumble upon plans for a large pending shipment that will lead to the book’s climax.

So the tale of Mell’s unconventional career move is interwoven with her European travel stories, songs, a comic strip with a political angle (Hinson & Haze - two characters who live on the road, she a feminist, he a bookish intellectual), as well as the story of a tragically interrupted relationship in the hill country of eastern Kentucky that drove her to the dubious sanctuary of Atlanta.
or search tom ferguson

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Folly part 2. Obama's War

Parts four and five of Barbara Tuchman’s March of Folly deal with British folly leading up to and through the U.S. Revolution and U.S. folly leading up to and through the Vietnam War. The cases are, folly-wise, very similar. In both instances there were those pointing out that costs would far outweigh any possible gains and that the justifications for policy were specious. Some of those pointing this out still supported the folly, in Britain’s case refusing to allow democracy in the colonies and going to war and in the U.S. instance, well… the same.

In the U.S. case public rhetoric was of the “freedom and democracy” line we all know so well when in fact democracy was thwarted at every turn, from rigging elections, coups and murder to ignoring overwhelming Vietnamese desire for an end to war regardless of which party would be the victor (see Daniel Ellsberg’s memoir, Secrets). Johnson would proclaim on national television, in his best Texas accent, “We’re not goin to turn tail and run.” Well “we” eventually did but way too many lives later, way too many barrels of agent orange and land mines, still plaguing the country I understand. According to The Pentagon Papers, released by the true patriot Ellsberg, the country was temporarily divided into north and south after the French defeat. The Geneva Accords called for elections to unify the country but since the U.S. didn’t approve of the most popular candidate, Ho Chi Mihn, elections were scuttled. So the “democracy” we were supposedly fighting for was at hand from day one. It wasn’t the evil Communists who scuttled it but those speaking most loudly, out of both sides of their mouths, about falling dominoes and the threat of tyranny etc;

Apparently the Obama Administration read neither The Pentagon Papers nor The March of Folly for in the very first meeting to discuss Afghanistan, according to Woodward’s book, Obama’s War, the President opened the meeting with the question, “Does anyone want to get out? (of Afghanistan)” Silence. Obama’s next comment was, “So, we’re done with that.” Even if you didn’t agree that we should get out (turn tail and run?) you would think it deserved a little more discussion that that. But then that’s how folly marches on.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Eternal Vigilance

The price of liberty? According to Thomas Jefferson, that goes under the heading. eternal vigilance, probably the exact opposite of patriotism, or, depending on definitions, the exact same thing. When President Richard Nixon was getting vigilated he tried to change the subject by using the phrase, “Let’s talk about what’s right with America.” Another phrase comes to mind in response, Patriotism, the last refuge of a scoundrel.

If we-the-people were to take Jefferson’s admonition serious how would we protect liberty? Would we accept our government:

* Curtailing liberty in the form of the Orwellian-named Patriot Act?

* Granting “socialist” bail-outs to Wall Street banks, the very entities that have vigorously opposed “socialism” for the people?

* Consistently supporting anti-democratic elites abroad behind a wall of patriotic and fear-based rhetoric?

* Using military power and illegal war to dominate other nations?

* Establishing a judiciary that increasingly empowers anti-democratic forces at home?

* Allowing same anti-democratic forces to increasingly control the media and educational

* Allowing same anti-democratic forces to undermine and dominate the political process through campaign contributions and “dirty tricks” – to include vulnerable-to-hacking electronic voting machines?

* Prioritizing profit for the few over citizen well-being and environmental health?

* Opening the U.S. Treasury as a virtual ATM machine to defense contractors and other elite campaign contributors?

* Promoting expensive, vulnerable and dangerous nuclear power over benign alternatives?

* Continuing suicidal policies around nuclear weapons, such as launch-on-warning, and their proliferation?

* And that ain’t all!

Or would we apply a little vigilance, and a little resistance?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Ego and the Nation State

Eckhart Tolle uses the word Ego to describe a conceptual identity, created in the mind and maintained there by a more or less constant stream of thought, thoughts about past and future events, mundane or extraordinary, triumph and defeat and the positive/negative emotions accompanying them. This is what many people see as themselves, the Ego passing through time grasping for pleasure, attention, praise, acknowledgement, success, fame, money, power, safety, refuge domination and above all thinking thinking thinking.

Parallel and complementary to this conceptual identity is the Nation-State. We are encouraged to identify with an entity that may exist geographically but is more a communal mental construct marked by a flag, national anthem, economic theory, a story – founding fathers, defining wars of defense or liberation, evolving values etc;

Both of these interacting conceptual identities, to perpetuate themselves, are invested in convincing you that they ARE you. Tolle claims that this is the heart of dysfunction, luring us down a path toward extinction. The Ego is a short-term thinker, interested only in its own immediate maintenance, safety and glory. Consequences beyond the short term are not relevant, thus the life system is a dumping ground for poisonous chemicals, the population grows without regard to sustainability, fairness and justice are obstacles to gratification.

The Nation State is the communal version of the Ego. Individuals within this setting are variously captured by Ego thus the conflict between those who on whatever level, intuite or recognize the ego-guided drift toward catastrophe and those locked in denial. For the latter, recognizing the threat would require behavioral change not acceptable to Ego - completely rational for it is the ego who will need to go extinct in order for homo sapien to avoid that fate. A shift in the ratio of time spent in mind chatter versus consciousness, is necessary, a shift from domination by thought/emotion toward an awakened state of presence. This shift is toward reality for the only reality is now – past and future are thoughts and thought, though it is a useful tool, as master is an obstacle to experiencing life beyond the narrow mental construct. Beyond the mental construct is an interconnected reality whose profound beauty is accessible only via presence, which feeling awareness dissolves the ferocious values of a fear-based culture.