A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Welcome To The Breakfast Bar

I have been a little tangled up by my usual Spring job. It takes my four evening hours and turns my brain to oatmeal. I simply do not have the headspace for sustained proactive thinking, so here are some samples of my latest reactive thinking:

[On Buddhist Ethics]
Everybody innately knows the difference between right and wrong

If so, why do we condemn parents for failing to teach their children the difference between right and wrong? Shouldn't they just say, "Well, you already know how to do it, so go and sin no more."?

This is probably the most telling difference that I can see between Buddhist and Christian ethics.
From the Buddhist point of view, the difference between right and wrong is not all that obvious, and discerning it requires a good deal of work and thought. One of the most compelling Buddhists arguments for what we call "karma, cause, and effect through past and future lives" is the fact that it leads to very clear and sensible conclusions about right and wrong.

The Buddhist is never confronted with the "problem of the existence of evil" or the faith shaking event of "when bad things happen to good people". Past lives, future lives, and the ripening of karma explain both of these quite clearly.

This leads quite easily to the notion of specific practices to confront the problem of accumulated past karma, as well as specific practices to control the accumulation of future karma. I can attest from personal experience that those practices lead to great confidence in facing both life and death.

[On George W. Bush]
Let's line them up: after the fall of the Taliban, GWB had the highest Presidential poll rating ever recorded; he also had two major electoral victories giving his party control of both Houses of Congress and the implicit public imprimatur for his policies; he has virtually [as of yet] unchecked executive power; he had five years of a totally pliant and spineless Congress; and he had the opportunity to overawe the world with United States military "invincibility" and to parlay that into massive leverage on the political situation in the Middle East.

He frittered all of these advantages away. Every last one of them. Markos didn't make him do it. John Kerry didn't make him do it. The New York Times didn't make him do it. Jack Murtha didn't make him do. Russ Feingold didn't make him do it.

He did it all by himself.

Why? First, because he is lazy. At virtually every turn of events in his favor, he dithered, delayed, and vacationed when a shrewd and proactive leader would have capitalized massively on it: Tora Bora, the 2002 midterm election, "Mission Accomplished", the 2004 election--all of these have been golden opportunities lost because there was no coherent political plan or White House agenda in place to take advantage of them.

On that one the buck really does stop in the Oval Office. Ronald Reagan didn't work all that hard either, but he took the time to think through the results he really wanted, he let his subordinates, as well as the public, know clearly what he wanted, and he doggedly stuck to what he wanted. So he got considerably more accomplished with far fewer advantages.

Take one glance at the pablum served up as "issue positions" of the past five years over on www.whitehouse.gov, and anyone with eyes can tell that nothing like the Reagan clarity, the Reagan shrewdness, or the Reagan Administration smoothness informs them. Nothing even close.

Second, GWB is arrogant. At the end of the historical day, the one event that will mark the real decline of his presidency will be the Terri Schiavo affair. No politician with any sense would have made such an unnecessary grandstand play of returning to Washington to sign that bill.

From that point forward there could be no doubt by even the dullest of us that he was governing and setting public policy to pander to only the "social conservative" faction of his party and not with the involvement of the public as a whole.

That simply doesn't work. No President has or will get anywhere with anything unless he maintains some pretense that his policies are tailored to the best interests, and the genuine consensus, of the country as a whole.

At every turn GWB has made it compellingly clear that his policies are to serve only the ends of the most vocal faction of his own party, and that only when elections are under consideration and major corporate money is not involved. America simply can't get anything done on those terms. It never has and it never will.

Third, he is unintelligent. The moment of decision when he could have turned things around and achieved a lasting mark on this country, and the world, with his Presidency was immediately after the 2004 election. Had he understood and acknowledged that his victory was close and proceeded carefully and thoughtfully, he could have carried all before him.

Instead, he publicly crowed over his "political capital" and lauched into the issue where a mere slight popular majority vote left his Presidency weakest: Social Security reform. Had he moved first where his support was strongest and broadest--cutting Federal taxes--all the dominoes would have fallen after.

In Iraq, in Israel, in the United Nations, in American politics, in the world economy, and in the global environment events have now taken over from the Bush Administration, whose actual position in the world will become increasingly irrelevant as it dissolves into domestic opprobrium.

One can only hope that somewhere under the pile of shards from the bull's passage there's a piece or two of china left. If it is, we can dust it off, put it back on the shelves and start sweeping the floor.

I would read the basic situation this way. The Republican House and Senate will abandon GBW, indeed are already starting to abandon GWB with, I suspect, a fair amount of private satisfaction, if with public unease at their diminishing electoral prospects.

The only thing that will turn this around is a significant and major foreign policy success which boosts the GWB poll numbers. GWB himself has admitted that this is not going to happen in Iraq for the next several years, and it is not likely to happen anywhere else.

If I were a Republican Senator or Congressperson, sticking a genial knife in the ribs of the White House at this point would please me no end, privately. The GWB political game from day one has been "what's mine is mine and what's yours is mine, too", even with his own Party. That comes back to haunt you, sooner or later.

The best those Republican legislators can now hope for is merely a diminished margin of Republican control in both Houses, the worst is a loss of both houses to a thin Democratic majority. In either case the Bush agenda [such as it now is, which is not very much or very clear] will be halted.The immediate conundrum for them is how to keep the entire Hispanic voting population of the United States from being massively annoyed with them.

Most signs also are that scandal, and failure in the court system, will continue for the GWB practice of attempting to aggrandize the Presidency at the expense of the law.

The attempt to forstall Iran will continue to stall in the UN, and unilateral U.S. military action against Iranian facilities will not happen as long as the bulk of our ground troops are rotating through a deteriorating Iraq.

Israel will straighten itself out on its own. The geopolitical configuration of the Middle East will not change in any significant way until 2010 at the earliest. Neither will the standoff with North Korea. The major change, if it occurs, will be from Iranian nuclear success.

A decade or so hence, the serious conflict for 21st century hegemony will take place between the United States and China, probably by then under a Democratic administration, and the historical legacy of the Bush Administration will be that the worst damage, among much other damage, that it did to the state of America and the world came from its neglect of meeting the challenge of China.

And, finally, the high probability is that much desirable United States beachfront property will fairly rapidly become a good start on shoals for a mussel farm.

That's at least how I read the tea leaves, and despite the usual insinuations about my insincere love for this country, merely reading the tea leaves realisticly doesn't mean that I am looking at my cup of tea.

[On Israel and Palestine]
The fact of thousands of Arabs living in Gaza, or on the west side of the Jordan River, is just that: a fact. Not only that, it has been a fact far longer than the State of Israel or the Palestine Mandate. Period.

Nobody is "giving" them that land in any way. They have been already there for time out of mind. And, in 1948, they simply abandoned the land within the original boundaries of the State of Israel.

The original Israelis just got lucky that they didn't have to contend with this basic fact before 1967, and within Israel's original borders. So, for twenty years, they were able to make the Jewish state they wanted.

For nearly forty years since the Israelis have deluded themselves that those thousands of Arabs living on the Occupied Territories are going to somehow magically disappear and leave all the land they are living on to be settled by Israelis. And for forty years they have acted toward the territory they occupied in 1967 accordingly.

This hasn't really worked very well for anybody, even the Israelis. And this is because it was a simple defiance of a very plain fact. Defying facts doesn't work.

You still talk and act as if those thousands of Arabs are going to magically disappear. They are not going to magically disappear. The only way in which the fact that thousands of Arabs are already living there can be altered is genocide. Period.

This is the basis for any sensible view of the situation. All the legalisms, all the special pleading from "history", all the "Arabs are evil savages", all the "Mohammed is the scourge of Christian Civilization" will not make that fact go away. Period.

Only genocide will make that fact go away.

A majority of Israelis, starting with Arial Sharon, are finally beginning to deal with that fact, and with a few other facts. The State of Israel is largely a secular, non-Orthodox, state. Like the secular states of Europe it is not renewing the ethnically Jewish population at nearly the same speed that the Arabs in Gaza, or the West Bank, are expanding the Arab population. Hence to try to "Israelize" those territories is an invitation to suicide by slow poison for the State of Israel.
This is exactly the same dilemma that you are constantly pointing out in secular Europe.

The logical course of action this implies-- since, unlike Europe, Israel actually still does have a choice in the matter--is exactly what Sharon has initiated: "disengagement" and fortification of the boundary.

This means a de facto Palestinian Arab state of one sort or another. It will simply be up to the Arabs already there to choose the kind of state they will make. If it is hostile to Israel, it will never be very effective in acting on that hostility.

In fact, as disengagement and fortification have proceeded, the terrorist organizations have become steadily less and less effective. This will continue.

The Israelis have largely come to their senses and finally faced facts.

It would be nice if their cheerleaders on the sidelines would do the same thing. And not just about Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank, either.

The billions of Muslims worldwide is also a very plain fact. And the millions of Muslims in Europe is as well. And the rest of us do not have the choice the Israelis still have. The constant, hysterical, whooping up of the "Clash Of Civilizations" is simply another form of defiance of very plain facts.

