Friday, July 29, 2005

Frist Friday


Is Bill Frist running for something?

Maybe presidential candidate from the Democratic Party?

Or to BEAT the Democratic Party?

To the punch?

In a stunning change of course today, Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) explained in a substantial speech on the Senate floor why he would buck the tide of anti-stem cell research sentiment coming from the White House and the more conservative members of the Republican Party. It seems Frist's medical training and scientific mind finally kicked in and made some amends for his nutty posturing in the Terry Shiavo case. Frist IS an MD AND the majority leader, so his announcement carries substantial weight, and it's exactly the sort of momentum Democrats need to seize on now AND HOW.

Well, Dandy Dems, Frist has struck the match, but it's up to US, as the minority party "out of power" and out of big guns (with Dean marginalized as party chair) to take advantage of this and go all the way with it - fan the flames. Make stem cell research an ultimatum. Make Bush look like a fool to uphold his backward opposition. We lay people may not appreciate the intricacies of stem cell research and what we might gain from it, but believe you me, this is the sort of research from which we should never shy away.

What a ku - that's what we've got to do. Intercept Frist's ball, run with it, and come back on such a wave we can gather enough votes to override a Bush veto. Co-opt Frist and a slew of sensible moderates. That's the kind of knock out punch we need to start to take out Bush at the knees - get a few overrides and throw off his "both sides of the aisle" stranglehold. We need an override, and where better to get it than is something as progressive as this? And next, women's reproductive rights. Speak populism to power!

Human ingenuity and the long term good are what a lot of this is about. Quality of life is a moral issue. Health is a family value, you Republican dim wads. And therein lies a moral defense for such research - the key to a rich avenue of discoveries and cures far and wide. Whether it's stem cells or women's rights or separating church and state, the entrenched Republicans haven't got a moral fig leaf to cover their nether regions.

So let's give Senator Frist credit for seeing the light, and let's make it seem Bush and his pompously and pitifully pious bozos look like they are just flat stuck in the dark. We're going to have to make the "enemy" seem dumb, and it wouldn't hurt to pity them as they've found some success in pitying Liberals - as if the L word were the scarlet letter. Uh, uh! We're going to have to make them seem lke they are just that - stuck in the dark, stuck in the past. To do that, we have to be united as a party and as a progressive movement. And we have to make the benefits of medical and scientific research seem clearly good for all. We've got to promote ourselves, proudly, as the party of goodness and light, not greed and darkness. Let's pin those attributes on the Bush World Disorder.

To rescue and resusitate ourselves as a winning political force, we've just got to seize compelling issues and build on them relentlessly, taking in every Frist from the other side of the aisle we can, as they have taken some of our more weakling sorts.

I encourage you to tell your elected officials that we NON-neocons need to be the future-thinking and future-feeling people - with a party standing proudly for US.

We PROgressives need to be the ones defining Progress. It's OUR root word. We've got to own it - and own up to it.


Thursday, July 28, 2005

News of the Afeared

Turd Blossom. There. I said it. Some newspaper editors axed and even edited (!) Gary Trudeau's "Doonesbury" this week to cut out or even shield from their readers' eyes a perfectly suitable reference to President Bush's real-life nickname for Karl Rove - "Turd Blossom." Neither one of those guys is smelling too sweet these days.


I have this idea that men are, generally, making a mess of politics and (especially) warfare around the world. I'm thinking, a la Harvard's Pres. Lawrence Summers, that well-trained men have an edge on rational and scientific thinking, while, I suggest, capable and astute women have an edge when it comes to legislating and diplomacy - they'd be much better at homeland security, helping others to make their homelands secure, not stripped and sold down the pipeline, that's what I say. So I say kick a goodly bunch of the men out of Congress and the White House (vote 'em OUT, ladies) and make them researchers and advisors. keep those male egos in check; make 'em bend over for the executive femmes. Let the women make the laws and forge the civil compromises on which civilization and justice depend. When they seal that treaty with a kiss, I want to see lipstick on it.


And speaking of which... In a recent report, Amnesty International openly proposed that, because the Bush administration has egregiously abused international laws and treaties, President Bush, VP Dick and Def. Sec. Rummy should be arrested for war crimes. Sounds reasonably, but by who? Locally, stateside, by the Attorney General, I suppose. Fat chance there, with torchure-OKer Gonzales holding that seat. AI even went so far as to suggest that foreign countries might arrest any of the three if they stepped into their jurisdictions. Go Russia, go France, now we're gonna see Cheney's underpants. Yep, THAT would be a poker game. Can you say "nukes?" Sure you can. I bet you'd see the KGB hounds of our freedom-loving, law-abiding empire hunting down a prime minister or even a whole parliament real fast.


Jon Stewart has a new desk he's making fun of, but it's symbolic of the new emphasis "The Daily Show" has taken since moving to its new studio and set. Stewart's interviews are noticeably longer and more indepth. He's giving his guests more of a chance to say something substantial. And Jon's not quite as much the crack up as before with a guest at the table. The couch slouching is out. The 'Meet the Cable Crowd' table is in. But for those of you who used to snort your beer while getting your nightly fix, you still can in the first half of the show. Nothing on television is more "must see" funny than Stewart and company.


American's take more meds than any other nation on Earth. Second place goes to France, but we take 18% more than France does. Last year, Americans spent as much on meds as they did on gasoline: $250 billion in sales equals $850 for every American. Adverse drug reactions are reported at the rate of about 420,000 a year. More than 100,000 Americans die each year from medication screw-ups. And recent studies show that few new meds save lives or even work any better than their cheaper and more time-tested counterparts. P.S., why do drugs cost so much more in the U.S. than elsewhere? Our general affluence, of course. But that's not the bulk of the gouge. It's advertising. In 1989, the pharmaceutical industry spent just $12 million advertising to consumers. Last year, the industry spent MORE THAN $4 BILLION advertising to you. And WHO pays? Ouch. Take two store-brand aspirin or a couple of fluoxitines (generic Prozac), and DON'T call your health care provider in the morning.


