TEN FACTS ABOUT EGYPT and THE MIDDLE EAST that you might not know

February 4th, 2011

Hope they’re useful—and, yeah, I know, I’m one of those geeks making lists.

Okay, you may know the first one:

1. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Although considered a Middle Eastern country, Egypt is largely situated geographically in North Africa. The portion of Egypt known as the Sinai peninsula borders Israel and the Gaza strip (see map below).

2. OCCUPATIONAL HAZARDS

Egypt was a colony of the British Empire, occupied from 1882 to 1922, and was a British client state until 1954.

3. CHANGING OF THE GUARD

Egypt has been run by a military dictatorship since 1953, with only four different leaders since that time. The first leader, General Muhammad Naguib was forced out by Gamel Abdel-Nasser, considered the real force behind the overthrow of the monarchy. Upon Nasser’s death in 1970, power passed to his Vice-President, Anwar Sadat. Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by extremists opposing, among other things, his brokering peace deals with Israel. Power passed to his Vice-President and Egypt’s current military leader, Hosni Mubarak.

4. ALTERED STATES

Egypt is one of only a few Middle Eastern countries that has what are called ‘full diplomatic relations’ with the state of Israel. Another is Jordan, which is a monarchy, its leader King Abdullah II. Both countries are currently experiencing serious inner protests and turmoil. Turkey also has full diplomatic relations with the state of Israel, although those were recently damaged by the Israel-Gaza attacks.

5. VIRUS

Former American Presidential candidate John McCain recently called what is happening across the Arab world and the Middle East right now ‘a virus’—seemingly in the negative sense of the term. The term is unfortunate, because on at least one important and massive level, the protests are pro-democracy and seeking liberty and civil law—ostensibly American goals for the world. McCain’s concern is that Israel could end up completely surrounded by countries led by ‘radical groups’ that are against its very existence.

For the record, these movements across the Middle East and North Africa—Algeria, Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt—have to do with ‘freedom,’ of course, but some of the urgency is certainly a protest for freedom from exorbitant food prices, unemployment, economic strife, dictatorship and other forces that make life unbearable.

6. LAW AND ORDER

The fear of many (and hope of some) is that Islamic states with Sharia law and theocracy (rather than democratic institutions) will replace current crumbling dictatorships in the Middle East. Sharia is the sacred law of Islam, or God’s law. It is, unsurprisingly, interpreted differently even within Islam.

7. THE HYPOCRITIC OATH

Ironically, Saudi Arabia is a staunch and long-term American ally yet is ruled under classical Sharia Law. Classical Sharia Law basically means no blending with secular institutions or secular constitutions. Saudi Arabia in this way is thus more extreme than Pakistan, Afghanistan and even Iran.

8. ARABIAN NIGHTS

Saudi Arabia also has a significant stake in the American economy, big ties to the Bush family, fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were Saudi and Saudi Arabia is well-documented as funding madrassas or militant islamic schools.

9. FUNDAMENTAL FUNDING

Excluding present day war funding, the United States government gives more assistance to the dictatorship in Egypt than any other country except Israel. The US sends US $1.3 billion in military assistance to Egypt every year, and has sent some US $28 billion in economic and development assistance since 1975.

10. THE SECOND SEX

Egypt has one of the world’s highest percentages of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (female circumcision). According to an Egyptian Demographic and Health Survey conducted in 2005, over 95% of Egyptian women have been circumcised. The practice of Female Genital Cutting is illegal in most Western countries and supposedly banned in Egypt.

MAP OF THE MIDDLE EAST AND BEYOND

Any corrections appreciated.

Here’s to more peace, more love, more understanding, more truth. Heck, more of all the best human qualities.

Pete

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THE POLITICAL/ENTERTAINMENT NON-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX: Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Jon Stewart et al. keep the GDP alive and save America

February 3rd, 2011

‘Time is money’ has changed. Time is once again time. These days, ‘Fame is money.’
—Anonymous

Okay, I said that, in a weak and desperate bid to eventually find myself in Bartlett’s Quotations.

This is a blog for all of you folk trying to make ends meet by working a real job in a real place where they give you minimal amounts of fiat money.

From McLean’s Magazine, in an article called Stardom and Politics, and it talks about what I call America’s Newest Weapon for Spreading Money and Freedom: fame:

Exhibit A is Sarah Palin, who, after rising to celebrity on a failed vice-presidential bid, resigned her job as governor of Alaska to become a full-time celebrity. She looks and sounds like a politician, and raises money (her political action committee, Sarah PAC, raised $1.2 million in the last quarter). But since leaving the $125,000 (all figures in U.S. dollars) per year governor’s office, Palin is making a bigger personal fortune—an estimated $12 million—selling books, appearing as a commentator on Fox News, hosting her own reality television show, Sarah Palin’s Alaska, and giving speeches for up to $100,000 a pop.

That, as they say, is money. I love it! It’s so wonderfully alive and shows the endless potential if we just follow our dreams and are everything we say we’re not. And it gets better, for all of us. Remember, fame is possible in countless ways—just find a way!

McLean’s again:

Her success has had spinoffs. Daughter Bristol Palin has signed with a speakers’ bureau, asking $15,000 to $30,000 per speech.

Who needs Meet the Press? It sucked anyway. Imagine being hired to talk about having a kid as a teenage girl out of wedlock in a staunch Republican family with their firm traditional values, and then the make-up/break-up disaster of her unconscious adolescence.

All I got back then was heartache and no child (in fact, if I remember correctly, no sex), and hopefully a learning experience. Imagine giving a speech about it, in the auditorium of the high-school.

“It’s true I know nothing yet about myself, why I do what I do, or even why my mom does what she does, and I really have nothing useful to say, and you’ve paid decent money to hear me say it, so I guess I’m just here to tell you, yes, anything is possible—fame, fortune, medical insurance. You just have to dream, and have teenage sex without using precautions (and then preach for teenage abstinence), and a decent-looking mother in politics…”

And if she’s not hired to talk about that gossipy stuff, but instead her opinion on things Palin, and things Political, finally we’ll get some true insight of what it means to be in a real, folksy conservative American family, with fame and sex and all that good stuff. That, my friends, is money. That my friends, is good TV. Start your dreams today.

By the way, when she’s on Dancing with the Stars, who’s looking after her child in their traditional conservative family? I see a nanny scandal in the future. I mean it’s only right. Something has to keep the economy going.

In short, being famous is really useful in today’s curious economy. Actually, it really is pretty damn useful in my line of work. So this is probably all just sour grapes, although I’m enjoying it, so it’s non-sour sour grapes. Sort of like a cheap wine. Oh, to share cheap wine with Sarah Palin! Because I don’t care what liberals or whomever say, Sarah Palin is good-looking. And a peer. And then to go hunting with her, and shoot a moose. And then, after all that, to lean towards her, doe-eyed, and whisper softly, provocatively in here perfect ear: “I’m vegetarian.” Imagine the sparks.

Continuing with McLean’s magazine:

[Bristol Palin] and the father of her baby, Levi ["I'm in the Money"] Johnston, sold a story of their [intimate heartfelt] reconciliation to US Weekly magazine for a reported $100,000 [daycare taken care of], according to the New York Post [I couldn't give my reconciliation away—not even to my ex], and shopped around a reality TV show about their life together until they broke up—again [can't think of a comment here]. Now Bristol is a sequined regular on TV’s Dancing with the Stars…

I long to be sequined, just once. And I can dance. Badly. Slowly. Awkwardly. But with a dream in my heart.

Heck, I know it’s capitalism, but wouldn’t you think a Presidential hopeful (still denied, but we’ll see) and her family would pull back on this stuff a little? Granted, she’s not obliged to, and I don’t know exactly why she would, but I’m just saying you’d think they would. Then again, I guess you make hay when the sun shines, and these are the days mostly of cloudy economic collapse. And who says no to $12 million?

Meanwhile, Johnston has appeared on Kathy Griffin’s My Life on the D List [I could be on that D list—I was short-listed for an Academy Award (we came sixth)], in ads for pistachio nuts [I like pistachios, and I really love cashews], posed semi-nude for Playgirl magazine [not pretty at 46, but what is air-brushing for, and, if you'll excuse the pun, photo enhancement], and is now closing the circle by announcing a bid for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska—the job once held by Palin. [I want to be mayor! Oh, I'm Canadian. Okay, okay, I'll be a mayor here].