Or, if it isn't mere unworkable defiance of plain facts, it is the systematic building of a network of excuses leading to deliberate actions of quite well-known 20th Century moral horror with unparalleled 21st Century scope. So I would say to anyone so glamored by a Muslim/Christian Clash Of Civilizations, be careful what you wish for. It just might come true, and you will eventually have to account for your part in creating it.

So much for the ham and eggs, buckwheat pancakes, and French toast. I'll have some meat and potatoes later.

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Of Fashion And Meta-Fashion

I was sitting in the lobby of my office building on my break. I noticed a trim, attractive woman of about thirty-five walk by. She had one of those round faces with a wide naturally smiling mouth, that are more attractive for a little maturity. Not like the high cheekbones and regular features that remain beautiful, in a different way, in every decade, up to late old age. But, rather, a glowing full-moon face, spiced by merry laugh lines around knowing eyes, and a general air that if she were yours and you were hers, life would be full of pleasant and interesting surprises.

Her close cut cap of curls was auburn with a splash of blonde in front. It suited her, and, like a good, deep henna, is an honest, overt, and flattering coloring of hair which will never have the depth of color and sheen that it had at twenty, and looks ridiculous when you try to make it so. She also had an eye for how color in clothes complemented her compexion, which was the darker creaminess that often goes with golden auburn hair. She had, as well, a good sense of how to flatter her figure and her medium-short stature by the way her clothes skimmed her.

Overall she was a lonely middle-aged man's sweet treat, or a younger man's dangerous liason with an older woman, that finally teaches him about life and love.

The only jarring thing about the picture she presented to the public was her gold lame jacket. The color was right, the drape was right, but the crinkly and shiny surface of the cloth itself was unbelievably tacky and cheap.

There is fashion and then there is meta-fashion. There are clothes that flatter and then there are real clothes. A hottie in her early twenties can make you notice her by wearing anything, particularly if it is a little vivid, unusual, or extreme. In such cases, casual cuts and cheaper fabrics set off a smooth and rich young complexion quite fetchingly, finely flattering a twenty-odd air of innocent exhuberance about the future. And that same young hottie, dropped into clothes that are a little too obviously expensive and mature, can look as uncomfortable as a teenager in a prom dress, which is like nothing on earth that she has ever worn before.

But, at a little under or a little over thirty, there is a great divide where a woman truly needs to start wearing real clothes, and wearing them with an air. This is meta-fashion, where the texture, color, and hand of the fabric all need have the depth and quality of the knowledge in her eyes. It is what, in my youth, used to be known as chic. The word is still there, and, maybe, those younger than I have a vague notion of what it means, but you see the fact it describes so seldom that the word itself is now a trifle archaic.

If my observation is representative, few women really understand meta-fashion, at least in office wear. I can't tell you how many attractive, personable women I see every day who wear black skirt suits, or pants suits, that are a virtual advertisment for cost-cutting in the garment trade, no matter how well they fit or how well the women look in them. It is as if, when looking in the mirror, they literally do not see the actual surface of their clothes, but only how well the lines flatter the figure.

Even worse are those who wear the navy blue or prussian blue version of these "office suits"--the fabric of them is usually bulletproof--so stiff and unyielding to the body, particularly in the jacket, where there is just slightly too much shoulder padding, that it is like wearing cardboard. Once again, it can be quite flattering as long as you stand still, in front of the mirror, but away from the mirror, in motion on the street or down the hall, it is as offputting as plate armor.

I know that, in some sense, there is a deliberateness in this, encouraged by the "dress for success and smash the glass ceiling" books, which always tell you that your male office colleagues should be encouraged to look at your face rather than at your legs or your rear. And it is the mannish, here-to-do-business, influence from fine male suiting that is being used to sell such poorly crafted and fabriced female business wear.

At least the fashion, a decade ago, of decorating such ugly suits with large floppy bows on the blouses, in order to look "more feminine", has mercifully faded from sight.

Black is the acid test for expensive looking clothes. To get the pure, true, rich, black, fabric must be dipped in the dye many times. Only the best of fabrics are worth the time and the effort, so truly black clothes--as in the "simple, little, black dress"--are always very good clothes, worth the extra expense even if you can't really afford it. When you see them, which is rarely, it is the difference between velvet and velour, between leather and naugahide, and between goat leather and cowhide. It is a differnce of substantiality, fabric heft, and surface as well as depth of color. And even cheap black generally has the advantage over blue that it must start with better fabric to begin with. Hence the profusion of blue jackets of Kevlar.

Men, of course, have a distinct advantage in office wear. Custom and seven decades of business dressing has made for substantially better clothes. The roots of today's male business dress go all the way back to England in the 1840's, when the three piece suit with vest and trousers the same color as the jacket first appeared. In its infancy, it was known as the "ditto suit". For business, men still wear wool fabrics woven with substantial thread count, hence richer and more interesting surfaces and more responsiveness to the fabric dyes.

We also still have tailoring that leaves sufficient selvage in the seams, and sews with enough stitches to be substantially stronger than most women's clothes. This is a leftover from the dictates of the women's "fashion season" where clothes are supposed to be obsolete within half a year. A man's good suit is supposed to last him a decade, or longer, with decent care.

Finally, the actual ensemble of jacket and pants, with or without vest, always slightly ["natural shoulder"] or more heavily padded, develops realisticly from a male figure built without the evolutionary needs of wide hips for easy childbirth and breasts for suckling. In fact, the women who generally look the least prepossessing in those male-influenced "business suits" are the buxom ones. They were also the most ridiculous when they wore the floppy bows, which merely made clearer how badly the jacket fit.

Meta-fashion is an art, and Americans, at least in my Midwestern town, are artless. The only exception to this are a small segment of the African-American community--generally church-going, and well-established as what used to be called the "black bourgoisie"--who know that the art of wearing clothes consists of having good clothes, choosing them to suit you not only when you are standing in front of a mirror but also when you are in motion, and, finally, of wearing them with a air of conscious self confidence, because you are dressing to be admired.

The women who have the best fashion sense among them are truly chic--my supervisor and one of her supervisors [who has graced these posts before under the pseudonym of "Brandy"] are two of these. It is something that makes my primary job a real pleasure, and it is also a pleasure to be able to admire their stylishness openly because, unlike many caucasian women, they unselfconsciously enjoy having it admired.

And one thing they absolutely never wear are those cardboard fabriced, underdyed, and cheaply made "office suits". They wouldn't have been caught dead with a floppy bow, even a decade ago.

The black men of this particular class level, and I am thinking specifically of one gentleman at work whom I'll call Ted, also dress with the sense that how you dress is, essentially, how you really feel about yourself. Ted also preserves the appreciation and understanding of fine men's haberdashery that only very upwardly mobile, or already wealthy, caucasian men still retain--the same appreciation that was handed down to me by my father, from his grandfather, both of whom sold fine men's clothing in the 1930's and 1940's.

This particular African-American set of class markers has a historical as well as a contemporary dimension. As a state capital, with many state and federal offices, there has been a fairly large number of such relatively well-off African-Americans in Columbus ever since I can remember. Government service was the first racial barrier against hiring blacks to fall, and the first real career avenue, promising genuine professional advancement, that opened up for such African-Americans following World War II.

Unfortunately, the absence of fashion sense and the details of haberdashery that most men carry, makes the great advantage of better made male clothes come to nothing. When you buy an off-the-rack suit, a good clothing shop will offer alterations for a better fit at a fee which is only a fraction of the cost of the suit itself. Most men in my town do not take advantage of it. It costs so little to get the more pertinent details of suiting right: the 3/4 inch that the shirt cuff should display beyond the coat cuff, the proper break of the trousers over the shoes--the trouser cuff just lightly skimming the instep, and the addition of brace buttons and braces so the trousers will drape better if you no longer carry a six-pack.

Nor do men take much trouble to search for the better suit fabrics. I doubt that most of them know the trick of first running your fingers through the rack of coats without looking at them and letting the fingers tell you how good a fabric is by how soft and supple it feels. Men in my town also have no sense of how a slight pattern, a subtle herringbone, say, or a delicate glen plaid, make suiting look richer, and suit fabrics look far more expensive, than the dead plain matte surfaces of most cheap suits. Neither do they take the time to evaluate how suit colors suit the complexion. They merely follow whatever fashion is present in the clothing racks and in the offices this year, whether it suits them well or no.

Lately, suits in Columbus have tended toward the exact same greyed out black of the women's bad office suits. You cannot actually put a name to the colors. When they are grey-green, they are a little too green to be truly grey. When they are grey-brown, they are neither quite grey nor quite brown. And they are never quite black. These colors look awful on about 60% of the men out there. If your complexion has a distinct tint, whether olive, ruddy, or cream, you should avoid these indeterminate colors like the plague. Also, though occasionally I see them in a fabric expensive enough to look well on someone with the proper complexion, in most cases the fabrics used are cheap and look cheaper.

True navy blue suits have also vanished, apparently at the dictates of fashion, but if more men paid attention to how they personally look when dressed for business, they would demand the return of navy blue. For a good, deep navy looks well on almost any man and shows off splendidly the detailing of the properly tailored cuff length and waist drape.

In my people watching I have seen only one hard and fast rule. A man who has the confidence to wear a suit of lighter grey will always be wearing a better suit, and wearing it knowledgeably and well. Not all light greys suit all complexions, but, whether bluish grey, reddish grey, or brownish grey, the grey suit wearer will be wearing only the tint that flatters him.