Target stores placed an ad in many Sunday newspapers saying it would no longer be selling the violent (and now prurient) video game "Grand Theft Auto: San Adreas." Seems all that murderous mayhem only got the game a "mature" rating, acceptable to many retailers. But the newly tricked sex scenes have upped the ante to an "adult" rating. It seems one seedy sex scene is more shocking than hour upon hour of salacious slaughter.


And in related news today, The New York Times reports in a front page story that a brutish hobby called "cage fighting" is making a comback in the mid-sized towns of the midwest and plains states, 'where there's not much else to do.' This fist-fight frenzy is about as crude and crass as it sounds. Who expects the Ahhhnold Inquisition? Doesn't sound like the kind of event - even in the parking lot of a classy bar - to which I'd take a date. And this'll make you want to drink French beer - Budweiser is a proud (or at least prominent) sponsor of these cage fights.

What a country.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

This Mountain of Mine

In keeping with our speed theme this week, I present to you...

My choice for The Song of the Summer, 2005...

Coldplay's ubiquitous and haunting hit single "Speed of Sound," from their new album "X & Y." Those catchy piano chords and birds flying and "signs, I knew what they meant" and "this mountain of mine," yes, "this mountain of mine."

How long before I get in?
Before it starts? Before I begin?
How long before you decide?
Before I know what it feels like?
Where To? Where do I go?
If you never try, then you'll never know.
How long do I have to climb
up on the side of this mountain of mine?

Look up, I look up at night.
Planets are moving at the speed of light.
Climb up, up in the trees...
Every chance that you get
is a chance you seize.
How long am I gonna stand
with my head stuck under the sand?
I'll start before I can stop,
before I see things the right way up.

All that noise, and all that sound,
All those places I got found.
And birds go flying at the speed of sound
to show you how it all began.
Birds came flying from the underground -
If you could see it then you'd understand.

Ideas that you'll never find -
All the inventors could never design.
The buildings that you put up,
Japan and China all lit up.
The sign that I couldn't read,
or a light that I couldn't see...
Some things you have to believe.
But others are puzzles, puzzling me.

All those signs, I knew what they meant.
Some things you can invent.
Some get made, and some get sent....
Birds go flying at the speed of sound
to show you how it all began.
Birds came flying from the underground -
If you could see it then you'd understand.
Ah, when you see it then you'll understand.


No matter, up or down, all that sound or silence, I find myself with some blues and joy up on that side of this mountain of mine....

Carpe diem. Crank it up, those piano chords. Don't forget passion. Don't forget poetry. Don't forget obtuse insight and genius, all at the speed of life. Carpe vita!


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Discovery, Good to Go


In which we move from the recent success of the Discovery Channel Cycling Team to the ongoing success of the Discovery Space Shuttle....

As with Le Tour de France, hang in for a highly technical, challenging and - start to finish - compelling and dramatic Le Tour d'Orbit....

The theme is sort of the same, really, whether Le Tour or Lift Off - the stark, juxtaposition of fear and bravery, the tension, the orchestration of a very visual "human interest story." And there is the disparity between the audience, trained to be anxious spectators, mystified by the heights of human achievement, held in suspense (if they're paying attention), and the experts, trained to be matter-of-fact and so busy doing their jobs they don't have time to think twice or wax too poetic. Poetry is not their job. Whether Le Tour or Lift Off, man and machine. Whether Le Tour or Lift Off, the job is propulsion, carefully controlled propulsion.

Meanwhile, here's a theme that holds some water: neither great athletes nor great engineers nor able technicians make many great speeches. They're not often highly quotable - at least not a paragraph at a time.

I just watched the live news conference to spread the good news about the georgeous launch earlier this morning. There was, post-Columbia, more palpable relief and sentiment than usual at such a confluence of NASA nerds. But they were still NASA nerds. And it all comes down to the story - danger. A few days ago, CNN's Paula Zahn asked, "Is the shuttle safe? Will it ever be safe again?"

Well, it never was "safe," certainly not as safe as what we seem to want "safe" to mean - no errors, no mysteries, perfect, NO RISK.

Is your tub safe? Will it ever be? Is your car safe? Will it ever be? Why not ask about the risks you take driving your car, eating the foods you eat, taking the meds you do? There are definitely a set of things most likely to get you, I mean reach out and grab your mortal ass. And flying is not one of them. (Neither is terrorism or any sort of violent act. The point is: we fear "perceived threats" or "dangers" not statistically but sentimentally, and that's not rational. Still, to err is human....)

NASA gave the risk of shuttle failure upon this morning's launch as 1 in 200. Some say that's double the assumed risk as Columbia was headed toward lauch two and a half years ago.

We're not rational about relative risks because our brains are drawn toward drama. Fear comes faster than figuring out how to fix things, and we're speed junkies. So we're hard wired to be at least a little addicted to our fears. And these successful athletes and technicians are trained to ignore if not overcome or even negate those self-same fears.

That's why some of us participate and go for those heights ourselves. That's why billions more of us watch others go up and come down. Our fight or flight triggers are tickled. And this has, so far, been a big week for FLIGHT.

As was said back in the John Glenn days, "Godspeed." And we are still in the pioneering days of space flight, and so yes, "godspeed" to the stars - our human stars - earthbound and orbit bound, always vulnerable, always fragile.

"Godspeed" indeed.


Monday, July 25, 2005

"Vive Le Tour, Forever"

For the first time ever at a closing ceremony of Le Tour de France, the winner of the tour, the guy in yellow, the man in the maillot jeune, was given the microphone to say a few words. It wasn't an amazing speech by any means, but millions were probably glad to see Lance Armstrong say farewell in whatever way he could briefly muster.