Okay, that’s it. Keep working. Pay that house off. Keep believing. Keep dreaming. I’ll See you on Dancing with the Stars. I’ll be the sequined one, with a tuft of back hair, new whitened teeth, and a belief in the abundance of the universe.

Pete xo

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EGYPT: What will be the Rising Phoenix?

February 2nd, 2011

Masses of people, like in Iran in 2010, protest against the dictatorship. What will unfold? More oppression? Something resembling human rights and freedom? An Islamic state, shutting down freedoms again?

Who knows? But these movements are huge in the lives of countless people. What is the chance, what is the price, of greater freedoms?

Imagine if the same happens in Saudi Arabia? What happened to the protests in Iran?

Everything, by definition—democracies, dictatorships, ourselves—is in constant flux. Everything requires maintenance, everything is impressionable. Those appear to be the laws of all that exists.

Here’s a link that may offer insight from one angle into the workings inside and outside of Egypt. This from Amy Goodman, with quotes from William Hartung, whom I mentioned earlier here, with regard to Lockheed Martin and the Military Industrial Complex:

Egypt has been the second-largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid for decades, after Israel (not counting the funds expended on the wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan). Mubarak’s regime has received roughly $2 billion per year since coming to power, overwhelmingly for the military.

Where has the money gone? Mostly to U.S. corporations. I asked William Hartung of the New America Foundation to explain:

“It’s a form of corporate welfare for companies like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, because it goes to Egypt, then it comes back for F-16 aircraft, for M-1 tanks, for aircraft engines, for all kinds of missiles, for guns, for tear-gas canisters [from] a company called Combined Systems International, which actually has its name on the side of the canisters that have been found on the streets there.”

Hartung just published a book, “Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.” He went on:

“Lockheed Martin has been the leader in deals worth $3.8 billion over that period of the last 10 years; General Dynamics, $2.5 billion for tanks; Boeing, $1.7 billion for missiles, for helicopters; Raytheon for all manner of missiles for the armed forces. So, basically, this is a key element in propping up the regime, but a lot of the money is basically recycled. Taxpayers could just as easily be giving it directly to Lockheed Martin or General Dynamics.”

And some call this capitalism? Or the free market? It sounds, once again, like State-run by other means, to me. Did the Tea Party, and Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin et al., protest against that with the same fervour they attacked the Health Care Reform?

I sure hope so. After all, that fits perfectly their version of socialism. And a welfare state.

Pete

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SMART FIGHTING? The Gracies, Bruce Lee, and “Don’t Think, Feel…”

February 1st, 2011

In the famous opening of Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee says to a young student who has just tried to kick him (at Bruce’s asking):

“What was that, an exhibition?…We need emotional content…Don’t think, feel. It is like a finger pointing to the moon. Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of the heavenly glory!”

I don’t know much about fighting, except fighting myself inside my own head, but this also requires a fine balance—or at least the right balance—between thinking and feeling. And much can be said about the necessity of observing this crazy world, with a slight detachment—but not with a lack of emotionality. Got it?

Anyway, I was reading an interview with the late Hélio Gracie (1913-2009). Hélio Gracie, along with his older brother Carlos (1904-1992), were the patriarchs (and I mean that in multiple senses of the term) of what is now known as Gracie Jiu-jitsu. The Gracies, from Brazil, enhanced the art of Judo to a place where, in the first UFC events beginning in 1993 (put together in large part by Rorion Gracie), they could not be beaten.

These victories took place even though the Gracie participant, Royce (pronounced Hoyce), was not particularly muscular or heavy, weighing about 175 pounds, and fighting seriously tough folks upwards of a hundred pounds heavier. Royce wasn’t even considered the best of the Gracie clan. That honour generally went to Rickson (pronounced Hickson). These days, a deep knowledge of grappling, judo, or Gracie’s jiu-jitsu is pretty much mandatory for any kind of success in top-level mixed martial arts competitions.

Where was I? Oh yeah, an excerpt from a conversation with Hélio Gracie in a Brazilian edition of Playboy, January 1, 2005, translated from the Portugese (and found in Global Training Report):

HELIO: In jiu-jitsu, 40 classes with me are sufficient, two times a week, to subconsciously assimilate everything…

PLAYBOY: What kind of student is the most work to train?

HELIO: Without any question, intelligent students [are most difficult].

PLAYBOY: Why?

HELIO: Because the intelligent student tends to get lost in thought before executing the technique. With this preoccupation, he ends up lost in thought and can’t function. I want to give the student good reflexes. The method that the crafty person wants to know is [the one] which hinders his reflexes. When he thinks that he understands, he is going to want to do it the way he thinks it is supposed to be, not the way that I taught. I mean, he will do everything wrong. A baby, a young girl, an idiot are going to learn more quickly than an intelligent person. A baby will just do it, not ask questions.

PLAYBOY: Then, to be a good jiu-jitsu fighter, you need to be stupid?

HELIO: It isn’t that! [Angry]. Learning jiu-jitsu is something for the subconscious, not for the consciousness. I don’t teach so that the student can know jiu-jitsu, I teach so that he can execute jiu-jitsu. There is a difference.

The full article is here.

As Bruce Lee said:

One should not respond to circumstance with artificial and “wooden” prearrangement. Your action should be like the immediacy of a shadow adapting to its moving object. Your task is simply to complete the other half of the oneness spontaneously.

In combat, spontaneity rules; rote performance of technique perishes.

How difficult is this spontaneity, this moving with life as it unfolds, as it confronts, not completely bound by past conditioning or future anxiety, both in the physical and in the mental?

Very.

ANIMAL CRACKERS

The famous Western conclusion of the human experience as compared to the animal experience, described through René Descartes, is:

“I think therefore I am.”

Descartes actually played three years for the now defunct California Golden Seals in the early ’70s. Here he completed his thesis: “I think therefore I am; I am therefore I wear white skates.”

I know that digression makes no sense, but that is the point. Don’t think, feel.

As for philosophy, the mystic generally spins Descartes’ “I think therefore I am” around to:

“I am therefore I think.”

In other words, animated matter did not give rise to consciousness, but consciousness gave rise to animated matter.

Either way, how to really be that “I am” and still find meaning in getting dressed in the morning, let alone honking through rush hour?

And to once again quote my slight variation on the ancient Chinese mystic Lao Tsu verse:

“He who knows, knows nothing. He who knows nothing, is unemployed.”

Be yourself, assuming yourself is someone worth being. I’m sure it is. I mean, from all your ancestors to your own conception, to all you’ve been through, it’s mind blowing (in a feeling sort of way) what it took to get here…

Pete x

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SO-CALLED NEWS: The Wall Street Journal and Pushing Propaganda for Profit and Power

January 31st, 2011

“See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.”
—George Bush

Okay, maybe the title is a bit grandiose, but who could resist such famously, fabulously, fantastically far-sighted alliteration? Not I.

In an article in the Wall Street Journal by Gerald F. Seib today, entitled A New Era in Mideast History, Seib writes:

The last six decades of Middle Eastern history can be neatly divided into three phases [yes, oh so neatly]: The first began with Gamal Abdel Nasser’s 1952 revolution in Egypt, the second with the Arab world’s humiliating loss in the 1967 war with Israel, and the third with the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran.

I couldn’t help but write him, with a little bit of disdain in my heart for his selective and reductive journalism:

Thanks for the article. No offence, but I felt real dismay that you would leave out the British (MI6) and American (CIA) backed overthrow of the elected Prime Minister Dr. Mosaddegh in Iran in 1953. It’s not difficult to argue that the effects of that are still felt today, in the extreme.

As Stephen Kinzer [the veteran New York Times correspondent] has said:

“This was a hugely important episode, and looking at it from the perspective of history, we can see that it really shaped a lot of the 50 years that have followed since then in the Middle East and beyond. But yet, it’s an episode most Americans don’t even know happened.”

[It turns out] Not even the WSJ remembers!