His shoes will be noticably more expensive than the average man's, will never be too obviously new, and will always show the best of care. He also will walk as if he actually belonged in a good suit and felt comfortably dressed, in addition to being well-dressed, when wearing it. And this sense of comfort and confidence will mean that he wears his clothes as if he means it, and not just because you always have to put on clothes that look more or less like everybody else's.

In other words, he will always be an example of meta-fashion in a dreary world which can hardly even muster up fashion.

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

With A Little Help From My Friends

I have been a little lax in posting. There is a mental side to convalescence from surgery which is far more intractable than the physical side, which I'm pleased to say, has proceeded very well. But the depression, combined with the fact that virtually no one in the world seems to have anything new to say about anything, and nothing significant has happened that requires anyone to say something new, has left me in a quandary as to what to write about.

So I'm calling in a couple of my good Buddhist friends--the ones that help to straighten out real problems--to see if we can't tidy up Straight Shot, and maybe the news as well.

Pictured above we have the Glorious Goddess, Palden Lhamo, in a fine treatment in the "black outline" style of Tibetan thankas. These are often employed for the depiction of the very wrathful Protectors Of The Dharma, particularly the ones that are actually the direct manifestation of the Mind of Enlightenment, as contrasted to the "worldly" protectors who may or may not have "insight", the preliminary achievement on the Bodhisattva Path, but who all fall short of the complete perfection of Enlightenment.

Black Outline thankas are some of the most spectacular ones to encounter in person, particularly when they are fresh and new. The Palden Lhamo above gives a relatively good sense of their personal presence, with the lines, done in gold, in all their crisp, glowing beauty. This is unusual, for, with any age on them at all, Black Outline thankas photograph rather poorly.

Palden Lhamo has many names and many forms--generically she is Shri Devi, which is the Sanskrit form of "glorious goddess" and Palden Lhamo is the Tibetan equivalent, but she can be known as Mahakali, the black lady of Time, or Magzor Gyalmo, the Queen Who Turns Back Armies, or by other titles. There are different packages of attributes--a diamond headed mace instead of a great sword, a lasso made from a living snake instead of a poll with a banner, a melong, or ritual mirror instead of an enemy skull, and so forth. She also appears in both two-armed and four-armed forms as she rides sidesaddle on an enraged and crazy mule.

These differences can be bewildering if you cling to the notion that the Glorious Goddess is something ultimately real, just as our world is a source of total confusion when we cling to it as ultimately real. The point of her many and varying attributes is that the Enlightened State of Mind has no real limits, it can manifest in any form decorated with any package of details, depending upon need. "Wrathful" forms such as Palden Lhamo are ways to disperse difficulties and hindrances, sometimes generically personified as "maras" or demons. The forms of Shri Devi are no more real than any phenomenon in our world, but I sincerely advise you, should you happen to run into one of them, to treat them like you would an 18 wheeler, running ten miles an hour over legal on your local expressway. Pedestrians are prohibited up there for good reasons.

Next is Red Sengdongma, the Lion Faced Dakini. Dakini literally means, "sky traveling woman", and, once again, what is being talked about in the form of "dakinis" is a direct and naked experience of the world, beyond the filter of our chronic mental concepts--the world beyond here, there, up, down, past, future, self, and other. Without those concepts to manage it, our world is an outrageous experience of complete exuberance that is totally terrifying because there is no longer any reference point to determine where, who, and what we really are. Not only are all such concepts not truly real, determining anything with them is simply beside the point. When two mirrors reflect into each other what can be made of such total openness? It can only be indirectly portrayed as the "dance of the dakinis".

For it is beyond name, form, perception, and comprehension, a view of things that is completely radical and incredible.

This is the opposite face to the image of a seated Buddha in calm contemplation, completely free of all stain, all suffering, all hindrances. It is a view from the vantage point of the Enlightened Mind itself rather than a view of the Enlightened Mind from the vantage point of our confusion.

The thanka itself is splendid--rich and vivid in color, sinuously elegant in line, and boiling with the excitement of dozens of dancing dakinis surrounding the awe inspiring central figure. It is an incredible view of the Enlightened Mind as a continuous and everlasting Party Goin' On.

The invitation to the Party is always open, but the utter reckless nakedness, the stripping away of all guarantees of safety, security, and selfhood that is the price of admission is a sheer, searing terror. It is only when you are absolutely convinced that there is no other choice but to strip that naked that you can actually find the courage to join that dance. The best description I know of the route to finding that courage is the biography of one of the major figures in the history of my particular lineage: The Life And Teaching of Naropa, translated by Herbert Guenther.

Go read it. This is not something in the idle imagination. It is horribly and intoxicatingly real. And a glimpse of what it really means can stampede you over a cliff. Merely to know that it is always there, closer to you, in fact, than the breath flowing through your own nostrils, is a wake-up call to shake you out of any complacent doldrums, manic or depressed, into which you may have fallen.

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Okay, Here We Go Again

Another round of my good friends on the right making damn fools of themselves, this time over Operation Swarmer. It started with good ol' Baroness Alexandra, who is developing quite a rep as a well-illustrated linkfest for every right-wing tempest in a teapot which comes along.

As always, I feel a little guilty burdening you with this, since it appears somewhere else, but by God if I have to spend some of my best writing and my precious time to knock down this kind of nonsense and pop these foolish balloons, I have a right to reprint the dialog, edited for clarity:

Baroness Alexandra: A show of strength was a very much needed move by the coalition forces at this time: Somehow I think the President is trying to tell us something, launching the largest air attack on Iraq in three years, on the same day and almost simultaneously giving the zero tolerance message in the national security report, following along the lines of Israel, against terrorism. Obviously undaunted by the difficult war in Iraq, he reaffirmed today his strike-first policy against terrorists and enemy nations saying that Iran may pose the biggest challenge for America.

UPDATE III: Speculations are rife on CNN that the air raid today could have involved a high level target, presumably al-Zarqawi, which makes a lot of sense.

IMPORTANT UPDATE IV: It all starts making sense: from The Counterterrorism Blog via The Anchoress:

The level of “chatter” by al Qaeda operatives is currently as high or higher than in the months prior to 9-11, and the question in many parts of the U.S. and European intelligence communities is not if al Qaeda will strike again, but when. Much of the thinking centers on the near-term. This is also reflected in current corporate security alerts being circulated among elite business establishments.

Make sure you check out Joe Katzman @ The Winds Of Change for the most comprehensive power packed briefing update on the global situation thus far. The ongoing post is called Winds Of War. I love that site it's brilliant.

IMPORTANT UPDATE V: The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has created a website where it will post documents captured in postwar Afghanistan and Iraq. The website is hosted by the Foreign Military Studies Office Joint Reserve Intelligence Center at Fort Leavenworth and will be updated continuously with new documents. Thank you to Hugh Hewitt, who also points to John Hinderaker's analysis.

And of course there is Iran, and the increased chatter of al-Qaeda, and the fact that rumor has it that they were after a high value target in the raid today, which we can only assume to be al-Zarqawi.

Out of Iraq and into Iran. Ahem. Iran expresses their wish TODAY to hold face to face talks with the US on Iraq. The master manipulators are preparing to make their next move.

Get the picture? Master international chess player George W. Bush, excecutes a brilliant combination to plow under all resistance to the spread of Democracy and Freedom abroad and the thwarting of Terrorism at home. We have front row seats and the popcorn vendor is coming.

David Byron: I used to think the fear-mongering was some sort of running joke. Black humour - well the British are used to that. After a while I began to realise it was quite serious. American people apparently really were afraid of these gnats. Terrified of the terrorists. The media and the government actively encouraging this fear. I honestly just didn't believe Americans were on the level about being so irratioanlly afraid for several years after 9-11.

What is America so afraid of? I'd rather be bombed than live like that.

How can anyone sane call these attacks by America "self defence" as if America was actually in any danger? Europeans shake their heads in disbelief as this Elephant shrieks and panics over a mouse....

And don't think I believe America has no real threats. Your economy is going down the toilet. That's a real threat. Your Republican senate just voted along strict party lines to raise the national debt to nine trillion dollars. and you're worried about guys armed with box cutters?!

I don't understand the comment about international (ie American) law banning these attacks. I thought Republicans wanted a president who was above the law? Isn't that the whole point? The great leader canot be tied down by petty concerns such as legality when your very lives hang in the balance?

Despite David Byron's pertinant questions, from this point forward, most of my good friends, having been called cowards, went off onto an incredible set of irrelevant rants on the United Nations and International Law. I've cut it away. Irrelevant arguments are routinely one of the ways in which they talk themselves into such obviously nitwitted head spaces. The Anchoress, is having none of this, and, of course, keeps Alexandra's point alive:

The Anchoress: Yes, that's pretty much what I've been thinking all day.

1) release Iraqi documents 2) reiterate commitment 3) air assault on insurgents

My prediction: we'll be out of Iraq sooner than anyone thinks, and the press has been sort of rope-a-doped today. Instead of reporting on Iraqi documents, his commitment and the air assault, they are fixating on...polls. He's making the press look very, very bad.