Earlier in the day's final stage, as the peloton traditonally starts out slowly and rides a social, honorary non-competitive 15 or so miles an hour all the way to the outskirts of Paris, it was clear that this tour indeed had what some said it lacked - "panache" - tht this tour had indeed been appropriate to history, appropriate for Armstrong AND his competitors, new and old alike.

Lance had announced his retirement months in advance, so at last it could be seen, relieved to be near the end of such a grueling and record-breaking tour, that everyone could enjoy this spectacle as Armstrong's farewell - and not think him greedy.

Sunday morning, as many riders as could rolled by to shake hands with Lance and offer congratulations and thanks. Jan Ullrich rode side by side with Lance for miles, laughing, smiling, obviously recounting thrilling moments and episodes. Ivan Basso did the same. Even Alexander Vinokourov seemed all smiles, after all. Who would have thought then that "Vino" would once again rachet up his famous gamesmanship and pull out one final hurrah, beating the sprinters to their own game on the Champs Elysees?

For years, they called Jan Ullrich Lance's "enemy," but he never was. Perhaps foe, maybe threat, but best of all rival, even partner. Yes, partner. As in all great sport, it takes two to tango, and two greats make it a game worth watching, in cycling especially.

Cycling combines hungry and even angry agression with many more subtle gentlemen's agreements, and both Jan and Lance became bonded over the years in the light and shadows of those agreements and their persistent physical superiority. It takes great competition to make an athletic hero, and for better or worse, Jan was always number one in Lance's mind. Lance has said, 'Jan is the cyclist who wakes me up in the morning.' And Jan has said that he always wanted Lance to be at Le Tour because, he said, 'the tour should always have the best.'

Great sport, great journeys, are not about winning alone and above so much as they are about the covert and overt aspects of competition, of being a hero in the horde. So Lance depended on his team, yes. Stage racing is a team sport, and the team really does make a huge difference. (Perhaps with the preparation, focus, specialization and all-for-one loyalty of team director Johan Bruyneel's Postal/Discovery Team, another man could have won, even more than once in the last seven years. The team is THAT important.) So yes, the team matters, and it's nice to see those magnificent team time trials go off like clockwork and to see Lance's lifelong friend George Hincapie win a stage in Armstrong's final tour. But even the team is subserviant to the dynamics of competing superstars. That's why we gravitate toward a half dozen names, no matter what the sport. We remember the quarterbacks, the star forwards, the pitchers and batters, the demi-god Olympian rivals.

So to forge his amazing story, Lance depended most on his cheerleading, CAN-DO mom. (Mom, bon jour!) Then he depended on no one more than his honorable rivals, Marco Pantani, Joseba Beloki, Iban Mayo, Ivan Basso, Alexander Vinokourov and, above all, Jan Ullrich. It takes other great players to be seen as a superstar, and in the arena of France, these were Armstrong's.

At the podium on the Champs yesterday, Lance, for a moment, stood alone atop at the center, at the top, as he certainly is, alone as in some ways he is, has been and will be, even surrounded by celebrity and an entourage. Then came the charming Ivan Basso, also a dad, with his daughter in his arms. And at last came "The Keiser," Jan Ullrich, smiling again. And Janw hugged both men with what seemed to be genuine admiration and even affection. It was, as so many are saying, the end of an era.

Parting is such sweet sorrow, but cycling must go on, no matter how many cars choke our roads, no matter how wi-fi keypad virtual and couch-sitting these "modern" cultures become. We are still physical animals, men and women, who need sporting challenges not just to watch but for ourselves, in sweat and in spirit - especially those such as Le Tour, steeped in tradition, in history, in rules carefully orchestrated to create thrills and fairness, in gentleman's aggreements to give the event the panache of Honor and human uncertainty, combining muscle and mind - AND, as is the case in cycling stage races, the added glory of scenery, of geography, of mountains, of ups and downs, of climbing to the clouds and descending all too swiftly back down to town.

Thus trite but true, Le Tour de France is like life, and it's OK - GREAT - to be sentimental about Le Tour and Lance today and as we say farewell to this maillot jeune's illustrious cycling career. As Lance said in his little speech (of plainer words than here), he feels sorry for those who've been missing out on how awesome, how intriguing, how beautiful and dramatic, how downright Odyssean cycling can be, those who "don't get it," to use his pedestrian phrase. Maybe more are getting it. Maybe more will feel the urge now and next year and for years to come. Even in a wi-fied, shrink-wrapped, jet-setted, overly electronic and overly processed world of the future, what could be better than cycling? What could be better than those muscles and those mountains?

As Lance was about to hand back the mike and step down from that last high podium on Le Champs, he called out emphatically, "Vive le Tour... Forever!"

Friday, July 22, 2005

Riding Easier Toward Pari...dise


Boy heidi, I sent a post to about ten or so friends Wednesday which, because of what I thought was its considerable bite, became a draft as it were of yesterday's blog post [which see below]. From some of those friends, I got back some engaging responses [see the comments]. I'm guessing a few other friends ran for cover - just too much edginess - and there may be worries I was going to crash and burn. But alas, whipping out my Whitmanesque shadows and odes makes my day, so it was a good rhetorical, literary exercise for me - a mental mirror. But frankly, I got a bit concerned it might not be good for all concerned. Hence todays "Riding Easier" follow up, finishing out Friday on an up stroke and a smile.

Seems a few friends have gone through the summer's globally warmed (make that broiled) doldrums this year, not finding much good in the weather or in the sapien species of late, much less finding any good in the news.

I wanted to take the opportunity to let some of their worldly disdain has rubbed off on me - our cynical strains love company, too - and to put it through my own convex mirror and magnifying glass.