It’s not that Seib doesn’t offer some legitimate history. All three moments he mentions are important moments. He just, either intentionally or unconsciously, leaves out a crucial moment in the extreme. The one, ironically, that his country, the US, is directly responsible for—and in doing so his country snubbed International Law, changed who-knows-what about current Middle Eastern history, and began a period of secret ops to overthrow countries that were pursuing or even practicing democracy. I list a few of those countries and coups here. Coincidence that Seib forgot this moment? Or has he simply internalized too many other writers and politicians who have chosen to ignore it? This is particularly shocking, yet unsurprising, in this time of the US threatening to invade Iran—whose leadership, admittedly, is brutal and perverse, but still…

And were those actions by the U Government good or bad? You have to decide. But to leave them out, by an American journalist? Well that’s just…well, that’s just typical.

Seib goes on to write:

Then, a dozen years later [after the 1967 War], came the Iranian revolution. Though it took place not in an Arab nation but in the Persian giant next door, it brought to the fore the idea that Islamic rule was a plausible alternative to Arab nationalism. The two ideas were set in competition with each other, and traditional, secular Arab leaders, including Mr. Mubarak, retrenched to preserve their power in the face of this new idea. [Gosh, if it wasn't for those Muslims, he wouldn't even be a dictator, he'd be Thomas Jefferson minus the slaves].

Most anyone would suggest, at least in part, that the American/British overthrow of Mosaddegh in Iran helped in the bringing “to the fore the idea that Islamic rule was a plausible alternative to Arab nationalism.”

Indeed, they overthrew Mosaddegh in large part, perhaps solely, because of his intention to nationalize the oil that was making the West great sums of money, and bringing them energy.

Mosaddegh said in a speech in June of 1951:

The Iranian state prefers to take over the production of petroleum itself. The company should do nothing else but return its property to the rightful owners. The nationalization law provide that 25% of the net profits on oil be set aside to meet all the legitimate claims of the company for compensation…

It has been asserted abroad that Iran intends to expel the foreign oil experts from the country and then shut down oil installations. Not only is this allegation absurd; it is utter invention…”

Seib writes:

Now Egypt offers the prospect of another turn. But will it be a turn to an entirely new path—the creation of secular democratic rule driven by popular demand—or open the door for anti-Western forces to complete the process begun in Iran?

“Begun in Iran,” yes, but undeniably with the intelligence agencies of Britain and America helping to overthrow their elected secular leader. Then the monarchist Shah was imposed, a friendly-to-the-West dictator. Then came the most recent fanatically religious madness. Supposedly, some of the terrorists who kidnapped American citizens in 1979 at the American Embassy in Iran called the kidnapping payback for 1953.

The group wanted the Shah to return from America to be tried:

The group’s other demands included that the U.S. government apologize for its interference in the internal affairs of Iran, for the overthrow of Prime Minister Mossadeq (in 1953), and that Iran’s frozen assets in the U.S. be released.

Seib writes:

Crucially, the outcome of these seminal moments [ie, right now in Egypt] isn’t pre-ordained. They can be steered, by forces both domestic and international.

Indeed. Well done, Jerry. And then he has the gall to write this of 1980:

It is often forgotten now, but the path of Iran’s revolution wasn’t clear at the outset [speaking of forgotten...]. Initially, the post-revolutionary government was led by secular leftists [as was Iran in 1953]. It took months and a national referendum to decide Iran would be an Islamic republic, and longer still to write an Islamic constitution…

Which is why the way the Egyptian drama is handled is so important. If President Mubarak decides to lead an orderly transition to an open election; if Mr. ElBaradei can emerge as an effective bridging figure to a secular civilian government; if President Obama can, as leader of Egypt’s most important benefactor, prod all parties to such results—well, maybe the new phase is a happy one for Washington.

Washington never seemed to have a serious problem with the pro-Western business Egyptian dictatorship. And most anybody sane in the West does not want a religious state with Shariah law, god knows. So what will happen? Heck, what will happen in the US? In the West? Good luck guessing! And will the Internet play a role? Undoubtedly. The size of that role is another matter.

Seib finishes:

And if you want to think positive thoughts, consider the prescient words that Mohamed Haykal, a Nasser confidante and renowned chronicler of Egyptian affairs, said in a British newspaper interview more than three years ago: “The effect of mobiles, computers, satellites—there is a generation coming that is outside the traditional controls. Normally, generations recreate themselves. But something else is happening.” That something could be positive or negative. We just don’t know yet.

He’s right. This “…effect of mobiles, computers, satellites—there is a generation coming that is outside the traditional controls…” can also add a thing or two to counter the propaganda of the Wall Street Journal. Isn’t that great?

Keep thinking, keep loving, keep remembering—love more! And my the good folks in Egypt push towards something that makes their life better and more free.

Pete

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WAITING FOR SUPERMAN: Scoring Schooling

January 30th, 2011

“The best teacher is the one who suggests rather than dogmatizes, and inspires his listener with the wish to teach himself.”
—Edward Bulwer-Lytton

The David Guggenheim film Waiting for Superman is about the at-least-somewhat-failing school system in the United States. Indeed, the stats aren’t pretty. Generalizing, the film basically says that more so-called Charter schools are the key—with a longer school year, longer school days and better teachers—and that the teachers union is one of the main problems, and gets in the way of, even blocks, reform—and there is some validity to this. But one could also ask: how much positive reform has the union manifested?

I also had a thought during the film. The union actually is not the problem. Why? Because, for better or worse, the union fights for the teachers, and in many ways do a pretty good job—again, for the teachers. I’m sure the union states some obligation to the students, but aren’t the teachers the crux of their mandate? So what can one expect? The union fight mostly for teachers. Privatization fights mostly for the bottom line.

Maybe the kids need a union. If, say, X doesn’t happen, the kids don’t show up. It would at least push greater democracy in the school system.

Okay, I’m half joking (or am I?). But it’s important to differentiate between the teachers and the kids.

The film made a lot of important points, to be sure, but was for me, nonetheless, a polemic—assuming polemic means one-sided. What do I know with my education? Also, it’s made so smoothly, some may not notice how profoundly one-sided it is. And with such a complex institution—’the education system’—other arguments and ideas are vital. To not have opposing ideas results, ironically, more in propaganda than education.

One thing is sure, the ‘lottery’ at the end, where the kids in a huge auditorium wait to see if they are picked, via this lottery of numbers being called out, to go to some Charter school, is curiously appalling. Not necessarily because of the lottery (though that brings up serious issues, too), but because the kids are there at all, to see it go down, with their tears and longing, and mostly witnessing their own non-acceptance (yet again) like some sort of B-movie drama. It’s cruel. And the fact that that isn’t commented on in the film, negatively, and that the Charter system obviously has insufficient issue with it, says a lot.

Indeed, the ‘lottery’ is the narrative push that drives the film.

This is the trailer:

This article by Diane Ravitch in the New York Review of Books is a really important response to the film, no matter how one feels about the system, or the film.

Ravitch writes:

The propagandistic nature of Waiting for “Superman” is revealed by Guggenheim’s complete indifference to the wide variation among charter schools. There are excellent charter schools, just as there are excellent public schools.

Why did he not also inquire into the charter chains that are mired in unsavory real estate deals, or take his camera to the charters where most students are getting lower scores than those in the neighborhood public schools?

Why did he not report on the charter principals who have been indicted for embezzlement, or the charters that blur the line between church and state? Why did he not look into the charter schools whose leaders are paid $300,000–$400,000 a year to oversee small numbers of schools and students?

Guggenheim seems to believe that teachers alone can overcome the effects of student poverty, even though there are countless studies that demonstrate the link between income and test scores [yet] we should be prepared to believe that able teachers are all it takes to overcome the disadvantages of poverty, homelessness, joblessness, poor nutrition, absent parents, etc.

And this is a super important point to test the logic of the film’s premise:

Guggenheim ignored other clues that might have gotten in the way of a good story. While blasting the teachers’ unions, he points to Finland as a nation whose educational system the US should emulate, not bothering to explain that it has a completely unionized teaching force.

His documentary showers praise on testing and accountability, yet he does not acknowledge that Finland seldom tests its students.

Any Finnish educator will say that Finland improved its public education system not by privatizing its schools or constantly testing its students, but by investing in the preparation, support, and retention of excellent teachers.

It achieved its present eminence not by systematically firing 5–10 percent of its teachers, but by patiently building for the future. Finland has a national curriculum, which is not restricted to the basic skills of reading and math, but includes the arts, sciences, history, foreign languages, and other subjects that are essential to a good, rounded education.

Finland also strengthened its social welfare programs for children and families.