Which paves the way for the wonderful entry of gringoman.

gringoman: Chief critique of "Swarmer" is that it should have happened two years ago, when they "celebrated" by stringing up those four American civilians. The Hate Americanos are so lucky that Bush is so pc and often media-incompetent. Otherwise the Marines and the rest of the U.S. military would have "disciplined" the Sunni Triangle AND Mooky---Tehran's favorite little Shia rabble rouser--long ago, rather than let the thugs fester and thrive so long.

So this is where we come in:

Joe Claus: My prediction: we'll be out of Iraq sooner than anyone thinks, and the press has been sort of rope-a-doped today.

How often have we heard the same prediction? Did no one learn anything from the last "major offensive", in Fallujah, Operation "Big Thud", which was supposed to "break the back" of the insurgency?

Another few million dollars will be wasted to destroy some real estate, make us a few more enemies in the neighborhood, and capture a few weapons caches, all of which will be replaced within weeks from Syria or Iran. A thin screen of insurgents will be shot at, and some killed, but the bulk of the "anti-Iraqi forces" will have moved somewhere else, because this thing has been telegraphed for weeks over there and for days over here. That's how an insurgency works. That's why an insurgency is possible.

The only way to really defeat it is to overwhelmingly control, all at once, all the possible places it can develop, and truly secure the international borders to inhibit the import of weapons.

We have never had this. We will never have this. We have mere 150,000 or so deployed soldiers trying to secure an area the size of New Jersey. And, under the current terms of military readiness with an all-volunteer army, we will never have more than about 200,000 soldiers deployable anywhere even if all the Americans in Iraq were magically withdrawn tomorrow.

Speculations are rife on CNN that the air raid today could have involved a high level target, presumably al-Zarqawi, which makes a lot of sense.

It is amazing how utterly porous to recent history minds can be. Virtually every week of the Iraq invasion there were air strikes to "take out" Saddam Hussein. In case you haven't noticed, he is still alive and blustering before the news cameras in his trial. And before that there were air strikes to "take out" Osama Bin Laden throughout the Afghan conflict. Great job, Jackson! You've cut him down to merely making videotapes and generating "chatter"!

We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran.

Well, at the very least, Iran is weak enough as a military power that we can actually consider attacking the nuclear facilities. But you notice you haven't heard a peep about the Bush Doctrine vis-a-vis North Korea. Or about "great challenge" mentioned in the same breath with China.

Does it violate International or Domestic Law? Maybe. But that's not truly important. The President has always had the capacity to pick a fight. He still retains this. The serious question is whether he has the capacity to finish the fights he starts.

He hasn't finished the one he started in 2003, and, despite the sanguinity of the Anchoress, I don't think he will finish it anytime soon. And, until he finishes that one, he really won't have much capacity to finish another one whether he can start it or no.

Hence this fan dance:

The United States has joined with our EU partners and Russia to pressure Iran to meet its international obligations and provide objective guarantees that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes. This diplomatic effort must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided.

Of course gringoman can't resist.

gringoman: Attention all Islamo-Fascisti, neo-coms, progressives, lawyerly ACLU-niks, subscribers to BBC and Canadian Broadcasting Company, socialistas, subjects of Eurabia and all other members of the World Anti-Us. Imperialista Front: Here is an extract from CENTCOM's "posture statement for 2006."

The enemy’s vision of the future would create a region-wide zone that would look like Afghanistan under the Taliban. Music would be banned, women ostracized, basic liberties banished, and soccer stadiums used for public executions. The people of the region do not want the future these extremists desire. The more we talk about this enemy, the more its bankrupt ideology will become known. But more important, the more that regional leaders talk about and act against this enemy, the less attractive it will be. Osama bin Laden and Musab al Zarqawi cannot represent the future of Islam...

Then Joe Katzman from Winds Of Change follows Alexandra's link over and likes what he sees:

Joe Katzman: Thanks, Alexa, we think a lot of your site, too. The fusion of posts with art is more than aesthetic, it's a reminder every day of the civilization that some of us seek to defend.

I read guys like David, and all I hear in my head is "whaddaya expect, they got all the money." There is no argument that will ever convince such people. But it is worthwhile to respond. Not for people like David, on whom such words are ever and always wasted. We do it for ourselves, as we remind ourselves of the things we stand for.

And as often, we also receive an education in the intrinsic nature of those we stand against.

Joe Claus: Well, I won't go into the issue of exactly what posture CENTCOM is displaying in the above quotation, but it is one that I think would be well-nigh impossible even for an accomplished Hatha Yogi, but which perfectly ordinary Americans are capable of assuming with astonishing ease.

I see a lot of posturing just like this in my travels on blogs.

I hardly think it likely than anyone in the Islamic world is unaware of the program proposed by radical Islamics or would be surprised by what a traditional application of Islamic Law would mean. The notion that talking to CENTCOM [maybe down at the BX when off duty] would enlighten them further is charmingly naive.

Even more charmingly naive is CENTCOM's blanket assertion of absolute knowledge of popular desires everywhere [I presume] from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Indo-Pakistani border.
Much of what they do would be charmingly naive were they not in control of lethal weaponry. As it is, I would not trust the author of the above passage to have the least clue about who he should be shooting at, should fate plop him down into the middle of the Sunni Triangle. But in that matter I really have nothing on him, except for the fact that I know I would be clueless, and he doesn't.

But, then, I'm stiff in the joints and exaggerated postures are hard for me.

By then, of course the real fact about Operation Swarmer were starting to come in and Alexandra restarted the post elsewhere without the embarrasing nuisance it presented:

Joe Claus: And, just for the record, here we have the end to this whole ridiculous episode:

Operation Swarmer Fizzled

Mar. 17, 2006

Four Black Hawk helicopters landed in a wheat field and dropped off a television crew, three photographers, three print reporters and three Iraqi government officials right into the middle of Operation Swarmer....

In fact, there were no airstrikes and no leading insurgents were nabbed in an operation that some skeptical military analysts described as little more than a photo op. What’s more, there were no shots fired at all and the units had met no resistance, said the U.S. and Iraqi commanders.

The operation, which doubled the population of the flat farmland in one single airlift, [i.e., there were only 1500 people there in the first place!] was initiated by intelligence from Iraq security forces.

Can you imagine anything more idotic? When I said "not trust the author of the above passage to have the least clue about who he should be shooting at" I meant what I said. And what I can add to it is that the entire command of CENTCOM can't even tell if there is anybody to shoot at in the Sunni Triangle at all.

Unfortunately, I can imagine something more idiotic. A bunch of bloggers taken in by this nonsense and arguing about the United Nations Charter, while our beautiful hostess promises constant updates on this whole new phase of our glorious war.

Thank you Captain Bunnypants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. And best wishes to the 101st Fighting Keyboardists, particularly my good friend and sometime correspondent Joe Katzman, who always has such mature and considered military views, combined this time with such gallant courtesy toward our fine hostess.

Yeah, Joe, you bet it reminds me of the civilization we seek to defend, if only from itself.

And, finally, this woke up the International Law set, one of which went through the usual rigamarole of waving my Buddhism at me. The sterotype of Buddhists as love, peace, and light ex-hippies dies hard.

North By Northwest: So, let's not have any more of the cheap digs and snides, when addressing our genuinely held opinions, but share with us how you would consolidate the Buddhist objectives with those of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood--we've had an extensive debate how Christian teachings should be applied, so having an insight into the Buddhist's approach would teach all of us something new.

Here are some key Buddhist objectives to start you off: 1. To unfold the wisdom of humanity 2. To promote a blissful culture for humanity 3. To purify the mind of humanity 4. To manifest compassion and loving-kindness 5. To benefit society in deeds 6. To help establish a pure world 7. To advance world peace 8. To create a beautiful world 9. To cultivate supreme enlightenment

Joe Claus: Well, N by NW, I think I've fairly well addressed the issues of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in the post which follows this, but, to recap: Hamas is in no position to do anything nastier than they already have been doing without controlling the Palestinian parliament.

In fact, they are much more exposed now to Israeli retaliation by doing so. Sharon's retrenchment and separating wall merely needs to be fully implemented. After that Hamas will be on a perfectly pullable choke chain called keeping money from them.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been around for fifty years. Support the nation states already in place, even the bad ones, just like we did throughout the 20th Century, and they will be around for another 50 years without making much headway. Start knocking over some more nation states indiscriminately, without being prepared to put anything in their place, and you just might advance their cause.

As far as Buddhism goes, I'll repeat what I said on another post down the roll: Buddhism is not about "making nice". Buddhism is about "getting real". My commentary here is tart and thorny because I think many here have a lot of catching up to do in the getting real department.

This post started with a great and overarching fantasy about George Bush being "finally gonna show 'em" with a grand Operation Smasher that was going to strike to the heart of the Iraqi insurgency and magically make all the other nation building problems disappear.

He was also "finally gonna show 'em" with a re-affirmed declaration that we will make war any where we want and any time we want, particularly in that pesky Iran if they didn't watch out.

Furthermore, he was "finally gonna show 'em" by dragging out tons of Saddam's archives to justify the three years and nearly $250 billion dollars he's spent failing the straighten out the mess he made in Iraq.