Life is either like a ditiful bundle of tasks, of convention played out in that petty pace from day to day, or it is like a vision quest, wrestling our fears like alligators, fueling our ambitions like a fragile race car. Or maybe, in some visceral ways, Le Tour de France....

As I progress along my own vision quest elsewhere and here at ABN, friends and dear readers, please don't take my current disdain for the big scheme of things too personally. All shadowy slides in good fun, don't you know. Sure, this is a bit of venting, and I want it's edginess to rile at times but also to bring smiles at times. And sure, it's difficult to swing around and about. But here we are, I hope, relishing the variety, getting some quirky glimpses at honest disclosure, saying more intensely what others say in muffled asides off the record, but still, it is a literary exercise and cathartic, strange as that may seem. The good cheer, the zany outbursts, the Seinfeldian obsurdity are always there or at least close by, a simultaneous strain.

As can be seen from my posts here at ABN, I've ridden high and low, near and far.

As le gran Tour de France 2005 comes to a close this year, many of us in the world of cycling are wondering what comes next, after the Champs E'llyse and the chamapagne. Lance Armstrong has transcended the realm of bicycle racing to become a symbol for over coming odds, for fighting back, specializing, for staying focused, for clinching wins. Many admire this combination of factors that has led to his phenomenal fame and success. But it all comes down to doing one thing well; if he had not been and then become again a supremely talented bike racer, he would be a footnote, nearly forgotten by now, sad as that may be to say. Even Lance has said, in humbler settings, that "fighting" the disease doesn't always make the difference. Many fight as courageously - some even more so - and lose. Dead at 17 or 28 or 62.

Most of us don't feel like fighters, and we don't really want to fight ourselves or fight those close to us. That's why we watch smarmy "superheroes" like Superman and Spider Man and Ahhhhnold and Battlestar Gallactica and on and on - a nearly constant stream of people fighting others and enemies and evil for our imagination. But we like to think we could fight our enemies or Evil or the Boss at Work or the Powers That Be or the common cold or cancer. We like to imagine "fighting" makes the difference. Oh, our crude roots hard wired and sparking our fantasies to beat this mortal trial. Most of us want an easier road to pleasure or paradise or even Paris than to have to fight for it every step of the way. We look to Superman and Lance.

But what about the real world? We need more than fight. We need more than hope. Lance has said that anger and luck are just about as important. And so life remains sloppy. Happiness remains elusive. And the struggle, if colorful and compelling enough, carries us through. We soak up those salient stories and mythic journeys from celebrities such as Lance, and we want to somehow apply them to our own lives. We want the joneses and the mojos of drama and success and meaning to rub off on us.

Most of us will never have supreme talent. Some of us may suffer not a lack of creative or industrious talent but a lack of talent to think clearly or to put our demons in their place, to ramp up our responsibilities, to reconcile our individual, unique difficulties with the culture and the world that surrounds us. That is what yesterday's post is to some extent about. It is about taking on the shadows of an Armstrong and the light of a Kerouac, seeing a quest before us, seeing greatness in this country, seeing grace and beauty and delight, but also seeing the potential for more of those things get squandered by complacency and get crushed by the powers that be. And those powers beat many of us down and back, from parents to primary school teachers to presidents. We want to overcome the odds. It is easier for some than others, and for those who can get so low and yet aim so high, the struggle is full of light and dark, black and blue, envious green and maybe, just maybe, victorious yellow.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Not So Easy Rider


Seems as Le Tour winds down towards Paris and as hottern' heckster July winds on in Texas, I'm sort of winding down, too. Summer slump in the bottom of July. Gonna have to renew those meds and fast, eh? Looking all over for that bone of hope in my bod'ster, feeling maybe a smidgeon but not a bone. And backbone? Ho. Salvation from such a den (and din) of eniquity is a tall order, indeed.

For some reason, getting this cut loose idea of escaping on a rail, a road, a bus, or (a shocker to me, the cyclist) a roadworthy scooter (like a small, sleek motorcycle - a lifelong cyclist has daydreams of going motorized?), gleeming Route 66 style, Kerouac style, Easy Rider style, out getting sunburned, being blown by the wind, getting the hell off the domestic, homeland radar, Easy Rider Lite, as it were. Nothing illegal and not really "free" of course, not in any absolute sense, but as the saying goes, "anywhere but here." Like the guy said, "If I owned Texas and Hell, I'd rent out Texas and live in Hell."

Guess I've learned lately and yesterday, too, that I'm just not ready to have any sort of earnest, committed or even really close relationship with anyone these days.

I am pretty much down on the lot of the species, if not quite the whole. Really now, what has this human race done for me lately? Or to be less pissy, less Eeyore, what have the masses done for the common good lately? Sound better?

[Dear readers and friends, not to worry and not to take this too personally, if you please. It may be serious and personal to me, for now, but as for you, you are freely living your own lives - and see the post "Riding Easier" above.]

Oh, the irony (and some of the what confounds my friends) is that I laugh so much, cut up so much, carry on and stay engaged. And here at ABN, I'm all over the map BUT REALLY (truly) trying to voice an altuistic - if pained and contrarian - consciousness, and mostly, in return, I get grit in my teeth and sure signs in the headlines and in the headlights that too many people, in power or not, are like supposedly "sentient" wrecking balls. In an often vicious circle, full of bullying if not quite blind desires, the consumers are also the consumables.

I seem to get along best with those who are unpredictable, sarcastic, even bitingly snide about the human race. I'm a supposedly social animal who misses the magic of leading/being on group tours hither and yon and now just wants to be/get footloose again (even looser, cut looser) out on the open road. Need a fix. Gimme a line, uh, um... a ribbon of highway.

Maybe, though, I just need those refills and a line up of fun feasts with friends, always a fine elixir for what ails us all.