Guggenheim simply ignores the realities of the Finnish system.

And after all of that, I, for what it’s worth, wrote this awhile back about the public school system. I don’t know if it’s true, but I think it’s vital—not only for school, but for the parent-child relationship. It’s also vital, in my opinion, we realize neither corporate privatization nor Big Government are the answers to a problem.

Being engaged, in relationship, with our kids, positively, more than we were yesterday, by personal choice, trying to expand the way they perceive the world, is almost certainly the key:

There are often serious complaints about the current public school system in the States and Canada. Many of these concerns are likely valid—but one should remind themselves—in a remarkably difficult situation. I say difficult, because the functions of schools are wide and disparate: educating, baby-sitting and many philosophical theories—according to some, from socializing to indoctrination to deference to authority in a non-democractic system (just throwing them out there).

I have friends, however, who have kids who have had, if not perfect experiences in the public school system, positively maximized experiences in the public school system.

What was the key, in my opinion? Indeed, in their opinion?

Smart and engaged parents who were (and are) deeply involved in their kids’ public school journey and, more importantly, their learning and curiosity—helping with homework, encouraging them to take advantage of all the extras (and there are many surprising extras), which include the obvious, like sports and drama, but also opportunities to travel, language exchanges etc. Of course, some schools offer more than others, and some parents can offer and/or afford a lot more than others.

But my point is, the key is and was, parental involvement, engagement, and a nurturing of the desire to learn, the desire to be curious—both of which are inherent in the human experience, like the ‘organ’ of universal grammar. Given the chance, generally speaking, these skills/desires will flourish.

This should also mean encouraging the questioning of dogma, media, cultural norms and authority, among other things.

Here’s to continuing education for one’s entire life, with love, joy, and curiosity,

Pete xo

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YESTERDAY and TODAY: BLUE, DANCING, EMMA GOLDMAN and LIVING her ANARCHSIM

January 29th, 2011

Please send me your last pair of shoes, worn out with dancing as you mentioned in your letter, so that I might have something to press against my heart.
—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Emma Goldman, that old anarchist from the turn of the century through the Russian Revolution times (a Revolution she soon despised for its grotesque hypocrisy), once said the following, which can’t but make a human being smile. In short, she is being judged, admonished and attempted to be controlled by a fellow anarchist—all themes directly opposed to the idea of anarchism. She responds in kind:

“At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest. One evening a cousin of Sasha, a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behoove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. It was undignified for one who was on the way to become a force in the anarchist movement. My frivolity would only hurt the Cause.

I grew furious at the impudent interference of the boy. I told him to mind his own business. I was tired of having the Cause constantly thrown into my face.

I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from convention and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become a nun and that the movement would not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. ‘I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.’

Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world—prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own closest comrades I would live my beautiful ideal.”

The comment about living joyfully in spite of what was happening around her is inspiring to any dreamer. Fight cynicism!

When I was a young and ignorant dreamer/fool—as opposed to an older ignorant dreamer/fool—the first Gulf War erupted. It was the summer of 1990. I feared, stupidly, the Third World War was imminent. Somewhere in that anxiety I told myself I would not have my spirit twisted by what was happening. Of course, all things twist us in some way. Nonetheless, in my own sort of protest, I wrote this song, Blue. My dear friend Marty and the guys from Spirit of the West are accompanying me with all their joyful talent.

Press here for the song.

The first lines remain true today, as they were with Emma. Sometimes, you just have to let go of the bullshit by dancing through it:

How can I tell you what’s real
When I haven’t got a clue, I haven’t got an inkling?
How can I sail with my love
When the hull of my heart is forever sinking?

Take these walls
Take these walls
‘Cause they’re not keeping me warm anymore
and I need to be free
and sing out!

This is Blue. Wishing you great freedom and love, and dance, even in private—and to living your own ideal.

From Bruce Lee:

“I can show some really fancy movement. But to experience oneself honestly, not lying to oneself, and to express myself honestly, now that is very hard to do.”

Pete x

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ME AND SHAKESPEARE: KING HENRY IV, Part II

January 27th, 2011

If music be the food of love, play on.
—Shakespeare

I’m not very proficient at understanding Shakespeare’s work, having grown up on Archie Comics and the Hockey News. Nonetheless, how similar to today is the following idea of bringing up ‘foreign quarrels’ to distract the populace from the past and the present? From Henry IV, part II, supposedly written between 1596 and 1599—but it might as well have been written last Tuesday:

Lest rest and lying still might make them look
Too near unto my state. Therefore, my Harry,
Be it thy course to busy giddy minds
With foreign quarrels; that action, hence borne out,
May waste the memory of the former days.

Not to compare myself to Shakespeare—or even Shakespeare’s little brother Horace, who didn’t write at all and loathed the theatre, preferring, in fact, cock fighting and buggy mechanics—but I wrote the following line around 1990, pre-ear hair, in a song called Yeah, third verse, with the same theme:

I found an abandoned paper and read the news
About bankers, presidents and businessmen with their
‘Where we gonna find another Cold War?’ blues

Not as good as ‘busy giddy minds,’ but not bad for a young schmuck. Easy and obvious prediction, to be sure, but bankers bolder than ever and a new ‘Cold War’ sure found their way here.

Yeah is here. My sister likes this song. She thinks it needs a video with all kinds of positive images. She thinks a few of my songs should have been hits. She thinks I’m an idiot for not having pushed my music or books more. Hey, I’m busy—and I think it just lacks the ol’ magic. But that’s what sisters are for—saying crazy yet positive things.

Here’s to hits that never were, and the ones that came, busying our giddy minds,

Pete

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CLINTON on the WAR on DRUGS: No Alternative?

January 25th, 2011

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
—Einstein

I’m not sure that Einstein actually said the above, but he evidently also said, in 1921:

“The prestige of government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably by the prohibition law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced. It is an open secret that the dangerous increase of crime in this country is closely connected with this.”

Up to the same old rhetoric, these uninspiring words from Hillary Clinton on the War on Drugs in Mexico:

Clinton gave strong support [and tens of millions in weapons—see above link] for Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s battle against the country’s entrenched drug trafficking organizations. And she offered continued U.S. assistance from policing to improving Mexico’s judicial system.

More than 34,600 people have died in drug-related killings in Mexico in the four years since Calderon launched the offensive against the cartels. The death toll spiked 60 percent last year.

Thirty four thousand, six hundred people.

Mayors, police commanders, judges and journalists have been gunned down. Civilians are increasingly being killed and numerous areas remain lawless. The war has only mixed support.

Clinton said there was no alternative to confronting the cartels head-on.

In saying there is ‘no alternative’—which, of course, is absurd by definition—Hillary Clinton is choosing not to add that the policies she—the government—supports, are also what the Drug Cartels support: prohibition and military engagement. Neither group wants legalization with regulation. The drug cartels and the governments also have weapons manufacturers and the Prison Industrial Complex on their side—and thus, massive, relentless lobbyists in Washington. Curious bedfellows, indeed.

And granted, legalization with regulation would be no cure-all, to be sure, and certainly legalizing with regulation in one country and not another could also be problematic. But to say ‘no alternative’ is simply political rhetoric, uncreative and disingenuous—and downright cruel in light of all the good and innocent folk, thousands, who have died bloody, brutal deaths in the last four years of misery and war.

I felt like I had ‘no alternative’ but to write this.

I wish myself, and Hillary, and others, an expansion of creativity and thought in these agonizing areas,

Pete

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NAOMI KLEIN: ADDICTED TO RISK

January 24th, 2011

“Of all the animals, the boy is the most unmanageable”
—Plato

My friend Karen sent me this Ted Talk with Naomi Klein. It’s interesting, as Naomi’s ideas generally are, even if one disagrees ideologically. Some people complained her point was sexist—against men—but I believe that under certain institutions (our current high stakes/Wall Street financial system for example), there may well be science that suggests men do in fact take much greater and more dangerous risks, than do women, when it comes to investing and discernment. And that includes the risks on the planet’s and thus our own non-infinite resources.

Maybe that comes from deep in the genes, from eons of having to hunt wooly mammoths or sabre-tooth tigers, with wooden spears and stones, or some other cliché. Who knows? Dangerous risk was (and for some still is) required to get the food necessary for survival. Maybe that echoes itself, unfortunately and unconsciously, in the financial sector and the resource sector.