All of this is a fantasy. Period. It is also a dangerous fantasy in a world where virtually all our available ground troops are committed to rotating through Iraq and failing to straighten out the mess. Sabre rattling under those conditions is ill-advised.

If the President finally finishes the fight he started exactly three years ago, then we can look at "first strikes". But right now waving them around as some prophylactic without the troops to back them up is senseless.

We have a world of real dangers to face but dangers are best met by fact rather than fantasy. Operation Smasher was mere theater and no one who gave the matter serious and considered judgment would have expected much more. I certainly didn't, and for exactly the reasons I gave in the comments above.

As a Buddhist who has made certain explicit religious vows, I have an obligation to treat all beings with compassion and loving kindness. But my teachers are very clear about the difference between real compassion and "idiot compassion" [this is precisely the words they use] which consists of not stepping forward to disperse dangerous nonsense merely because in doing so you might fail to look properly "buddhist" and "compassionate".

It is not particularly compassionate to let your fellow citizens wallow in fantasy when we must all face real dangers.

And sometimes the most compassionate course of action starts with a good, rude, Bronx cheer.

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Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Depressive Feedback Loop

As I'm sure you have guessed if you have stopped by lately, I am in the depressive phase of my bipolar cycle, and in one which the medications are having less effect than usual moderating. I have been so now for more than a week. I strongly suspect that bipolarity is an abnormality in some kind of natural biological feedback mechanism. For the effect of my recent gallbladder operation appears to be tangled up in this particularly strong swing of my mood. We have all heard the term "post-partum depression", which is almost certainly a feedback mechanism of this sort, a means of forced convalescing after the stress induced dumping of adrenalin and endorphins into the blood stream.

Bipolar disease itself may be an exaggeration of this. Perhaps the initial change occurs when someone half-consciously, perhaps for years and years, "burns the candle at both ends" for the high it induces. When I did a lot of lecturing to college students, I remember the process of starting almost every lecture as a species of low grade focused stage fright, which I always used to prime the pump of words for rhetoric and vivid vocabulary when speaking extempore, and to feed the acting reflex into projecting an image of balanced judgment, knowledge, and confidence. For even if I was all of these about a subject when talking to anyone at a face to face distance, projecting such an image to students in the last row of seats in a large lecture hall requires real acting histrionics, and every time I lectured, I was playing myself.

I also remember quite clearly that a really good lecture left me far more than merely satisfied with my performance. It left me flying higher than a kite. Lecturing 3-4 times a week to large audiences, and constantly getting high from it, may actually have permanently altered the biochemistry of my brain. It bothers me that human neuroscience seems to pay far less attention to the anecdotal reports of people like me than it should. It seems to me that human self-observation of this kind could generate all sorts of fruitful avenues for research. To test my own hypothesis is beyond my competence. I wouldn't have a clue where to start for research and experimental design, but anyone out there who does have a clue is welcome to use the observation above for free and without credit. If it led to better bipolar management, that would be satisfaction enough.

For both my highs and my lows exhaust me as age, nagging minor illnesses, and weight have caught up with me.

In a similar manner, though I don't follow it closely enough to present this as an assured conclusion, it seems to me that there is some sort of correlative brain biochemistry process to the "obesity epidemic" and the corresponding increase among us of Type II diabetes. I am both Type II and obese. For the record, 5' 7" and 272 lbs the day before I went into surgery.

Oddly enough, I don't seem to look it. The anesthesiologist was startled when I gave him those figures, and one would presume he was used to what fat people look like when covered by hospital gowns that hardly flatter one's figure. I do, however, have an exaggerated upper body type from the years I spent in cabinet making immediately before my mental decline. This may explain some of it.

Working in crowded cabinet shops forces a constant style of heavy lifting and toting, with frequent, weight-bearing, twists and turns of the upper body to the right or the left. This process overdevelops the triceps, the deltoids, the upper back, and the shoulders in relation to the rest of the body. Everybody in a shop sooner or later develops some variation of this body type. A chronic complaint among us was finding shirts that didn't bind us across the back and upper arms. Besides needing size 2x-3x to cover my chest and stomach, I still have this problem.

But, be that as it may, Type II diabetes got me into the habit of looking at food labels. By doing so, and by altering my diet, I have so far avoided the need of any medication to control my blood sugar levels. When I started looking carefully at labels, I found something which I strongly suspect may be one of the real bad actors in obesity and Type II--High Fructose Corn Syrup.

For the past fifteen years or so HFCS has been steadily replacing beet and cane sugars in products ranging from soda pop to barbecue sauce. The way in which plain field corn is turned into this designer sweetener is both arcane and complicated, with some of the steps involving biochemical processing by living bacteria, in the way similar to how yeast is used to bake bread. But even with this, most high volume food manufacturers find HFCS to be considerably cheaper to use than cane or beet sugar, and it has proved to be a bonanza for our corn crop based American agriculture.

The next time you come home from the store, do a little label survey and see both just how many times HFCS is ingredient #1, #2, or #3 on the labels, and in what a wide range of products it appears. You will be astonished at the results. Unless we go out of our way to avoid it we consume an unbelievable amount of HFCS daily and were consuming virtually none of it at all before 1990. The correlation to our "obesity epidemic" and the rise of Type II diabetes is frighteningly exact. And my rough and ready empirical observations strongly suggest that HFCS is screwing up the appetite sensing brain biochemistry of people who consume as much of it as most of us do.

Most of you are probably familiar with sodium spices--table salt or MSG--and how they can do this. If you are not, try changing the packaged nuts that you eat from the salted to the unsalted variety. You will very quickly find that your appetitive craving for the nut oil and the nut protein is far more quickly satisfied, with fewer nuts, if the salt is gone.

By purchasing and trying equivalent products with and without HFCS I have come to the conclusion that the processing of it in the body somehow delays the onset of appetitive satisfaction. The clearest case was one of two types of whole grain bread, Pepperidge Farm 15 Grain [a very good product and without HFCS], and a generic variety of equally tasty whole grain bread called Private Selection with HFCS.

The consistent results I have observed in myself is that 20 minutes after eating two slices of Pepperidge Farm each with two pats of butter and one teaspoon of honey, my craving for any more food was completely gone. After the same 20 minutes with two slices of the Private Selection, decorated in the same way, the craving to eat more was still quite strong.

This is perfectly consistent with the known metabolic processes. I am told that, unlike glucose, the maid of all work sugar that actually fuels most of our body, fructose must metabolize exclusively in the liver, with the following consequences:

Fructose does not cause insulin release from beta cells, as these lack fructokinase. One of the results of this is that fructose consumption does not dampen appetite. This may lead to increased caloric intake with obesity and the metabolic syndrome as a result....

So what? Well, some of that fructose winds up as glycogen and glucose. That is ok; we need glucose in the blood. The rest of the fructose rushes through pyruvate, is transferred to mitochondria, and finally converted to fatty acids and exported from the liver as triglycerides.

That fat formation is a major problem. People that consume large amounts of sugar seem to demonstrate increased plasma triglyceride levels. This is quite parallel to eating large quantities of saturated fats. While the mechanisms here are not completely clarified, there is good reason to believe that increased plasma triglyceride are a moment in development of atherosclerosis and CVD....

Our diet through thousands of years included starches as the major carbohydrate source and fructose as a sweet extra in fruits and honey. Remember, progression to the "hunter stadium" came long after development of the first humanoids. A very active conversion of that limited fructose to fructose-1-phosphate (not 6-phosphate) appears to have been elemental in regulation of hepatic glucokinase and glucose metabolism.

The epidemic growth of overweight, diabetes type 2, hypertension and CVD in urban societies around the globe today may well have our exceedingly high sugar consumption as a major underlying factor. We were simply "not made" to eat 25% of our food in the form of sugar.

Thus clearly, I think, we can label HFCS by the more homely and truer name of Pigout Juice.

We are an incredibly complicated bundle of relations between how we feel, what we eat, and how our bodies respond to it. My weight increased by 60 lbs between 2002 and 2005 and another 40 lbs between 1992 and 2002. Both experientially, and objectively in terms of monetary percentage of my food budget, my food consumption did not significantly increase throughout this period and I certainly am not now eating over 30% more food than I was in 1993! What did change to that degree over that period of time is my consumption of High Fructose Corn Syrup.

Since deliberately going out of my way to eliminate HFCS from my diet after being diagnosed as Type II diabetic in 2005, my blood glucose levels have remained well within safe limits from dietary control alone and my weight has dropped from a high of 282 lbs. to a median of somewhere around 265 lbs. with a + or - 7 lb. fluctuation. I suspect that it will take a significant decrease in total caloric intake to push beyond the lower number of this range.

I know empirically that I am also locked in the dilemma where both my bipolar problems and my thyroid problems interact very intimately with my blood sugar levels. Lowering blood sugar, especially runs the risk of magnifying both the manic and the depressive phases. This probably will place a lower limit on how much I will be able to decrease my actual caloric intake in the future.

But I will say that blood sugar control, and some weight loss, combined with an appetite that is far more satisfied and less prone to pigging out, is well worth the trouble of restricting both the salt and the HFCS in one's diet.

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

So Now What Do I Say?