Ticket to ride?



Feeling my Va Gogh-ish, Walt Whitmanesque dark side, and it just goes to show that creativity REALLY IS close to AN edge, if not THE edge.

The L'ster

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Dems Making Bad Baseball Players

The Dems will spit and spew and chew and swing at anything - just about any pitch - almostly wildly, flailing just to get a base hit. OK, so the neocons are experts at knocking up one foul ball after the next, the Dems strike out or slip in a few grounders and get thrown out at first base.

Re, the John Roberts nomination: Reeeeeeally gotta ask if it's worth it to the Dems to use up some of their cards and (measly) fire power and patience with the American people whom we need to vote/swing our way.

Here's a novel twist from a proud lefty: Let's let Roberts go. He's a shoe in. He's handsome. He could be Laura Bush's brother. Let's face it and say, hey, we're giving you one without too much of a fight (or too much fighting among ourselves) - and say so publically to store up some good will with the impatient public. Don't some of the Dems see the sense in trading things now for later, when the World Series of the 2008 election is breathing down our necks? I'm afraid none are thinking long term - just swing at every pitch that comes along. Roberts looks like he's got plenty of teflon, loads of the amiable/sane/modern factor to get through. So why bash the boats against rapids of our own making?

Don't our Rovian counterparts (who? where? huh?) see that we need to bank on the appearance of being judiciously selective in choosing our targets.

Then a season or a few years from now, Bush will feel emboldened to put up another Borkian advocate, and we can tie both the nominee's and the president's feet to the fire. Strategically, we need that to happen closer to the midterms or '08 campaign. Let's choose our battles wisely and give up some of the riots we might incite this round to really duke it out when the timing is better - around abouts late '06 and towards '08 when we want it to seem like everything Bush touches turns to Old World Order Mold, skanky, cancerous mold. Then we can step up to the plate - and knock one out of the park.

Replacing Rehnquist? Batta, batta, batta, swing!


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Blogs: Who Needs 'Em?

OK, so today, in about two hours, President Bush will announce his nominee to the Supreme Court. I haven't read another blog in days, but I am sure the blogs far and wide are all a blather about the nomination, guessing, speculating, alerting, drawing whatever attention to themselves they can - hot on the trail... of what?

Do we really NEED all this Blog Blather?

I mean, when it comes to blogs, "blather" has become one of my favorite words.

What a bunch of typing, full of sound and fury, signifying... not much, really.

Not much.

Why not just wait and see? I mean, it's not like we can outguess this one as we might a presidential campaign. These sorts of secrets are better kept and not so interesting.

I'm just reminded yet again that bloggers really aren't journalists. They're gossips, making a virtual industry of loose lips and hearsay. Bloggers aren't trained to sift and sort and carefully segregate objective information. They're shuffling, and won't it get old after a while?

I mean REALLY. It's mostly hearsay, doomsday, get out of the way, rehash, yada yada yada look at me. Aren't so many blog surfers just caught in the tide pools?

Hey, let's just get to the boiler plate, the nuts and bolts, more often. Sure, repetition and buzz can be persuasive and even powerful, but that's rare. As Woodward and Bernstein said on "The Daily Show" recently, a lot of journalists are not doing their jobs well enough, much less the blabby bloggers.

Let's just see what news actually develops rather than tripping over each others' virtual crossed wires trying to keep web surfing, blog reading addicts snorting a line.

... ...

Monday, July 18, 2005

This is Your Brain on Disney

[will revise this one and clean it up, promise]

Bush's Secret Plan to Corrupt the Iraqi Election.

Rove as the Wizard.

And Disneyland Turns 50.

We connect the dots.

Sunday marked the 50th anniversary of Disneyland's opening day in Anaheim. Now there are 12 Disney theme parks around the globe. Who would have thought a bunch of cartoon characters could change the face (and scramble the brains) of America?

Yes, the dogma of Disney, so saccharine it takes sentiment to the Nth degree, just about perfecting the personification of wildlife and making demi-gods of goody two shoe teenagers. All in living color. Or is it Memorex?

Disney matters. Does that seem silly? The Disneyfication of this culture has been a revelation and maybe even a revolution for the planet, most of all for Americans, who over the last 50 years have truly morphed into entertainment pods, expecting that our pursuit of happiness should be animated, dumbed down, made predictable and consumable, corporate and above all, Barbie-fied and profitable.

Now our brains on Disney lead us away from objectivity, away from complexity, away from reality, yep, away from nature. More than anything that had ever come before, Disney transported our silly minds and sentimental wishes into the realm of the virtual and the shallow. Disney said that what we can create that is fake is worth more, sells better and is more captivating and even more lovable than the grittier real life we seem to so dearly wish to leave behind.

Wish upon a star. Hope Lassie will rescue your house of cards and turn your elected pirates into princes. Grow up to be American Idols and rich basketball players. Or such up to and consume those who do grow up to be Peter Pans and busty beauty queens.

Seen "Wag the Dog"? Well, it's Wag the Mouse time. Disney played upon our innocence and then - get this - helped cause a backlash against that very innocence, in the same way we get tummy aches from eating all that sugar and shelling out for all that fluff.

So now, after 50 years, we're seemingly more eager than ever to snap up frothy FOX hounds instead of real newscasters. It's as if we were chomping at the bit to accept the fake reasons for a real war, to get all flustered over celebrities who behave worse than fake friends, to want games and distractions and "reality TV" more than anything real. In this maelstrom of Puritanical prudishness playing itself against lusty licentiousness, we're perverts, giving power to cranks and corporations, wearing their logos as if we're not really free citizens as much as we're corporate spores. It seems we want the Blue Velvet illusions of a good life with a bad transmission, at once Instant Messaging and at the same time grabbing slow-motion footage of ourselves as stand ins for our own lives, sucking down bottled water and batteries and fashion accessories and letting others in power gut us like fish.

