Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Courage of Carthage

What is amazing about Hannibal of Carthage is the will and innovation it took to carry out the logistics of uniting various tribes in Europe and bringing goods, weapons, elephants, and men from North Africa to Europe and to move this spectacle across mainland Europe and over the Alps into Italy itself.
The Romans thought Hannibal would never be able to attack Rome directly with the Alps protecting their back but Hannibal overcame these obstacles with force of will and genius. An army that went through the trials and tests of this journey was more than ready and hardened to face the Roman army in Italy.
When his men were at the foot of the towering peaks of the Alps the Roman historian Livy writes of Hannibal's speech,

"...you aim to conquer: how can you feel that anything, however hard, however dangerous, can make you hesitate?...steel your hearts to march forward."

It is believed Hannibal took 45,000 men up the Alps and 37 elephants. By the time his army was in Italy he had lost up to 20,000 men and most of his elephants...but even after this Hannibal's hardened army faced larger Roman armies and defeated them in battle. In one of the most lethal battles in history Hannibal's men slaughtered up to 50,000 Romans in the battle of Cannae. One day of casualties that equal the many years of American casualties for the whole Vietnam War.

"We have nothing left in the world but what we can win with our swords. Timidity and cowardice are for men who can safety at their backs-who can retreat without molestation along some easy road and find refuge in the familiar fields of their native land; but they are not for you: you must be brave; for you there is no middle way between victory or death-put all hope of it from you, and either conquer, or, should fortune hesitate to favour you, meet death in battle rather than in flight.
Think on these things; carry them printed on your minds and hearts. Then-I repeat-success is already yours. God has given to man no sharper spur to victory than contempt of death."

-Hannibal Barca (Livy)

Monday, September 29, 2008


Historians talk about the influence of cities through history not just nations or borders. Babylon, Athens, Alexandria, Rome, Jerusalem, Paris, London, New York and so forth. Cities have a special importance. Dubai is a city that at this point in time is rising to influence on a global scale.

Scenes from Dubai...

Contra Palinism

Here are excerpts from an editorial from Roger Cohen that carries insight into this anti-international Palinism. Palinism versus global connectedness.

"Exceptionalism has taken an ugly twist of late. It's become the angry refuge of the America that wants to deny the real state of the world.

From an inspirational notion, however flawed in execution, that has buttressed the global spread of liberty, American exceptionalism has morphed into the fortress of those who see themselves threatened by "one-worlders" and who believe it's more important to know how to dress moose than find Mumbai.

That's Palinism, a philosophy delivered without a passport and with a view (on a clear day) of Russia.

Behind Palinism lies anger. It's been growing as America's relative decline has become more manifest in stagnant or falling incomes, imploding markets, massive debt, and rising new centers of wealth and power from Shanghai to Dubai.

The damn-the-world, God-chose-us rage of that America has sharpened as U.S. exceptionalism has become harder to square with the 21st-century world's interconnectedness. How exceptional can you be when every major problem you face, from terrorism to nuclear proliferation to gas prices, requires joint action?

To persist with a philosophy grounded in America's separateness rather than its connectedness would be devastating at a time when the country faces two wars, a financial collapse unseen since 1929, commodity inflation, a huge transfer of resources to the Middle East, and the imperative to develop new sources of energy.
Enough is enough.

The basic shift from the Cold War to the New World is from MAD (mutual assured destruction) to MAC (mutual assured connectedness.)
Which brings us to the first debate Friday between Obama and McCain on foreign policy. It will pit the former's universalism against the latter's exceptionalism.

I'm going to try to make this simple. On the Democratic side you have a guy whose campaign has been based on the Internet, who believes America may have something to learn from other countries (like universal health care), and who's unafraid in 2008 to say he's a "proud citizen of the United States and a fellow citizen of the world."

On the Republican side, you have a guy who, in 2008, is just discovering the Net and Google and whose number two is a woman who got a passport last year and believes she understands Russia because Alaska is closer to Siberia than Alabama.

A new century demands new thinking. "

Rome L.A.