I am sitting staring at my CRT screen wondering what to say next. The United States and Israel were the only two serious opponents to the idea of the United Nations creating a permanent human rights body. The only ones. A couple of tiny Pacific archipelagoes fell into line, probably because the United States is absolutely the only one who pays any attention to them, attention in the form of direct or indirect financial subsidy. One hundred and seventy separate nations voted for this. The United States and Israel voted against it.

Is there any better indicator of where the real battle lines are being drawn for this next century? I am willing to entertain any assumption for the argument's sake, and I often entertain the pretty disturbing one that Karl Rove may be right, that there may be just enough leverage available on American public opinion to keep the Republican Party in power indefinitely. If that be so then America, and its Israeli sidekick will become the blackguards and the pariahs of the world. Woe to us then if our money runs out, because, at the moment, no one will treat with us for anything but their own financial profit, and that while openly holding their nose.

For the Republican faithful have simply talked themselves into a psychotic and paranoid space of total arrogance where no amount of feedback from anyone else or anything else can reach them. They are in the driver's seat on a road that has only destructive destinations, destructive to our wealth and well-being, destructive to our status as an international good neighbor, and destructive to the political values for which we have stood as a model since 1789.

Our former friends, the British, are withdrawing their involvement with our ventures in their quiet British way, and they will be gone before anyone notices. The Republican faithful, though largely anglophile when they think about it, have done very little noticing and very little thinking about how their philosophical counterparts, the Conservative Party, have responded to the American adventures of the past five years, particularly things like our Guantanamo prison camp. As I say, they are beyond the reach of any advice or response the world can give.

I was over on the Anchoress' blog. She is still my best friend on the net despite all this. And she was in the mood for opening up one of her posts for a donnybrook over my own two posts on the Tragedy of Political Conversion. She asked me for links. I thought about it. And then I discouraged her. After all, if she really wanted the links they appear easily at the top of your computer screen, and, if she was truly interested in an alternative point of view to her own, she would have linked to them when I wrote them. Under those circumstances, an artificially induced commentfest over them seemed futile.

I post comments on Conservative blogs because I am actually interested in what Conservatives have to say, and, insofar as I can find a common ground of questions worth asking, I don't mind a little tussle if my answers happen not to be the Flavor of the Month. I do not write over there to convince anyone, but to engage questions put in a form developed from presumptions quite different than my own. And I know that it is futile to introduce the questions I ask on this blog, because I am perfectly sure that none of my Conservative friends have the least interest in engaging my own questions, alone, and without reference to the world of their own opinions. So our mutual interplay has been asymmetrical.

But this common ground of questions has been shrinking. The world view among the Faithful has become so disconnected and paranoid that fewer and fewer of their opinions are interesting.

Those in the drivers' seat, and unreachable, comprise 35% of the country. Those of us who are sufficiently exercised to want to point out that we are headed over a cliff, perhaps 25%. The rest, the other 40%, largely see the same world we do, and hold milder versions of the same opinions we 25% hold, with sketchier details. We both know, for example, that things in Iraq have been going badly and that, for three full years, things in Iraq have never gone as well as the President and his people have been telling us.

I, and my 25% cohorts, are steamed about this and know why the failures have been occurring. For the rest, figuring out that there are failures, so far, is sufficient. But we are at least on the same page. As to the 35% in the driver's seat, who knows?

The future of this country depends upon that still sane but indolent 40%. Will they finally act on the knowledge we share and demand to be driven in a new direction? The final stop on the road is but months away, on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. After that, our destination under a lame-duck President whose party is in control of Congress, will be largely set in stone.

Will they act? I haven't a clue. I really haven't had a clue about them since November of 2004. And the constant squeezing of my adrenals to convince them to act is rapidly wearing out my heart and soul. When it is totally worn out, I will no longer care one way or the other. And I will have joined the 40%.

Perhaps that's what Karl Rove is counting on.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Nausea, Diarrhea, Ennui, Disgust

Over the past few days I have been forced to confront how chronically ill I really am. There is a period in after-surgical convalescence when you no longer are in obvious pain, but when the subtle disorder of a violent intrusion into your body lays on you like a lead weight.

In someone such as myself--bipolar, hyperlipidemic, hypothyroid--whose consciousness is constantly battered with a neverceasing round of pharmaceutical intervention, the effect is like the set piece of an old Warner Brothers cartoon where a wall of nebulous industrial dials are insanely twirling both clockwise and counter-clockwise. For now, in addition to all of the above, a heavy-duty antibiotic [one of the "last line of defense" sort] is diligently mowing down all my symbiotic intestinal digestive flora, which I will soon have to replace with eating tubs of yogurt to return some order to my bowels.

The world is not very much help at the moment. I am fast losing words to describe the totally random and incoherent way in which the press, the blogosphere, and the public are responding to events in this country and the world.

Witness the post below. Almost twenty years have passed since the downfall of the Soviet Union. And the news that the covers of 2,600 CIA agents have not only been blown, but that all the knowledge about them is readily available to anyone on the planet who can use a computer, has passed through the global public consciousness with hardly a ripple.

It hardly seems to matter what happens any more. No event has any developmental relation to any other event. All is coincidence. Nothing is cause and effect. We are going globally nowhere and getting rapidly warmer doing it. Bombs and death squads in Iraq, videotapes by Osama Bin Laden, motions to censure the President, the Israeli knockover of a Palestinian prison, diplomatic tail-chasing over Iranian nukes, the funeral of Slobodan Milosevic, Republican panic over an administration rapidly coming apart from its own self-indulgent refusal to treat politics as something you have to work at--all these have equal weight, equal impact, equal priority, and therefore no impact, no priority, no weight.

There are a few bright spots; a few newsmakers, movers, and shakers with their head screwed on straight, and more to offer than utter pliancy to what they think will make them the least number of enemies among the voting public--Al Gore, Russ Feingold, Howard Dean--people who still believe in cause and effect and are trying to view the world that way, people who still believe in responsible and responsive government and are trying to make it happen.

But everybody else has a bad case of Hillary Clinton. Perfect name recognition, but not the least indication of what they actually believe in, or what they will not say for temporary political advantage. This is, of course, when they do not have a bad case of Tom DeLay, and add to the above an incoherent and personal mean-spiritedness that would make you cringe at having them as a next-door neighbor.

That's actually a pretty good rule of thumb test for the sane American voter: Who among our politicians would you really welcome as a next door neighbor, based on their public persona and actions? Bill Clinton? George W. Bush? Joe Lieberman? John McCain? Bill Frist? Rich Sanatorum?

It's a homey sort of test and fills me with a pre-Internet nostalgia of neighbors chatting over the back fence as they rake leaves or mow lawns. All of that now seems like the tiny winter snow scene in a tacky glass paperweight. Or maybe a boy's winter sled with the brandname of Rosebud, back when there were real Citizen Kanes and politics was a public-minded profession.

I had good cause to be reminded of it in a comment I posted on one of my regular and contentious forays on certain blogs of people who wouldn't care for me as a next door neighbor:

My parent's generation had seen real economic misery, real danger from fascist or soviet tyranny, real horror of millions of people's lives snuffed out, and real peril from global thermonuclear war.

This largely left their heads screwed on straight, and made for a common bond that produced conservatives of rhetorical restraint and personal substance: William Buckley, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush. These were men whom anyone could respect, largely because they respected the peers who disagreed with them. And pursued politics with a sense of inclusive public purpose.

The shriveled midgets who have inherited the mantle from them don't even deserve personal mention, except--as in the case of the broadcast commentators--where they have so rudely forced those names by broadcast into the workplace, the rush-hour car, or the private home.

After-surgical convalescence lies heavily on me as mental nausea, emotional diarrhea, intellectual ennui, and just plain old-fashioned disgust. I have to blog in order to bridge this gap. It is therapeutic. But I can't really say that I like to blog at the moment. It is merely foul-tasting medicine, with no sweetener to mask the taste.

I hope reading this is better than writing it.

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

This Is Utterly Insane And No One Is Paying Attention

I am stunned beyond words. There is no way to even label idiocy such as this:

Internet blows CIA cover

By John Crewdson
Chicago Tribune senior correspondent

Published March 12, 2006

WASHINGTON -- She is 52 years old, married, grew up in the Kansas City suburbs and now lives in Virginia, in a new three-bedroom house.

Anyone who can qualify for a subscription to one of the online services that compile public information also can learn that she is a CIA employee who, over the past decade, has been assigned to several American embassies in Europe.

The CIA asked the Tribune not to publish her name because she is a covert operative, and the newspaper agreed. But unbeknown to the CIA, her affiliation and those of hundreds of men and women like her have somehow become a matter of public record, thanks to the Internet.

When the Tribune searched a commercial online data service, the result was a virtual directory of more than 2,600 CIA employees, 50 internal agency telephone numbers and the locations of some two dozen secret CIA facilities around the United States.

It just gets better:

But an undisclosed number of those on the list--the CIA would not say how many--are covert employees, and some are known to hold jobs that could make them terrorist targets.

Other potential targets include at least some of the two dozen CIA facilities uncovered by the Tribune search. Most are in northern Virginia, within a few miles of the agency's headquarters. Several are in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah and Washington state. There is one in Chicago.

Some are heavily guarded. Others appear to be unguarded private residences that bear no outward indication of any affiliation with the CIA.