In a different way, it appears that under extreme duress, women are also far more reliable than men when it comes to what’s called microfinance.

Whatever the reason, Naomi, here, still has to be careful or she risks, very strongly, making the same mistake that she makes, in my opinion, when she celebrates without discernment Left over Right. What needs to be recognized, by one so interesting, is that neither label, Left nor Right, have any real meaning within the present-day conversation. Other than furthering tribalism. Other than misinformation. Other than relentless divisiveness.

Recall, for example, the under-pressure House and Senate vote that gave full War powers to the America President after 9/11, with Left and Right revealing themselves to be what they truly are, largely identical, to the tune of 518-1, all in—the one being the lone instincts of Barbara Lee.

Anyway, worth listening to:

Here’s to getting closer to nature, our own, the planet’s, and seeing where those two are one and the same, give or take.

Pete

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LOCKHEED MARTIN and the WEAPONS INDUSTRY etc: Neither Freedom nor Free Market

January 24th, 2011

Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army.
Edward “Old Granny” Everett

A remarkable conversation on Democracy Now about the all encompassing Military Industrial Complex in the United States, via William Hartung’s new book: Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.

So besides the unavoidable and even immoral perpetual war syndrome resulting ‘naturally’ from perpetual buildup syndrome, what else might need to be grasped? Let’s start with the assumption that the key leaders/owners/shareholders at Lockheed Martin are almost certainly Republican, and thus, one would assume, conservative, so-called.

The label ‘conservative’ here ceases to have meaning, dancing in the absurd where even Orwell might throw up his hands, unable to find an appropriate aphorism. Lockheed Martin are not conservative, by any insane stretch.

Firstly, whatever they say, they are not remotely free market.

They are, by their actions, pro both Big Government and Big unelected Corporate control. Why? This reality serves them. This made them. This continues to support them. And calling themselves Republican instead of Statist or Mercantilist, also serves them, and the illusion.

A brief and dare I say obvious analysis: They promote, again by definition, Big Government (the Military Industrial Complex/the Pentagon), their fingers are in countless and shocking aspects of civilian life including constant surveillance (the antithesis of libertarian ideals), they live off tax-payer money from the Pentagon (ie they are subsidized immensely) and then use large parts of that tax-payer subsidy to lobby government and to influence elections, both in the States and abroad, all the while encouraging standing armies in the rest of the world (in conflict with, say, George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, or for that matter, real conservative thought).

Is this not far closer to a Soviet controlled company—but with even more monetary incentive to the CEOs and shareholders—then anything resembling capitalism or conservative ideals? No real risk. No organic or inherent limitations via morality or the market. Vastly subsidized by the tax-payer. Supported and protected by Power (doesn’t it sound reminiscent of ‘too big to fail’?). Wow.

Here’s an excerpt:

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the significance of President Eisenhower’s speech, what he meant by the “military-industrial complex” 50 years ago.

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, he was concerned not just about the size, not just about the budget, but that it was going to undermine our democracy. And I think that’s what Lockheed Martin is about in many ways. I mean, they were involved with the Pentagon in doing surveillance on antiwar protesters. They build biometric identification systems for the FBI. The fact that they’re in the IRS makes me kind of nervous. It’s sort of creepy in a way. They’ve got so many kinds of data about us. I’m not sure, you know, a military contractor should really be in that position.

JUAN GONZALEZ: They were the firm that was involved in Total Information Awareness?

WILLIAM HARTUNG: The Counterintelligence Field Activity, which was closely related to that.

AMY GOODMAN: You say that Lockheed Martin makes foreign policy, has its own foreign policy.

WILLIAM HARTUNG: In many ways. I mean, not only were they involved in lobbying for the war in Iraq, but they have people in Liberia helping rebuild the justice system. They’re building refugee camps. They helped run elections in the Ukraine. They helped write the Afghan constitution. So, all kinds of things that you would think of as sort of the soft side of foreign policy, they’re making money from.

Imagine having a gig that includes arming the war machine and building the resulting refugee camps. Foul. Now that’s market share.

AMY GOODMAN: And its role in elections?

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Well, they recruit the monitors who monitor the elections in places like Bosnia.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean here.

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Oh.

AMY GOODMAN: The money that they pour into elections at home.

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Oh, they spend about $12 million per election cycle, either on lobbying or on candidates. And they have people like Buck McKeon, who runs the Armed Services Committee now. They’re the biggest donor to him. They’re the biggest donor to Daniel Inouye, who runs the Appropriations Committee in the Senate.

AMY GOODMAN: So, they get money from the Pentagon, from the U.S. taxpayer, and then decide who they want to elect.

WILLIAM HARTUNG: Essentially, they recycle our money into the political system, yes.

The full interview is here.

And then throw in this comment from Anthony Wile, at the libertarian Daily Bell, in an essay entitled Perpetual War for Perpetual Employment?, and it becomes clear how deep the dilemma/misinformations/problems/subsidies are:

If the US doesn’t stop the spending insanity of supporting multi war fronts, the monetary base will continue to expand and the dollar’s value will continue to plunge toward its true nominal worth—which is surely zero, the inevitable graveyard for all fiat currencies. But should America’s leaders decide to withdraw, unemployment will surely deepen, perhaps considerably, and the economy will tumble deeper into depression, causing the Fed to inflate even faster—thus sending the dollar to its fiat funeral, anyway.

It is a sad testament that there appears to be no way out: The US dollar and the US economy are in for further suffering whether the wars continue or not.

Anthony’s article is here.

And there are also great potential areas for useful growth, manufacturing and sustainability in other sectors, I am sure.

A standing army is a standing menace to liberty.
—Voltairine de Clayre

Be aware, don’t be confused by the lie of most political labels, try to love a whole lot more, believe in individuality, strengthen community just by being open, and keep on learning.

Pete

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In Case You Weren’t Sure THE WAR ON DRUGS IS A MASSIVE FAILURE (or put another way, people long to get high)

January 22nd, 2011

“If my 12-year-old can go in a store and buy [bath salts], that concerns me.”
—Kentucky state lawmaker John Tilley

That your twelve year old wants to buy bath salts concerns me.

I haven’t even read the entire article, entitled Officials: ‘Bath salts’ are growing drug problem.

Nonetheless, I thought I should cut and paste.

Bath Salts? It sounds like a Monty Python skit. And afterwards they free-base Oil of Olay. God knows what they’re doing with Boudreaux’s Butt Paste.

Let’s be straight up, Americans, perhaps Canadians, will take anything to avoid so-called normal reality.

Why would that be? We have everything: Big Gulps and Apple TV and even virtual reality. And NyQuil is legal!

Here’s the opening excerpt.

When Neil Brown got high on dangerous chemicals sold as bath salts [who figured this out?], he took his skinning knife and slit his face and stomach repeatedly. Brown survived, but authorities say others haven’t been so lucky after snorting, injecting or smoking powders with such innocuous-sounding names as Ivory Wave, Red Dove and Vanilla Sky

Of course, those results are anything but comedic. And those names actually do sound like the names of drugs.

Continuing:

Dr. Rick Gellar, medical director for the California Poison Control System, said the first call about the substances came in Oct. 5, and a handful of calls have followed since. But he warned: “The only way this won’t become a problem in California is if federal regulatory agencies get ahead of the curve. This is a brand new thing.”

Maybe we should ask why people always want to get high.

The State could always ban baths, too. You could tell one of those addicts, then, just by how clean they are, and then lock them up. That would contribute patriotically to the GDP and the already burgeoning Prison Industrial Complex.

The full article is here.

Kids, stay out of the bath. I implore you, stay out of the bath!

Ol’ Pete

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CONSPIRACY? WHAT CONSPIRACY? A (more) Curious (than usual) Article in the Economist

January 22nd, 2011

Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.
—George Orwell

The following piece in the Economist by an anonymous writer (or a writer not worth mentioning in the on-line edition) actually feels like a planted misinformation piece. The kind of pieces that were written in the mid-1950s by the CIA and planted in the newspapers of some South or Central American country, in accordance with the country’s elite, to ferment (or quell) disharmony amongst el rabblo.

This one today actually comes under the heading: A special report on global leaders. Laughable.

Strange days indeed.