It has been said that Rome is like Los Angeles with historic ruins. Here the statue of Giordano Bruno (the hooded friar philosopher) is surrounded by modern consumerism. The Renaissance meets modern advertising.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The McCain Problem

"Above all, the John McCain I covered in 1999-2000 was -- he said -- convinced that two factors were undermining the interests of the United States: its cultural wars, causing political gridlock in Washington and civic discontent across the land; and the unbending agenda of the right-wing of the Republican party that, in his view, had been captured by the Christian conservative movement and bore disproportionate responsibility for the poisonous state of American politics."
-Carl Bernstein

The internal culture wars in American politics are weakening the American experience at home and abroad. Palin represents McCains willingness to go the way of Karl Rove and leave his Maverick brand in shatters.

Remember what McCain said about the same people who identify with Palin? He stated,

"Governor Bush is a Pat Robertson Republican...political intolerance by any political party is neither a Judeo-Christian nor an American value. The political tactics of division and slander are not our values, they are corrupting influences on religion and politics, and those who practice them in the name of religion or in the name of the Republican Party or in the name of America shame our faith, our party and our country. Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right. We are the party of Ronald Reagan, not Pat Robertson. We are the party of Theodore Roosevelt, not the party of special interests.We are the party of Abraham Lincoln, not of Bob Jones...we will be a party as big as the country we serve."

The Palin pick is a direct contradiction to the McCain of those days. Instead of a party as big as the country it is as small as the faction it serves.

"Can we now admit the obvious? Sarah Palin is utterly unqualified to be vice president. She is a feisty, charismatic politician who has done some good things in Alaska. But she has never spent a day thinking about any important national or international issue, and this is a hell of a time to start. The next administration is going to face a set of challenges unlike any in recent memory.
Obviously these are very serious challenges and constraints. In these times, for John McCain to have chosen this person to be his running mate is fundamentally irresponsible. McCain says that he always puts country first. In this important case, it is simply not true."

-Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek International

Matt Damon expressed his deep concerns about the Palin pick that more people are coming to grips with...

"She has not been engaged in national issues, does not have a repertoire of historic patterns and, like President Bush, she seems to compensate for her lack of experience with brashness and excessive decisiveness.”

-David Brooks

The Palin Problem

The Republicans and Palin make fun of cosmopolitan yet when America has such reach into the world it would not be a bad thing to have leaders who have a deep understanding in various areas on the globe. At least an interest. What is troubling about Palin is her disinterest in foreign affairs and her snide remarks about people who care about global experience as if being globally aware is unamerican. Running on ignorance as a virtue can only be a political ploy not a serious reason to be a leader. Palin represents a very specific identity group(conservative christianist)that prides itself in being certain on everything with no need for evidence and has a very small definition on what it means to be American... her leadership would be limited to that faction. But even in that faction Palin is below the standard because there are christianists who at least show an interest and a working knowledge in international relations. In the age of globalization Palin would be a problem not just for the world but for America itself.

The Katie Couric interview is very revealing. Saturday Night Live did its job in responding to the interview with art imitating life.

Kathleen Parker, a conservative writer for the National Review, stated, "Palin filibusters. She repeats words, filling space with deadwood. Cut the verbiage and there’s not much content there...If BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself."

Palin claims she understands the world by reading not by traveling or experience...so when pressed by Katie Couric what she reads to supplement her lack of experience she is not able to reference one source...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Giordano Bruno

"Giordano was born five years after Copernicus died. He had bequeathed an intoxicating idea to the generation that was to follow him. We hear a lot in our own day about the expanding universe. The thought of the Infinity of the Universe was one of the great stimulating ideas of the Renaissance... He suffered a cruel death and achieved a unique martyr's fame. He has become the Church's most difficult alibi. She can explain away the case of Galileo with suave condescension. Bruno sticks in her throat."

-Dr. John Kessler

The Catholic Church condemned this Renaissance thinker and in 1600 burned him alive. Still the Church does not fully own up to its reactionary brutality against the philosopher friar more valuable than a hundred of their popes who have at times been small, greedy, and impotent representatives of the Nazarene they claim to serve. Before he was taken to his place of execution the jailers stopped his tongue with a leather gag and set him on a mule. Today Giordano Bruno's statue faces the Vatican and his passion for knowledge and intellectual fortitude should not be forgotten in the flames at the hands of an insecure institution. He was against the small world of the Catholic hierarchy and for the great expansive universe. He stood up to a stale and stagnant order that no longer served human progress but only its earthly king.