A senior U.S. official, reacting to the computer searches that produced the names and addresses, said, "I don't know whether Al Qaeda could do this, but the Chinese could."

And the Grand Finale:

Asked how so many personal details of CIA employees had found their way into the public domain, the senior U.S. intelligence official replied that "I don't have a great explanation, quite frankly."

What can one do? Nobody in the Blogosphere seems to have picked up on this yet, probably because it is in the Chicago Tribune. This is why I keep such newspapers on my blogroll and scan them regularly.

But it is the most demoralizing news I have ever read about our War On Terror. Bar none.

So if you stop by and happen to read this, pass it on to a few Internet friends.

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Getting Back To Reality

One of the things I frequently run into jousting with my friendly adversaries over on Conservative blogs is the complaint that the Democrats are "always negative" in their chronic opposition to George W. Bush, that they are, in other words, mere "Bush haters".

I must admit some truth to this. The private character of the President, which he takes no trouble to conceal, is sometimes a matter of scorn and derision among his Liberal opponents. I do think, however, that my Conservative friends might consider the possibility that even Liberals, in fact even Democrats, might have abstract beliefs and principles to hold onto by which they judge both the President and his works.

I must also admit that the rhetoric on the blogs I blogroll as Left Voices can get to be quite overheated to the point of appearing to be a chronic ad homenium attack on the President. However, I think any fair reading of them would find that even the most shrill of them are also animated by the same abstract beliefs and principles.

Now they might be bad principles, though I don't think so, they may be wrong beliefs, though I [with some reservations] also don't think this about them. But that does not mean such beliefs and principles do not exist. And I think that most Conservative bloggers are disingenuous when they claim that they do not exist. After all, if they don't exist, you don't have to take the trouble to refute them or propose beliefs in opposition to them.

If I were to strip the overheated rhetoric from the writings of some of my fellow Democrats and state the fundamental beliefs behind their attitude toward the President there would be five essential ones:

1) That this country has been forced to contend with 5+ years of simple, total, and objectively discernible, bad governmental management.

2) That much, if not all, of the call for bipartisanship by our good Conservative friends is plain bad faith because our friends have so many non-negotiable agendas.

3) That by assuming extraordinary executive war powers in the name of the War On Terror, this President is essentially making such powers permanent. There is no conceivable way a War On Terror, as the President has defined it, can ever come to an end.

4) That this transformation of America has also been undertaken in bad faith by the President and his advisors to strongarm this country about many, if not most, of the non-negotiable agendas, whether most of the country believes in them or not.

5) That the net effect of this will be to transform this country into a garrison state of permanent war powers which will be democratic in outer form, but essentially authoritarian in actual practice. The contemporary model for such a state is Israel, and the vanguard model of the transformation has become Tony Blair's Britain.

Of these, the first belief is the primary one which is likely to have an influence on electoral politics. We are an evenly divided country, with half of us leaning Democratic, when we are not solidly Democratic, and half of us leaning Republican if we are not solidly Republican. The real conundrum for either party is how to persuade the leaners, one way or the other. And I would argue that whatever reservations I might have about the other beliefs, the first one is largely correct. The President has been an objectively bad manager of his office.

He can continue to make himself a law unto himself for the duration of his presidency, and no one will seriously bring him to book. But he will not accomplish much with it, as he has not accomplished much with it. Things actually get accomplished in this country only through compromise and negotiation, not by asserting that Presidential power is beyond the law. George Bush truly has no notion of what the words "compromise" and "negotiation" mean, even within his own party, and in such matters where, long ago, the opposite party actually tried to negotiate with him, he blithely screwed them over.

Consequently, the public is not going to change its opinion of the President much one way or the other, no matter what happens. Close analysis of the professional polling being done makes it very clear that the only real movement in his poll numbers since the hurricane Katrina debacle has been among members of his own party. And this is where his support is now slowly eroding with patent political foolishness on his part like the Dubai business. The only place the President will lose any more support is among members of his own party. He has virtually no support to lose from anybody else.

This will significantly change only if something the President now does is a roaring, unqualified, and unequivocally large success, on the order of his deposing of the Taliban. There is now very little on the horizon which could ever become so. Most of these options have simply been played out. So he will accomplish little or nothing during the rest of his term, and I confidently expect him to be an immense liability in the 2006 Congressional elections. But even if he isn't, and Republican losses are minimized, he will not accomplish much more.

In all frankness, and stepping beyond my own partisan beliefs, no President since Lyndon Johnson has had a better hand of political cards to play and none has played them so ineffectively. Despite the wailing of my Conservative friends, this is not because the "Liberally Biased Mainstream Media" has stopped him, or because Democrats have stopped him. It is because he will not negotiate and compromise and he insists on ruling above the law rather than governing within it.

Bush is the first Republican President in my lifetime to have majorities in both houses of Congress, to have all the members of his own party in Congress completely under his thumb, to have won two terms, and to be able to exercise Presidential power untrammeled even by the law itself. He also had the highest poll ratings for any President, ever, immediately after the fall of the Taliban. What more did he need to accomplish anything?

So how much has he really accomplished? Try it for yourself. Try to make a list of the things he has genuinely accomplished that are likely to outlast his term in office. Lyndon Johnson left this country's domestic life completely transformed. Most people I encounter born after 1960 simply do not understand how utterly different this country was before 1964 and the Johnson Administration. We are still living in the social welfare state which Johnson created. Determined and systematic political Conservatives have frayed it some around the edges, but it still largely exists intact.

George Bush's accomplishments: Medicare Part D? No Child Left Behind? The Patriot Act? The Bankruptcy Bill? An unfinished war in Iraq and another one in Afghanistan? The successful appointment of two judges to the Supreme Court? A "balanced budget"?A "reduction of government"? A resolution to the illegal immigrant problem?

However biased newspapers and news channels may be, they can't operate by voodoo to stop anyone with so many political advantages as George has had. He and his people, in Congress and out, are simply inept. They can win elections, but they can't intelligently exercise the power it brings to successfully do anything else.

Do you disbelieve this? No politician of the 20th century, Republican or Democratic, would ever have missed the political potential for the Dubai deal to blow up in his face. Whatever the abstract merits of the deal, it was clearly and unequivocally a major political accident waiting to happen: "Turn our ports over to the AAA-rabs?!! Have you lost your mind???" Really.

Now my good Conservative friends, particularly the Christian or "social conservative" ones, are in constant expectation that "the public" or the "real America" will someday finally rise up, overwhelm the New York Times and all the rest of us, and sweep away "the Left" into the dustpan of History.

But these are the real facts: For all the blandishments of Karl Rove; for all the smearing of John Kerry's war service; for all the waving of the overwhelming threat to our shores in tandem with the red, white, and blue of our flag; and for all the rest of it, fifty percent of this country still voted against George Bush. And they didn't do so merely because the New York Times told them to do so.

The core of people who are "social conservatives" is no larger than 35% of the public in the country as a whole, and no larger than 45% of the public even in the reddest of Red States. That 35% now constitutes the bulk of the continued support for the Bush Presidency.

Frankly, the Social Conservatives have had a genuine, though small, political advantage in this country since 1980, but it has not come from numbers. It has come from unwavering political solidarity and consistency of issue identification which is "non-negotiable", such as opposition to Roe v. Wade. But that is only enough to win elections. It is not enough to accomplish much after you win them. Such accomplishment requires compromise and inclusion, rather than ideological purity and the absolute repudiation of input from those who don't display it.

That's how America works. Really.

I repeat, the Bush Administration is politically inept. In January of 2003 they had enough cards in their hand to accomplish virtually any agenda, had they played them with any degree of intelligence. Unfortunately, George and the boys made three fatal errors.

First, they failed to capture Osama Bin Laden because they did not order our troops into the front of the battle of Tora Bora, and they did nothing to cut off his escape route into Pakistan. The escape of Bin Laden was the first major victory in the War on Terror. It wasn't ours. It demonstrated to every potential terrorist around the globe that it was possible to outwit and evade the United States, and, actually, to do so rather easily. Had we captured or killed Bin Laden immediately after kicking the Taliban over like a rotten puffball, we would have appeared invincible, and left the other potential terrorists worldwide completely demoralized. Instead, we gave them great hope. The terror attacks which have occurred since are the result.

The second of these fatal mistakes was the disbanding of Saddam's army and the six month neglect of the occupation of Iraq between May and November of 2003. George and the boys virtually solicited the Iraqi insurgency to develop and allowed it to steal most of Saddam's small arms right out from under American noses. Had they really taken control of Iraq and run it properly from the beginning--and they could have easily used Saddam's army to do it--none of the other bad news, such as failure to find WMD's, would have mattered a jot. And they would now have the American army available, with secure forward bases in Baghdad, to forstall Iranian nuclear ambitions. At the moment, they don't have either of these. They have a mess in Iraq that will not be straightened out until after the Iranians go nuclear.

The third fatal mistake was immediately after the 2004 election. The issue George chose for the first showdown with his new "political capital" was Social Security. And the way he went about it made defeating him almost too easy. If he had had the brains to push his tax cuts first, and really push them intelligently, he would have won the first political battle handily, and probably every subsequent one after that, including Social Security. The way he went about trying to win on the Social Security issue was absolutely laughable. He went on the road making speeches in cities across the country!