It writes about the Bilderberger gatherings—or whichever large secret group of highly powerful, super-wealthy folk who gather, yes, even with media moguls, behind closed doors and report nothing—as if the Economist has always admitted the existence of said groups.

There was a time when, if you wrote saying the Bilderbergers or the Trilatateral Commission existed, you were a nut. Now, since certain diligent folk on the Internet have helped reveal their very large reality, you’re a nut if you think they actually are doing anything in their own interest.

An excerpt:

Because the meetings are off the record, they are catnip to conspiracy theorists. But the attraction for participants is obvious [indeed, as 'conspiracy theorists' have been saying for years]. They can speak candidly, says Mr Davignon, without worrying how their words might play in tomorrow’s headlines. So they find out what other influential people really think [due to a lack of phones, and in case they didn't know]. Big ideas are debated frankly…

The world is a complicated place, with oceans of new information sloshing around [I can hear it now, sloshing and sloshing, attached to nothing, just, well, sloshing]. To run a multinational organisation, it helps if you have a rough idea of what is going on [and you can't know unless you gather with the so-called Superclass, which leaves the rest of us in Stupidville, evidently].

Thank you, Economist, for such depth and clarity.

I’ll just comment on, say, six sentences, that are so absurd as to be laughable—except the writing is reminiscent of Pravda, the USSR daily. And so absurd, it is my thought, that it must be intentional, to calm some group and rile up another. They got me! Drat.

Sentence 1:

One or two journalists are invited each year, on condition that they abstain from writing about it. (Full disclosure: the editor of The Economist sometimes attends.)

If they are journalists and invited “on condition that they abstain from writing about it,” why are they invited at all?

Sentence 2 and 3:

[Etienne Davignon, former vice-president of the European Commission] presides over the Bilderberg group, an evil conspiracy bent on world domination. At least, that is what numerous websites allege; also that it has ties to al-Qaeda, is hiding the cure for cancer and wishes to merge the United States with Mexico.

First the slag and then the comment about merging the United States with Mexico. Most people who care about this, it seems to me, are not so much fearing a merger of the country, but a merger of the currency.

But that, of course, is absurd. Then the no-name reporter writes:

Mr Davignon credits the meetings for helping to lay the groundwork for creating the [more or less failed] euro.

But, of course, the Euro was…well…is…

Imagine this guy in court? Of course, in court he may have a chance.

Sentence 4:

But Davos is hardly a secretive institution: it is crawling with journalists. The other globocratic shindigs are opening up, too. Even Bilderberg has recently started publishing lists of participants on its website.

Hmm. Might this new ‘openness’ have something to do with endless Internet commentary and revelation about the undemocratic nature of the process of these ‘secret’ gatherings? What do ya think? And for the record, any chance there are new private meetings, somewhere, as yet unrevealed? Oh, I’m such a conspiracy theorist!

And check this one out. Fantastic! It would get a failing grade in Grade 10 Essay Writing for Uninteresting Youth:

Sentence 5:

Yet for all their tireless information-swapping, globocrats were caught napping by the financial crisis. Their networks of contacts did throw up a few warnings, but not enough to prompt timely action.

Caught napping! Imagine how much the guy laughed when he wrote that?

The richest person I know has access to serious Power. He told me in 2006 that the economic crisis was utterly inevitable. He had written about it as early as 2003.

And my dear ol’ dad, who has zero formalized schooling in economics, had known for a decade. As had thousands of folks on-line.

And one might, as a journalist, ask in passing just how much the overtired Elite, cozied up on couches in some ski-lodge in Switzerland, or wherever, increased their wealth, during said napping? Imagine the moment, suddenly waking up:

“What time is it? Where am I? Hey, I’m billions richer! I need to nap more often!”

It is well known that the concentration of wealth amongst the wealthiest has accelerated profoundly in the last few years.

And finally, Sentence 6:

Globocrats failed to avert the crisis, but they rallied once it struck.

I can’t even comment on this.

I need a nap. The full so-called article is here.

Lots of love—and I write this only with strange, curious awe, as if it’s just a bizarre game, because I experience it through the privileged prism of my life in Canada. Others are not so fortunate. And who can predict the future? Perhaps the Elite, even if they’re napping.

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A LIST OF FOUR: ASSASSINATIONS, COUP D’ETATS and DEMOCRACY

January 21st, 2011

As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.
—George Orwell

It is 50 years this week since Patrice Lumumba was assassinated in what is now the largely disastrous Democratic Republic of Congo—previously the tyrannically oppressed Zaire and, I think, before that, for a few minutes, the Republic of Congo and before that, the colonized and relentlessly brutal Belgian Congo.

The colonial history (and King Leopold history) of the DRC is soul-numbing (see King Leopold’s Ghostwhich we used as reference in Uganda Rising). Joseph Conrad called the exploitation “….the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience and geographical exploration.” Lumumba was this country’s first legally elected leader, and an outspoken pan-Africanist.

Military leader (and soon-to-be brutal dictator) Mobutu Sese Seko, supposedly in combination with the Belgian government (physically) and the American government (monetarily), forced Lumumba’s overthrow and eventual torture and murder.

In 1975, the so-called Church Committeethe United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities—revealed that CIA leader Allen Dulles (during the Eisenhower presidency) had, in his own words, called the assassination of Lumumba “an urgent and prime objective.”

Either way, warm Western support for the brutal tyrant Mobutu followed for decades (Mobutu visited the Nixon White House in 1973). In 1974, the Ali-Foreman ‘Rumble In The Jungle’ was fought in Kinshasa, doubling as a propaganda piece for Mobutu, who put up the dough (or at least the people did), while prisoners were locked up beneath the fight, in the torturous bowels of the stadium.

From the Guardian:

Ludo De Witte, the Belgian author of the best book on this crime, qualifies it as “the most important assassination of the 20th century”. The assassination’s historical importance lies in a multitude of factors, the most pertinent being the global context in which it took place, its impact on Congolese politics since then and Lumumba’s overall legacy as a nationalist leader.

That’s saying something, if you include, for example, Arch Duke Ferdinand of Austria.

So I was thinking about a few democratically elected (or somewhat democratically elected) leaders whose coup d’etats and/or assassinations with the help of foreign powers changed history in the latter half of the twentieth century, and wondered what the history may have been otherwise. Who knows? Democracy remains troubled in all four areas mentioned: the Middle East, Africa, Central America and sometimes in South America. Heck, I guess it’s troubled everywhere.

Here’s a list of five that I think every history student, or person in general, should be aware of, whatever their ideological stance on the events. Add any more that you think of. There will be no test on Monday.

1) Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, 1953, Iran. Yes, there was a burgeoning democracy in Iran. Enter Britain, America and the Shah. Oh yeah, and oil.

2) Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán, 1954, Guatemala. Yes, democracy. Enter: the United Fruit Company and the Dulles brothers.

3) Patrice Lumumba, 1961, Republic of Congo (see above).

4) Salvador Allende, 1973 (September 10th), Chile. Elected. Enter IT&T, Henry Kissinger and Augusto Pinochet.

“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.”
—Henry Kissinger

5) Okay, okay, the originally elected Ugandan Milton Obote doesn’t count like the others. He had become a brutal tyrant himself. But with the help of British and, ironically, Israeli agents—I say ironically because of the later so-called Operation EntebbeObote was overthrown and replaced by the likely even more tyrannical Idi Amin (see the clip below).

Here’s to history, learning and loving more,

Pete

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BRUCE LEE: The Global Effect

January 21st, 2011

You know what I want to think of myself? As a human being. Because, I mean I don’t want to be like ‘As Confucius say,’ but under the sky, under the heavens, there is but one family. It just so happens that people are different.
—Bruce Lee, in his only remaining, substantial English-speaking video interview, with Pierre Berton, December 9, 1971.

The effect of Bruce Lee, when he burst onto the screen outside of Hong Kong (where he was already a superstar), was remarkable. He had so many charismartic qualities: individual strength, fighting for the underdog, naturally hip, his gaze and good looks, of course, and his power despite being relatively small (albeit highly chiseled) and unarmed (nunchakas notwithstanding), his courage against all oppressors and, vitally important, being such an unapologetic, determined, sexy, relentlessly courageous and skilled person of colour. From those living in occupied countries (as Bruce himself did) to those being bullied at, say, some school in Arkansas or wherever, and countless others, the mix was riveting.