We want a wizard in the castle, as in some light and dark Star Wars play, them and us, clearly labeled black and white, episodes that solve themselves in an hour, rides that are carefully engineered to go on just about as long as we want them to with our shortened attention spans and then stop and let us off for a $4 beverage.

It's OK for our government to pull the puppet strings of the rest of the world - but not them us. Oh, no, we're free and worthy. We have Mickey. We have Law and Order. We have CNN to keep us safe. But the mouse has been wagged, and the mouse is us. We've been slipped a Mickey alright. We've acquired a national taste for the covert over the overt, for wizards behind curtains, like God and Rove and the naked emperor and the Beauty and the Beast. Don't give us history. Give us Disney history. Don't give us news. Give us a little sound bite or film clip that seems like news with frosting and a cherry on top.

... ... ... ... ...

What's on your brain these days?

Friday, July 15, 2005

Harry Potter's Much Ballyhooed Half-Blood Prince Revealed

Yes, Harry Potter fans, just moments after the umpteenth HP book went on sale at midnight in London, 7:00 PM Eastern Time, 6 Central, 4 Pacific, the mystery revealed, right here on ABN - the identity of the mysterious "Half-Blood Prince."

Indeed, we here at ABN wrote about Le Petit Prince as recently as Wednesday.

Le Gran Prince with Machiavellian Might.

Yes, He Who Shall Remain Nameless As Long As Possible.

He Who Took the Oath to Uphold and Defend the Constitution.

He Paid on the Public Dime - and the Public Trillion Dollar Debtsky.

Yes, The Pious Prince, the Righteous Rogue, the Foiler, the Spoiler, the Grand Master Task Master Master Mind.

Yes, the Pale, Right Wing Dove of American Jihad.

Yes, friend and foe, the Enemy Who Is Us, the Emperor's Clothes, the Executive's Cloak.

The Ultra Supra Puppeteer, Minister of Bush-Brand Loyalists, Minister of Evangelical Evility.

Bush's Bespectacled Brain, He Who Pushes the Buttons.

The Machiavellian-Meister Behind the Curtain.

The Rovester, Karl with a K.

As in Das Kapital.

As in Mein Kampf.


You heard it here first.

And we guarantee our results, our Revelation, hours in advance.

Get the book. Get off at Station 1600 1/2 Pennsylvania Avenue, and read between the lines. You'll see.

Voldemort is Peanuts compared to This Guy.

There in fiction and fact: the Ultimate West Wing Muggle.


Thursday, July 14, 2005

Bastille Day: Le Tour de Couch

Jeez, I was away from a TV for a week - never owned one myself, by choice, so have to go crash in front of friends' TVs now and then to get my black and blue thumb on the pulse of America and the state of the pop world.

Now I'm back to being un pomme de canape [that would be French for "couch potato"]. I've been watching so much of "Luh Too'r d'Fronce" (or as schmingy Bobke the Bobster Roll says in his toothy grin, "Tour DAY FRance") in the last two days, I've got a serious case of lactic acid buildup. I mean so much surfing du cycling veel-AHges, I've got couch sores. Sort of like bed sores or couch sores, except it's a 160 pound couch instead of a 220 gram titanium saddle. (Or as toothy Bobke says it, "Tour DAY France.") Gotta get up once in a while to stretch and hit the Sonic for a lovely Route 44 bev - it's the Limeade with easy ice for me and in cycling Mike's case, 44 precious ounces of seriously caffeinated DP. You catch the drift... after watching for three hours at a stretch - even zipping through the commercials - what with all that leaning forward on the couch, peering at the perigrinations of the peloton and palpitations of the ecstatic spectators an ocean away, the lactic acid build up is intense, and one has to get out and spin around the block to Le Taco Suprema Grande to restore one's depleted energy and tank up on frosty bottles of beer or properly chilled (and cheap) French blanc de blancs.

The grand stage races in cycling, a la Le Tour, are like no other sporting events in the world as they eat up a whole country as their backdrop. It's like a rolling Cirque du Cyclistes, a caravan of high-tech gypsy jerseys, an Olympian event passing by hill and dale, village and vinyard at 47 kilometers per hour, complete with sporting and unsporting politics, peasant protests, cows lots of scenery and culture and background and history and flavor to give the thing a spectacle and richness and aura that is now drawing in neophytes to the cycling world.

Like my very pregnant sister, who is, at the tender age of 42, having twins within the week, induced or not. She's currently carrying over 12 pounds of offspring - but not far, doctor's orders. So the last month or so has been lots of so-called bedrest. That's a lot of sideways/prone/captive audience TV time, and she says she watched all of Wimbledon and is now watching every day of the tour.

And OK, so she's my sister, and I did find the man I'd introduce to her as her future husband on one of my bike tours (in New Mexico in 1998), but hey, it must be the drama and the spectacle of the tour which have finally drawn in someone like that.

Many more Americans are finally getting it. Racing bikes is as sweaty and difficult and dangerous as racing cars, and the edge is even closer, especially when careening alongside those cliffs and around those switchbacks in the Alps.

It IS epic! It is glorious! And the Tour de France is not all. There are other great races earlier and later in the year. I hope the fever will catch on. It is not just the team tactics and the cool jerseys. It's the geography. What other sport so soaks up the scenery, so pits man against such magnificent geography?

Tune in, and watch 'em "turn up the gas!"

Somebody catch that guy! Or at least breathe down his yellow-collared neck....

Meanwhile, back to the action, spills and chills in slo-mo and at 120 rpm...

They're digging deep down into their suitcases of courage.

Allez! Allez! They're dancing on the pedals!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Damn Straight! HIRE Karl Rove!

Remember, Wednesday is RANT Day here at A Better Nation....