"I fought, and that's a lot. I thought I could win ... but nature and luck curbed my endeavour. But it's already something that I took up the struggle, because I see that victory is in the hands of Fate. In me was what was possible and what no future century will be able to deny to me: what a winner could give from his own; that I did not fear death, that I did not submit, my face firm, to anyone of my breed; that I preferred courageous death to pavid life."

- Giordano Bruno

Friday, September 26, 2008

Out of Africa

Scientists have traced the path of human migrations through DNA and the human ancestry process started in East Africa. Africa is our common geographic origin.

"Almost all our DNA-99.9 percent of the three billion letters, or nucleotides, that make up the human genome-is the same from person to person."
-Scientific American

"There is no race. What we see from the standpoint of genetics is geographical gradients. There are no sharp differences between Europeans and Asians. From Ireland to Japan, there is no sharp boundary where something has changed completely."


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Intellectual Irony

"Irony may be defined as the conflict of two meanings which has a dramatic structure peculiar to itself: initially, one meaning, the appearance, presents itself as the obvious truth, but when the context of this meaning unfolds, in depth or in time, it surprisingly discloses a conflicting meaning, the reality, measured against which the first meaning now seems false or limited and,in its self-assurance, blind to its own situation."

-Norman Knox

It seems in the arena of politics it is a rich resource for comic irony. The Daily Show and the Colbert Report have plenty of material to choose from. In politics one must appear as something while dealing with actual realities and changing circumstances. Comic irony is important because it is an exercise in critical thinking. To NOT be blind to your situation or to others for that matter. Being an intellectual in the way Camus stated is something of a virtue- to watch your mind. To be alert to its laziness or prejudice. To be self aware and to be vigilant against your own assumptions and understanding of your own limitations. To be able to criticize your own argument or point of view is necessary for sharper arguments and stronger advocacy.

"An intellectual is someone whose mind watches itself."

-Albert Camus

“Irony is the happiness of reflection and the joy of wisdom”

-Anatole France

Pangea Progress

I agree with the sentiments of Thomas Paine when he said the world is his country and all peoples are his kin. Some may view this utopian but its roots lie in the higher perspective where planet Earth is looked upon as one planet and we the human species are united by our common habitation, our common origin, and our common mortality. The actual is greater than the superficial and the certainty of death can be a driving force for solidarity and not a suppresed anxiety that drives us towards division and despair. Our connections are deep and our differences are at times shallow. This is my hope that we move towards a progressive world of Pangea and leave behind the puddles we have wallowed in for far too long.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Ripple of Hope

"Everywhere new technology and communications brings men and nations closer together, the concerns of one inevitably becomes the concerns of all. And our new closeness is stripping away the false masks, the illusion of differences which is the root of injustice and of hate and of war. Only earthbound man still clings to the dark and poisoning superstition that his world is bounded by the nearest hill, his universe ends at river shore, his common humanity is enclosed in the tight circle of those who share his town or his views and the color of his skin."

Bobby Kennedy

Normal world?

"There are some oddities in the perspective with which we see the world. The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be."
-Douglas Adams

The Denial of Death

Ernest Becker, the Pulitzer Prize winning author, wrote, “In order to turn out a piece of work the author has to exaggerate the emphasis of it, to oppose it in a forcefully competitive way to other versions of the truth…the problem is to find the truth underneath the exaggeration.”

The will to meaning within the human experience has had important consequences for the world. It is hard to exaggerate the influential aspects of the pursuit for purpose in the conext of death anxiety. The will to meaning in the human experience has given so many the strength to deal with the blows of fate. But there is a dark side to the will to meaning and the denial of death.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A grain of sand in the Universe

A journey that shows our place in the galaxy. An amazing reality to attempt to grasp at and wrestle with. Quoting the scientist James Jean,"Standing on our microscopic fragment of a grain of sand, we attempt to discover the nature and purpose of the universe which surrounds our home in space and time...a millionith part of a grain of sand out of all the sea-sand in the world."

Comic Sanity

The sanity of comedy pointing out the absurd of the "serious" divine guides of society...