Scholar Vijay Prashad wrote:

“With his bare fists and his nunchuckas, Lee provided young people with the sense that we could be victorious, like the Vietnamese guerrillas, against the virulence of international capitalism [that’s one way of looking at it—good luck with the Marxists!]. When we saw the movie in India, we did not as yet know that Bruce Lee was already dead. I saw the movie several times, blown away by the beautiful acrobatics of this celluloid freedom fighter.”

Bruce, by all accounts, was remarkably apolitical, if that’s possible. He wanted people to “express themselves honestly,” to “be like water,” and how can that be done when strapped to an ideology?

Bruce in the interview with Pierre Berton, in Hong Kong, December, 1971

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FREEDOM ON GUITAR: In Place of Censorship, MARK KNOPFLER and CHET ATKINS show their UNCENSORED TALENT

January 16th, 2011

Censorship reflects society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime.
—Potter Stewart

It sounds like an Internet hoax, but twenty five years after its release, Mark Knopfler’s massive hit Money For Nothing has been banned in Canada for using the term ‘faggot.’

Banned in Canada.

That’s a sad, bad sound—like Iran or China (although, of course, according to Iranian President Ahmadinejad, there are no homosexuals in Iran). This censorship seems to be in the same vein as the recent idiotic and repugnant Mark Twain word-change censorship—a comment I can only safely make, ironically, because of the greatness of decent freedom of speech.

In my opinion, and notwithstanding the negative way the term ‘faggot’ has been and is used, in Money For Nothing the term was clearly used in the context of a couple of appliance workers making comments about a rich, long-haired singer on an MTV music video making ‘money for nothing’—the way movers very likely would comment on an MTV music video (not that that makes it kind or less ignorant).

From one article:

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine around the time the song was released, Knopfler said he had received an objection from the editor of a gay newspaper in London, but that the character narrating the song was meant to be an ignorant person who only saw things in terms of money…

Knopfler, who was born in Glasgow but grew up in Blyth, Northumberland, told Michael Parkinson in 2000 he was inspired by stopping at an appliance store in New York which had a wall of TVs all tuned to MTV.

A man dressed in a baseball cap, work boots, and a checkered shirt, who was delivering boxes, stood next to him to watch the screens. He remembered the man coming out with classic lines such as “What are those, Hawaiian noises?” and “That ain’t workin’”.

Knopfler asked for a pen and eventually put the words to music.

But this banning body from Canada—the Canadian Broadcasts Standards Council—says, by their decision, that using the term, even in so-called art, in a relatively or at least arguably accurate context, deserves censorship.

That’s really unfortunate.

I ask, in a country that has fought so long for freedom of speech, one of the greatest western achievements, and in a world with far greater, murderous, ugly practices—often tax-funded—is it not troublesome to even ask if, in art, a term like this should be censored?

I think so.

And I’ll add this: Even if this term wasn’t used in a contextually understandable way—and there are many other terms, some that could likely include a rough and derogatory definition of me—I am by definition very, very, very wary of censorship.

Here’s why: I’ll almost always err on the side of allowing verbal bigotry or verbal idiocy or even verbal cruelty rather than legislating the diminishment of free speech. Instead, I’ll celebrate a witty or scathing rebuttal to a derogatory word used idiotically.

I say, if you don’t like the term, vote with your fingers: turn the song off. Write about why it’s offensive. Boycott the stations that play it, if you so desire. Wax disdainfully poetic on its historical context. But, I would urge: easy on the banning. Rein it in on the censorship tendency. Please. The precedent is stifling.

The article continues:

Any station that wants to play the song will have to edit it or disguise the word, according to a ruling by the Canadian Broadcasts Standards Council. [disguise the word!]

The decision came after a listener complained that the unedited version of the song, which mentions the word three times, was “extremely offensive” to gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

WILD WORLD

Now Cat Stevens’/Yusef Islam’s seeming support for the fatwa (although Islam denies he supported it) calling for the death of writer Salman Rushdie…? That was, to me, very, very, very offensive and disconcerting—and Cat’s early ’70s album Teaser and the Firecat is a favourite of mine, not to mention the soundtrack from Harold and Maude. So should Yusef Islam’s music be banned because of what he said? Of course not. Should Islam be asked to be part of the often-very-funny Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity or whatever it was? If that makes Jon happy, yes.

If I had to choose something to ban (which I wouldn’t), I would push to ban painfully banal lyrics on the radio that, despite being sung with endless passion, generally say nothing, or offer one or two recurrent themes about romantic longing and/or getting laid (god love them). Problem is, banning banal lyrics from the radio is tantamount to banning radio. And then we’re back to the problem. So, again: easy on the banning. And fight and stand for civil and human rights for all.

Knopfler himself, evidently, is now saying ‘queenie’ on stage, if I heard correctly—and of course no workers in the 1980s (or now) would ever say that.

In the meantime, let me quote Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984):

They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

This situation is thus multifaceted: stand up for the rights of all and be profoundly wary of censorship. A daring tension to balance. But fear not, it serves the intellect and freedom well. The aforementioned bureaucracy, however, removes freedom, dulls the intellect and neuters art—in short, it shrinks the breathing, expansive beauty of life. Eternal liberty requires eternal vigilance.

If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.
—Noam Chomsky

And now, here’s Chet and Mark beautifully playing ‘I’ll See You In My Dreams’ and then John Lennon’s ‘Imagine.’

Much love and courage and kindness,

Pete

Oh, speaking of easy listening radio, here’s a little folk-like music that is never played on the radio but not because of censorship. Basically, Pete, you suck. And here’s to love.

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STRANGE VOTES, BAD DECISIONS: CHINESE IMMIGRATION, September 3, 1879

January 15th, 2011

Every war [vote] when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war [vote] but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac.
—George Orwell

On the eve of a little trip to the US, I found a statistic/vote about Chinese immigration in California in the late 1880s that was disconcerting.

As a run-up to this vote, I just want to mention two other votes that I find, for different reasons, dangerous, myopic and limit freedom as opposed to expanding it.

BARBARA LEE

Think back now to the horrors of 9/11. One person—one person—Representative Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California, voted against a resolution (HJ Resolution 64) giving the President unilateral Authorization for Use of Military Force:

“…all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks….[my italics].”

The general citizenry of beleaguered and largely illiterate Afghanistan—one of the world’s poorest countries, hammered by ten years of war with the Russian superpower, and then the civil war, and in the grip of a non-elected fundamentalist group—surely did not plan, authorize, commit or aid the terrorist attack in New York City.

And Barbara Lee? She was not even saying no to war. She was saying:

“We need to step back. We’re grieving. We need to step back and think about this so that it doesn’t spiral out of control. We have to make sure we don’t make any mistakes.”

A rational response, it would seem, under most any circumstances. The vote on this resolution was staggering. It passed 98-0 in the Senate and 420-1 in the House. Lee’s vote was the only one in opposition. For this she received immediate death threats, and had a bodyguard put on duty to protect her life.

Can you imagine the courage Barbara Lee’s decision took? Now that’s worth remembering…

PROP 19: CALIFORNIA

In California, the vote on Prop 19 (Marijuana Decriminalization with Regulation) was taken, and in the end, out of every one hundred people, 54 get to tell 46 how to live their lives. This is where one can understand what Jefferson meant by democracy being mob rule.

I wrote this:

Are you free? What does it mean to be free? People actually thought they were ‘free’ to vote against Prop 19 in the States, against marijuana’s legalization.

From my point of view, if we were truly free, we wouldn’t have that vote at all. And if we believed in freedom and decided we would vote, obviously we’d vote to get rid of criminalization for someone exercising their non-violent volition/freedom to use marijuana.

Finally, we’re so unclear about what freedom is, in some ways, that we don’t realize that being given two myopic options within a massive spectrum is by definition very limited freedom—all the worse that we don’t see it that way.

Here’s to freedom, [including] choosing to not smoke marijuana.

Finally, it should be remembered that drug dealers, Big Pharma, Government and the Big Media, ultimately, were all mostly opposed to the proposition—strange bedfellows, indeed, a bed worth avoiding. But prop supporters still got 46% of the vote.