FIRE Karl Rove? Who are we kidding?

Wish we could do it ourselves, but we elected "elected officials" who hire these guys and think they're gold. Feel like firing Rove yourself? Sure you do, the smarmster. I'm sure a lot of us feel that way, but hey, how about we HIRE Karl Rove, instead?

OK, so let's set this 'line-in-the-sand' ground war (more like a silly skirmish in the sand) straight, right here and now, re: the current calls to fire Karl Rove.

For starters:

Bush Rule Number One: Never Fire Anyone.

And the closer that person is to the president's ear, the more this rule applies, even if the handcuffs are coming down the hallways of the West Wing.

Loyalty ABOVE ALL is what the Bush administration is about. And that apparent loyalty, Up AND Down the chain of command, is the cement that makes Bush and his rollicking band of smarmy shysters seem so solid.

The Democrats and others who want Rove fired "to be fair" (to "get Bush to keep his word") are thinking inside the box, way inside the box, and those days are gone, at least for now and maybe another steely, fortified administration to come.

So let's not be naive, and let's not fool ourselves thinking we should be asking Bush to fire Karl Rove. We'll look like fools because Rove will outlast our pathetic demands, smiling like the Cheshire Cat. I think the calls by Kerry and Move On and others set the Democrats up again to be the pansies.

Don't settle for getting a guy summarily fired when you have a chance to hang him out to dry.

We don't need to be seen pleading with Bush to FIRE Rove. We need to HIRE Rove - or the closest Rove equivalent we can find. So where is he? Sign him up! Get the most powerful and prescient Wizards of Wonkery lined up on your side.

And as for that Rovian Wizard, better to press charges and have him ceremoniously arrested IN the White House while on the job playing Machiavelli's precious and precocious Prince.

And a follow-up:

The Republicans, I believe, have got their rules and their marching orders straight. Do the Dems? What's our Rule Numero Uno?

It seems the Democrats number one rule these days is to complain.

We'd better make it our number one rule to WIN.

As Woody Guthrie said, "Take it easy, but TAKE IT!"

So to this, we've gotta say:

Fight "fair" (by law), but FIGHT.

Nevertheless, yes, this sweltering hump day, we might be seeing a few cracks in the dam, and so, dear readers and fellow rantlings, I say...

Cheers ALL!


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Bleeps to Earth!

After yesterday's "Bleeping" exchange [see below], there was a Time Out, then new revelations of The Quantum Hoax, then Susan came back with a new question:

SUSAN: I'm curious about this debate: Do people really need to be literate to operate in the natural world - or only to advance as a culture? We define literacy in many ways now - reading/writing literate, ecological literate, etc.

As some guy in "Bleep" says, we look inside ourselves (and outside ourselves, even conjuring "God"), and yet we can't find the "observer" - the seat of our own consciousness that looks at ourselves and out at the world. We can't find the observer, but we can sure identify the judge!

LAWRENCE: Good question or questions. Try this answer on for size, and see what you think....

Hmmm, well now, NOW/in modern times, advancing as a culture - perhaps even surviving as a species - is, as it always has been, tied to operating in the natural world, under it's unchangeable "laws" and constraints, its "limits." So yes, we do need both now as never before - and by both I mean to function, survive/thrive in the natural world AND to advance as a species, with all of our various cultures.

Let's keep in mind what the "Bleep" talking heads might call the holistic view - just a catch word, really, for our environment - everything that surrounds us and interacts with us, often sight unseen or out of sight - and on which we are as dependent as ever. Let's remember (or consider anew) that a higher knowledge of nature includes understanding and being pretty darned wise about (if not expertly predicting) human urges, human actions and reactions, human instincts and consequences in ALL their permeated and potential variety.

Nature R Us. Nature includes the social in all animals and thus social and the cultural in humans. And this is an important point: nature, in humans, includes - certainly includes so far - the spiritual and fantastical, phantasmagoric realms, flakey fantasies, pseudo-scientific snake oil, stellar insights, Big Bang theory, quantum hogwash and all. Thus far in our evolution and behavior and addictions, we can't divorce our species from the weight and power of even the strangest dreams, the most irration (and unfortunately common) irrational behavior or even the elaborate expectations of other beings, other lives, and the supernatural. Apparently, the longing of billions - the vast majority of humans - isn't going away any time soon, no matter what scientific knowledge and the scientific method suggest. Jesus and Elvis are still a lot stronger than Bertrand Russell and Carl Sagan. That may be sad or even scary state of affairs, but we do have to try to function within the world as it is. You bet some of us see our species as (commonly) sadly crude, even barbaric, and also (but not so commonly) spectacularly inspiring.

If there were only a billion of us on the planet, maybe we could get by the old-fashioned way, gutting it out on faith and what we call "native intelligence," which need not be "literate," certainly not highly literate.

But now, testing the limits of the planet, digging out every precious thing we can use or consume about as fast as we can, without looking too far back or too far ahead, folks, we are setting ourselves up for a pretty big crash and burn. We need higher and higher amounts of not only literacy but intelligence and even good ol' intellectualism to survive.

Empower the Compassionate Intellectuals! I say amen to that!

We need more minds trained to think empirically and at the same time trained to be creative and innovative - not just leaders but consumers as well. To make a good show of things in this time of plunder, to really turn things around, to make this all a better place, we've pretty much got to be open to the big concepts of ecology and
interelationships, interdependencies, clashes of culture and power, ego and id, potentials and limits, rights and responsibilities. We've got to get a handle on our irrational demons and the best rational, reasonable tools we can muster. As is inferred in "What the Bleep," we've got to be attuned to our future prospects and "potentialities" (ugh word) for the evolution of human consciousness. (My old mentor Charlie Ogilvie would LOVE to be in on THIS discussion. Beloved Charlie, approaching 90, where are you, my man?)