Dostoevsky’s Dualism

When Fyodor Dostoevsky was arrested on April 23, 1849 and sentenced to death for being a radical and threat to the Czar-- the Russian police had him lined up in the freezing cold and ready to shoot him down. They left him there waiting for the blast of gunfire that would take his life. During this time the others lined up broke down but Dostoevsky remained steadfast. After this exercise he was imprisoned in Siberia and spent four years of hard labor with many other prisoners who were in for murder. During this time Dostoevsky realized that these fellow brutalized humans in Siberia were what he called the strong sick man. They had a strength and a resource that the average human could not draw from but this inner power was poisoned with the criminal mind. Dostoevsky recognized a virtue in this inner force that was a push back with energy that gave one the resources to deal with anything. Dostoevsky's dynamic dualism. Dostoevsky had a critical mind to be able to see the good in the presumed bad and the bad in the perceived good.

In the movie Eastern Promises the character Nikolai played by Viggo Mortensen reminds me of Dostoevsky's strong criminal. A dual force of brutal strength and compassion with understanding. This dualism is what Dostoevsky was observing in the harshness of that Siberian prison. ElieWiesel who survived the hell of Auschwitz wrote, "But now, I no longer pleaded for anything. I was no longer able to lament. On the contrary, I felt very strong… My eyes had opened …" That resource that came to him as a bolt of lightning can be very powerful as long as one survives its touch. It is like an eagle that does not look for shelter during a storm but rises above the clouds and the storm itself. Tupac talked about a rose that grew from concrete. It would rise with deformities due to its struggle but it would be much more powerful and stronger than most for the same reason.

A deep pool of strength and defiance energized by adversity and yet it is combined with a calm steel like peace. Like the fictional fight club it starts with cookie dough characters whose biggest crisis is missing their favorite tv show and ends in those being carved out of wood and tougher than leather who are able to remain resolved and cool in various degrees of high drama. "We burn the fat off our souls."

Woody Allen terrified of the void

Woody Allen keeps the quotes coming at age 72...

"Movies are a great diversion because it's much more pleasant to be obsessed over how the hero gets out of his predicament than it is over how I get out of mine."

"I can't really come up with a good argument to choose life over death," he says. "Except that I'm too scared."

In real life, however, he believes there are no happy endings. "It's like the beginning of 'Stardust Memories.' The trains all go to the same place," he says. (And no, that place is not "jazz heaven," as a character in that film hopes.) "They all go to the dump."

"Your perception of time changes as you get older, because you see how brief everything is," he says. "You see how meaningless … I don't want to depress you, but it's a meaningless little flicker."

The Large Hadron Collider

The Collider points to our common origin and universe. The essence of our links to each other and the world.

Empty Language

The limits of discourse in politics leads to over simplifications to complex issues. Something Steven Pinker alludes to...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Limits of Labels

Lazy labels and pretentious presumptions....

"So little do the people understand me that they will not even understand my complaint that they do not understand me."
–Soren Kierkegaard

"Man cuts out for himself a manageable world."
–Ernest Becker

"The very purpose of ideal types is to simplify a complex reality."
–Patricia Crone

"You don't know me!" How many times has the immature reactionary teenager been quoted with such an emotional statement of hyperbole and yet as Gerry Spence can attest to, "The wise man listens even to the village idiot."
Humans have an affinity toward labels because it assists the species in coping with a world and universe that does not operate by the rules of manmade systems. When an earthquake under the ocean takes place and produces a Tsunami it does not think of country, race, ethnicity, or politics. The Tsunami kills what is in its path with no labels to direct its course. But in the human order labels become extremely important because it gives humans the illusion of control. Humans want to understand and in their rush to understand they come to lazy conclusions and generalizations to comfort their lack of control and knowledge in a chaotic and overwhelming universe. People like to judge not necessarily because they are self-righteous but rather like a computer program they process information immediately…no matter how small or limited the information might be. The bigger the gap in knowledge or experience the more necessary it is to rely on the illusion of labels that is based on little or no reality.