Why was this inept? First, nobody is ever allowed into a Bush speech except people who already completely agree with him, so nobody sitting on the fence is going to be persuaded by a speech that he can't attend. All anyone not already convinced that the President can walk on water ever heard about the speech was two paragraphs at the bottom of Page 1 of the local newspaper and 15 seconds of soundbite on the local TV news.

The content of none of those speeches ever made the national media. And there was every excuse available to the national media not to cover them since they were only targeted to local markets. So what does George do to pump his Social Security proposal in the face of a "liberally biased" national media? He gives them genuine reasons not to bother to cover his views! This was stunningly stupid.

Moreover, he never even bothered to make a major, televised, national speech about Social Security or to be interviewed on national television about it! The only time he said anything about it to the country as a whole was in a single Saturday radio address on April 30, 2005. Hardly what you would call penetrating the American political consciousness, now is it?

The opposition campaign spoke to the national audience and easily defeated him. This demonstrated immediately and unequivocally by doing so that the President's "mandate" from the people, and his "political capital" was a joke. He simply couldn't make decent use of the overwhelming advantages that the 2002 and 2004 Republican victories had given him.

He still hasn't. I repeat, try it for yourself. Just try to list the things his Presidency has done that will endure after he leaves office. My best guess is that there will be only two: deposing Saddam Hussein, and allowing the Iranians to develop a nuclear bomb.

This last, of course, is horrible. But there is probably not enough time now to turn it back and, as with any President, we all must endure the consequences of his errors in our name, whether we voted for him or not. I certainly didn't. But the simple ineffectiveness of George W. Bush is cause for hope that his attempt to transform this country functionally into a Garrison State, will pass.

If it does, we must marvel in awe at those grave 18th Century men who built a government "conceived in Liberty", whose stability and endurance is still the wonder of the world.

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Joe Claus Loses His Colossal Gall...

And the bladder to go with it. Very early Wednesday morning, I woke up with a steel band of agony around my upper abdomen. I told Mrs. Claus it was a gallbladder attack. She was skeptical, because she was in the grip of the Monte Carlo fallacy: I couldn't be having a gallbladder attack since she had just had her own gallbladder removed not two months before.

However, I was having such an attack. Mrs. Claus was astonished, but I certainly wasn't. Both of my parents had gallbladder attacks when they were almost exactly my age, a matter far more relevant to my own problem than Mrs. Claus having one at almost exactly my age.

This is a major matter in life that causes an immense number of problems: sorting out the difference between coincidence and cause-and-effect. You might say that the first difficulty is that the problem is three-pronged. Consider the two-key encryptation of e-mail which, I'm sure is still giving the NSA fits, for if it is breakable, I have yet to hear it. It was invented at the same time in two places at once, and completely independently, by private mathematicians here and government codebreakers in Britain. Is this really coincidence? Not quite, for a little thought will show that the dynamic driving it operated through parallel causal structures, the need for secure communications, the emergence of e-mail, ect. ect.

So what we are looking at are three things: "pure" coincidence, such as the timing of the gallbladder attacks of myself and Mrs. Claus; related coincidence such as two-key encryptation; and cause-and-effect.

It seems to me that confusing any of the three with one another is superstition.

What meaning can that have for us at the moment? Consider the constant grasping at straws among my good conservative friends, even yet, to find a serious connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. I kited out the following below on All Things Beautiful a day or two before my gallbladder attack. The quotation is from Michael Barone:

Why, for two distinct groups of Americans, has it become a matter of conviction held with religious intensity that there cannot have been any relationship between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq?

This is not a matter of religious intensity. It is a matter of ordinary and commonplace logic. You cannot absolutely prove that something does not exist.

In the absence of real evidence that there was such a significant linkage of Saddam and Al Queda, the rational presumption remains that it did not exist, and certainly no one intelligent has any business either asserting or implying that it did exist in the absence of such evidence.

As to fighting Al Queda, the last I heard, Osama Bin Laden went to Pakistan, not Iraq. The fact that we have not bothered to follow him into Pakistan might have something to do with why he is still at large.

There is certainly evidence that at least some of the people we are shooting at in Iraq are members of Al Queda. But there is plenty of evidence that there are all sorts of other people we are shooting at there, too. And I, for one, hardly think that the members of Al Queda in Iraq are busily plotting to do something in America. There are far too many good targets available locally. So, there we stand, shooting whole bunches of people, after which we sort out who was a member of Al Queda and who wasn't, and check them off one by one.

Of course, since this whole enterprise has so far cost us $245 billion dollars, one could make a case that this approach to a War On Terror is not very cost effective--particularly since it is hardly likely that many of the leaders of Al Queda are anywhere near our line of fire in Iraq. And if there is any plotting to do big attacks on America, it is probably being done by those leaders who are elsewhere than where we are shooting.

Cost effectiveness, of course, is not our long suit. From all I can gather from the published reports what the NSA is largely doing is "traffic analysis"--automatically screening an incredible number of electronic messages for words like "bomb", "jihad", and "as Allah wills", like a Baleen Whale lapping up tons of plankton.

The whale, however, gets real nourishment out of every drop. I hardly think the NSA is so effective.

And then there is the possibility that we might have spent some of that $245 billion dollars making a serious effort to secure and protect the most vulnerable American targets. We have spent virtually nothing on this, or, if we have spent it, it has been to no purpose. Such targets are clearly not secure and protected. To do this, however, would actually require us to think through what is the most likely way our enemies would attack us. And also to think through what kind of likely attack would do the most damage.

We would then have to give up our paranoid expectation that a stroke of evil genius like 9/11, is the norm of how terrorists operate. We would have to come down to earth and realize that genius in evil is as rare as genius anywhere else. Then we would have to apply something like ordinary and commonplace logic to the problem. That means we would have to do things like relearn that there is no reason to believe something exists if there is no significant evidence that it does.

Now, frankly, it is a crying shame that we have wasted so much money and unintelligent effort. But it does have its good points, and, in any case, it is water under the bridge. We are not going to get any more intelligence and effectiveness out of the Bush Administration however hard we may try. The limits of our leadership are something which we must endure for several years, and we will simply have to deal with the consequences, come what may.

But one of the consequences of truly bad management is that, sooner or later, all but the True Believers finally figure out that it is bad management, and start looking for something better. I strongly suspect that this process has already begun. I also think that the really awful consequences of our adventure in Iraq are now inevitable. So I, for one, am far more receptive to the President's "stay the course" rhetoric than you might think.

For I want the "buyer's remorse" with the now inevitable consequences of Iraq to be burned so deeply into the consciousness of all but the True Believers that it lasts for a generation or more. People then just might start demanding some more intelligence in our leaders in the way they run our War On Terror. At the moment, I think I'm highly likely to get this, particularly if the President "stays the course" and we remain in essentially the same situation in November of 2008.

And, even if I'm wrong and staying the course actually accomplishes something, then something will be accomplished. And something beats nothing.

I would add to this that the "buyer's remorse" might just add up to at least a temporary erosion of the American propensity toward the logical fallacy of treating either pure coincidence, or related coincidence, as cause-and-effect. One can always hope.

There. I haven't lost nearly the gall that I thought!

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Monday, March 06, 2006

In The Empty Space Of Hours

I have written before about thick textured time, time which is marked by hundreds or thousands of deliberately repeated individual actions, as reference points, on any given day. Unlike most duration, such time does not go by in an undifferentiated blur, and, by zoning off definite intervals with consciously repeated actions, we can clearly see how little is in any such intervals, no matter what length.

Imagine rolling a marble around in a box small enough to hold comfortably in the hand. This is what events really do in those intervals of time. Time is a repeating set of these mostly empty boxes with tiny events rolling around in them. Hence boredom. Boredom is the craving to have something rolling around in the box.

But, actually, those empty spaces, those gaps, are the most interesting thing about our lives. Who, what, and where are we when we cease to the The Subject Who Sees X? Who are we alone and of ourselves? Ask the question, look in the box, and you will find no definite someone there. Nor will you discover that no one is there. The answer lies between these. The answer is in the gap. Someone and No One are both mere rolling marbles and even the empty box of time itself exists only in relation to the event, to the marble rolling around in it. But then the marble is nowhere, no when, and no how save in relation to the box in which it rolls.

To truly bore into this is the meaning and the point of Buddhist meditation. You look squarely into the fact that everything exists only in relation to something else, and nothing truly exists on its own and independently.

You can glimpse this directly in meditation. Say you are watching yourself breathe. Where is the boundary between breathing in and breathing out? No boundary exists. We really cannot tell precisely when we start breathing out and stop breathing in, but we indubitably do both. Or does our breathing do itself? Or does it do us? Can we watch ourselves deliberately doing our own ordinary breathing [of course we can deliberately hold our breath! That’s not what I mean.] like we can watch ourselves deliberately picking up a pencil. Do we breathe intentionally? If we don’t, who intends it? Where does our breathing come from?

Be here now. Worry the warp and the weft of time. Pick at the texture of time. Don’t fret. It will not collapse like a puffball or pop like a balloon merely because the empty box has no marble in it. Look at the empty spaces which the warp and the weft surround. Your answers lie in there. And they consist of the disappearance of the questions.

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