CHINESE IMMIGRATION: Run Out of Town On a Rail (You Built)

This from Chinese Working People in America, page 23, in researching the Asian-American experience:

In 1873 the S.F. Chronicle [I think it's recently bankrupt] wrote, “Who have built a filthy nest of inequity and rottenness in our very midst? The Chinese. Who filled our workshops to the exclusion of white labor? The Chinese. Who drives away white labor by their stealthy but successful competition? The Chinese.

Anti-Chinese agitation reached its peak on September 3, 1897 [the year my grandmother was born] when the California State Legislature authorized a popular state-wide vote on the issue of excluding Chinese immigrants from the state. 154,638 voted for exclusion and 833 opposed it.

There are always brave and brilliant ones, against all odds.

Almost immediately following the ruling, enraged and desperate whites took it into their own hands to eliminate their economic hardships by driving the Chinese from their towns. The riots and massacres of Chinese people were encouraged and promoted by the inflammatory accusations of the press and labor leaders like Denis Kearny.

The energy and anger of underpaid and unemployed white workers were turned against the Chinese, leaving the employers untouched.

What are the common components in both topic and numbers of these vastly different votes? A preliminary list:

1) Intentional Misinformation/Propaganda

2) Unconscious or conscious Tribalism

3) Relentless Fear Mongering

4) Whatever else you’d like to intelligently add _________________________

Other variables seen hither and yon: Racism, government, anger, economic uncertainty, short term interests, myopic ideas on freedom, love, democracy and so on.

My friends, love more, be expansive, watch out for the madness of crowds, hysteria and whimsical fashion, and try to eat well and laugh a lot.

Pete

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BRUCE LEE, GOD, THE GREEKS and the GRACIES: THE ROOTS OF MIXED MARTIAL ARTS

January 14th, 2011

Bruce Lee is the father of Mixed Martial Arts.
—Dana White

Is this true? Bruce Lee definitely has a case.

I’m reading the lively and informative Blood In The Cage by L. Jon Wertheim, about mixed martial arts and ‘the furious rise of the UFC.’ On page 13 he talks about the deep roots of the sport:

But if the sport is fiercely contemporary, it’s decidedly ancient as well. The roots of organized MMA almost certainly can be traced to the hyperviolent Greek sport of pankration (literally, “all strength”), first introduced in the Olympic Games in 648 B.C.—according to lore the Spartans boycotted pankration when sissifying rules prohibiting eye-gouging were introduced.

Wertheim goes on to describe how some of those fights were actually won when one fighter was able to pull out the intestines of an opponent. Four out of five fighters tap out today before the arrival of intestine.

And it’s pretty difficult in the modern era to rule out the Brazilian fighting sport of Vale tudo, meaning ‘anything goes’ or ‘no rules’, that became popular in Brazilian circuses in the 1920s, as deserving the title of The Father of MMA.

And, of course, the fighting Gracie family and there at-one-time unbeatable Gracie jiu-jitsu style arose at the same time in Brazil, through Carlos, then Hélio to the present. It was Royce Gracie (pronounced Hoyce), in fact, who actually won three of the first four UFC championships.

But a footnote on the bottom of page 13 from Wertheim about says it all to the indefatigable nature of men liking to fight, grapple, compete, wrestle, hurt others, etc. He writes:

Others contend that the first MMA fight was chronicled in Genesis 32:24, where Jacob wrestles all night with God at Peniel. Despite a dislocated hip, Jacob refuses to submit, and by sunrise he won the Lord’s respect.

I gain a lot of respect for Jacob there, too, but lose a little for God.

Verses 24-30 unfold as follows, this translation from the New international Version, via the Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and who knows what else.

24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.

25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.

26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

So Jacob, through wrestling, saw the face of God. So much for meditation. And some fighters today describe being in the octagon cage as a euphoric, even religious, experience.

Personally, two of the things I really try to avoid in this life are getting punched in the face and being in a cage. Indeed, I avoid them religiously, and it gives me euphoria to do so.

So those are some fine and ancient applicants for the title of Father of Mixed Martial Arts. Let’s review the timeline:

1) ~4000 BC—somewhere around 6000 years ago: Jacob fights God in an anything goes fight. Jacob refuses to submit. By morning he ends up with a very painful dislocated hip and, I’ve heard, a bleeding nose, a few abrasions and the world’s first cauliflower ear. It would take millenia to catch on.

2) 647 BC: The Olympic Games. Pankration (all strength). Naked wrestlers fight in anything goes bouts. The Spartans reportedly boycotted when eye-gouging was prohibited.

3) 1917. A Japanese Kudokan judo expert teaches Brazilian Carlos Gracie the sport as a favour/payback to his father. So begins the Gracies…

4) 1920s-ish. Vale tudo—”anything goes”, Brazil. Popularized in the 1950s

5) 1960s. The inimitable Bruce attacks so-called classical martial art forms. In his 1973 film, Enter the Dragon, there is a great scene as he battles Shaolin student Sammo Hung that can easily be described as Mixed Martial Arts. It includes leather gloves, a crowd, and a back flip upon victory.

6) November, 1993, Denver, Colorado. The first UFC competition is held—later called UFC 1. Hoyce Gracie won three of the first four Ultimate Fighting Championship competitions.

I know, I left out all kinds of things, from street fights to underground fights which have likely gone on forever. American martial artist legend Joe Lewis, for example, who had trained with Bruce Lee since 1967, fought Greg Baines on January 17, 1970 in what might be the first ever sanctioned kick-boxing/full contact karate match—and clearly a bold example of mixing martial arts. Joe Lewis (what a name!) won with a 2nd round knockout.

Add any extra thoughts, please. Tough humans often like to fight. Period. This genetic factor has likely always been present. I lack the gene, but I like to write, which can only be a recent, inexplicable genetic mutation.

For me, two people deciding with their free will to exercise an aspect of their nature, without coercion—in short, to fight each other—is a lot more sane and dignified, even if not for me, than one person or a group of people randomly killing/bombing/attacking innocent civilians who have no say whatsoever in the matter—and funded by tax-payer money. That is perverse.

No moral here. No real comments. Just a little special interest and a lot of love. And here’s the Bruce Lee scene in Enter the Dragon, doing what looks just like mixed martial arts.

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POETRY AS A WAY OF BEING

January 13th, 2011

To have great poets, there must be great audiences.
—Walt Whitman

I write about creativity quite a bit, just doing it. Do something. Doodle, even. My favourite poetess in the entire world is writing a poem a day this year. That’s the plan. A wondrous, poetic plan—a flowing exercise in being more poetic, more present. And the poems are simply, undeniably gorgeous. I am privileged to read them. The site is called Bent Lily. Wondrous. A wonderful reminder of the ongoing, unfolding, undeniable beauty of this moment, this chance, this mystery. And other stuff, too.

One tiny example.

A RED JACKET

A four-year-old boy once asked me
if a ladybug
was a very, very small turtle
in a red jacket.

I told him
there are things we can never know,
like why small turtles
choose
such flashy clothes.

Taste them here. Slowly. Succulently. How enticing is a well-lit word?

You will find poetry nowhere unless you bring some of it with you.
—Joseph Joubert

Here’s to the metaphor that tickles your beautiful life,

Pete

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Be Gay, be Happy: The Good Word on Anti-Gay Hateful Behaviour

January 12th, 2011

With the hateful and disgusting attitude towards homosexuals in Uganda, and ongoing stupidity elsewhere, and news of a few American teenagers committing suicide due to harassment for being homosexual, I wanted to write a longer piece. Unfortunately, I can’t at this moment due to time constraints (but I will).

Anyway, one can only be flabbergasted or disgusted at the idiocy of people who talk about a “gay agenda”—as if one can recruit another so forcefully that one’s sexual orientation can change—and other utterly idiotic ideas. And all logic or debate aside, the hate is truly hateful.

In the meantime, this is a great little argument about and against the (some) Christian(s)’ assertion that God hates homosexuals according to the Bible (and what that means), et cetera, from Martin Sheen as President, on the West Wing.

By the way, it’s not just a ‘Christian problem,’ by any stretch—and it certainly isn’t a problem for all Christians, also by any stretch. That kind of cruel hatred and inability to follow the golden rule can be found everywhere, every continent, every ideology—atheists, agnostics, theists and fringe-dwellers. Thank god (ironically), more compassion, more expansive thinking, and an endless supply of love can also be found everywhere, wherever a person truly looks.

Love more, please!

Pete

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