A little knowledge mixed with a compulsory need to understand in real time leads to pathetic and cartoon like conclusions. Instead of taking the time and resources to study and understand something thoroughly it is easier to rely on the crutch of labels to once again ease your troubled mind. Complexity, ambiguity, and mystery do not give comfort to the human who lives in a bubble of his or her own prejudices. Life is a dichotomy of necessity and possibility and those who ignore either one do so at their own peril. Necessity is more difficult to ignore but possibility still exists only waiting for the person of daring to take advantage of it.

Things that usually fit nicely into boxes are not living things and if they are they usually are forced there. We clip a bird's wings to force them into cages and we clip our own thoughts to imprison ourselves in the secure confines of ignorance and prejudice. Kierkegaard stated, "Once you label me you negate me." For instance expressions such as "well he or she is _____ therefore…" Fill the blank in with religion, ethnicity, political or cultural identifications and you see the apparent presumptions. Once people label someone they become prisoners to their own prejudice. So psychologically they are able to negate the other no matter what truth or logic is being communicated. That is the paralyzing impact of label pushers but unfortunately some would rather be paralyzed in ignorance than take on the burden of free thought. The label becomes the filter and only information that coincides with the label is able to come through, thus the arrogance of ignorance is reinforced. It is safe and comfortable in the cage of prejudice and pretentious thought but you are only negating yourself in the process. When Kierkegaard said that by labeling him you negate him there is a boomerang factor in this process. Negating and labeling others also limits your own possibility and intelligent inquiry. You retard yourself and in doing so only wrap a chain around your own mind. In truth one negates oneself by imprisoning ones own thought possibility. You imprison yourself when you prejudge others based on shallow information. You limit yourself to the shallow waters of labels and presumptions instead of daring out into the deep ocean of possibilities.

People have more of a diverse and intricate background than their skin, religion or country of origin suggests and those who do not have the intellectual fortitude or courage to know otherwise are only allowing themselves to sink deeper into their own mental prison.There are people who will judge a man with as little information as his skin color. That is the height of hubris. Ignorance always attaches itself to arrogance.

I am skeptical of those who speak with certainty on whole groups because unless they have lived a thousand years in a thousand different worlds and experiences they are limited by their minute time and space on this earth. It is important to accept and admit ones own limitations in order to accept the wisdom that only comes by patient observation over time. The fountain of wisdom does not flow like the Niagara Falls but rather drips incrementally and painstakingly. People who rely on generalizations and labels are handicapped in their knowledge and proceed to assist their weakness with judgments that are as lame as their ego. People are afraid of not knowing so they rely on hearsay or one previous experience to ease the pressure or tension of complexity and possibility. Humans should be able to reflect and not simply react. Some people actually base their judgments of whole groups of persons based on meeting one person they consider part of that group…and usually the connection is a shallow one at that.

Some people have made an issue over Barack Obama's middle name. The same people who come to anemic presumptions over a name are also the same ones who were tantalized by a news report that Mr. Obama went to a Madrasah as a child not knowing that Madrasah is simply an Arabic word implying school. Barack Obama went to school and that was an issue? This deluge of information in the modern world is not being absorbed perhaps because of human limitations of time and space. There is too much information and not enough time to process it properly

Between necessity and possibility humans unnecessarily trap themselves into fixed ideologies ironically making it impossible to experience life in the chaotic yet freeing realm of possibility. Kierkegaard wanted this epitaph on his tomb "Here lies an individual." Being part of a group or identifying yourself with something larger may be a biological instinct but it can also be an intellectually limiting force. Groups can give you security but in doing so the herd can also limit your realm of possibility. To not have identity or origin or "home" can cause anxiety and dread as Kierkegaard knew but the opposite impact can be a life of diverse experience and greater expansion. Lil Wayne spit this lyric that "if you are not flying you might as well hate." To second that I say if you are not flying with your thoughts and the possibilities that come with it you might as well hate in your ignorance. Haters are very skilled at critiquing those who fly. To paraphrase Immortal Technique, "Your opinions of me are like little kids throwing ice cubes at the sun." Again I second that to say that you label pushers are wasting your time and your mind with the ice cubes of presumptions compared to the gigantic and expansive heat of reality and possibility. (Here is a possibility and that is we don't even know ourselves much less that someone else does or is capable to.) Know thyself the ancient Greeks proclaimed…a much more worthy endeavor then prejudging others. Think out of the box and others who put you there can stay there. ***