So we need more "empirical," "objective," "secular," "scientific" thinkers, movers and shakers and FOLLOWERS. We're going to need a much higher portion of the world population to be such, and we haven't heard the last of breeding humans to get better overall results, to raise the average. Breeding humans, by choice, even with love and compassion for all, is outrageous heresy to our irrational, sentimental, religious reactions and emotions. But our future freedom to EXIST may depend on radical measures. Now there's an idea that tests the envelope of comfort and current political correctness. But we need to consider lots of ideas. There is a lot of fearly and conventional resistence to change and "progress," even highly altruistic progress, but the challenge is ours to keep a Very Large Array of mature and responsible concepts and options out there.

This all feels like a threat to those in power as well as those out of power or who feel threatened afraid or powerless since most people are highly vested in the status quo whether they see it, understand it or even know it or not.

The general idea here (and in "What the Bleep!?") is to ask us to question and perhaps even counteract the locked in, even essential brutishness of our nature.

But we can see from the growing sizes of the population and the problems we have both close to home and around the globe that we need billions, en masse, to be better thinkers, to, on the one hand, behave and act on their expanding, secular awareness and according to new findings. We don't need to - and probably can't - become devoid of sentiment. No one except a raging sociopath - or a heartless engineer - would really want that. But we do need to coax and shift our sentiments, again en masse, toward altruism, away from selfishness or selective convenience/opportunism.

Sounds dreamy, eh? Me just a goofy idealist crank, but big problems need big ideas. Big problems seem to need some salmon swimming upstream against the strong current of the status quo, to use the catch phrase "thinking outside the box," thinking outside the stream, thinking without vested interests in any one system, any one economy, any one culture. Now that is a freedom of thought few ever enjoy. Even most of the "freethinkers" are really fairly stuck, entrenched in the middle of yesterday's news and old ideas, too often based on politics, power, habits and money, instead of the source of all these conditions - the knowns and the unknowns of human nature.

We really do seem to be loosing sight of the common good, and we're not taught to be so accommodating but to strive and compete and get ahead.

I would say we also need to be more Buddhist, as it were, more compassionate, more empathetic, more open with our unknowns, our fears, our contradictions and discrepancies. I know I'm preaching here, but that's what I do. I'm an evangelical secularist, a compassionate humanist, a sentimental agnostic.

But hey, back to the show: We've got to show that our minds are playful, pliable, and resilient, more, in another word, "OPEN" to abstract, innovative, loosely formed ideas that may hold great grains of truth or at least things we might should consider, try and test.

We need to combine and reconcile, often and imaginatively, the natural, the poetic, the sentimental, the sensible, the awesome and the empirical. Few do well at reconciling these things. If there is to be much hope, we need "billions and billions" to do better.

The new intellectual age we may be seeing ahead of us or even entering, a few (post industrialism, post capitalism, post consumerist, post competitive?), is based on the new paradigm of... reconciliation - combining and unifying seemingly disparate
realms of thoughts, values, physical and emotional experiences. (Oh Charlie, you'd be proud!)

That is what human ecology is all about, otherwise know as "the ascent of man." That's really what our challenge is - to protect what is good and altruistic and sustainable- the virtuous, to jettison the antagonistic, the angry, the unsustainable.

So let's make a genuine continuation of our ascent our Quest, our Common Quest.

And our quest sure seems to be about MORE. It's got to be about BETTER.

So yes, it all comes back to nature - the nature we know, the nature we depend on, including our own nature - which is not so separate after all.

We are all in this together.

There is no "them," only us.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Bleeping Right Along!

After seeing "What the BLEEP Do We Know?!" yet again, this virtual conversation came up with friend Susan, tidied a bit here for clarity. Susan got her degree in philosophy, but she's really more of an 'on the ground,' practical, hands on naturalist at heart and day to day. By design and because of her sentiments for animals and plants, she treads pretty darned lightly.

SUSAN: Being of a more philosophical bent...

LAWRENCE: Whoa! What is that? More than what? More than who? And what does that really mean, eh?

SUSAN: Uh, hmmm, well the Oxford defines "philosophic" as "calmly reasonable, bearing unavoidable misfortune unemotionally." I like that. How's that? Maybe it's just that I'm being contrarian - or just contradictory? Anyway, I find the heat of the conversation that "What the Bleep!?" stirs up interesting - how each of us was hit somewhere in the brain or solarplexus with a 'bleep.'

LAWRENCE: I admire the film for it's ability to cause engaging conversations. i'm having a bunch related to the movie, and that has to be good - better "Bleep" be popular than "War of the Worlds" be so damned popular. I'd rather be challenged by goofy ideas than by carnivorous aliens. I'll take the flakey Ramtha as savior over flakey Tom Cruise as savior any day!

SUSAN: SO, why did the movie hit such a nerve (among us or the general public), inspire (to arouse, or cause, guide, communite or motivate; to affect; to prompt) discussion and cause folks to rush out and buy the talking heads' books, or join workshops to learn about Ramtha? And what caused them to be disillusioned - the fact that in the end they still had a lot of questions but a lot less money?

LAWRENCE: Well, as one person I read said, it's not the worst way to spend $8 - or rent it for $2. But that is the poetry of the film, that bullshit or not, we are on this quest to feel life. As the John Heard poet in "Mindwalk" says, "Life feels itself." It feels compelled to go for certain feelings and sentiments - some in "Bleep" would say we are "addicted" to these feelings, our emotions, our behavioral patterns. Our reactions are often crude reflexes, engrained in the cerebral habits of the animal. We want to feel connected, significant, mysterious, complicated, chosen, special. And those desires, those questions remain. Nothing has come along yet good enough, complete enough to absolve us of our desires to ask and know more, to feel better, to find - or I should say FEEL - salvation or bliss.

SUSAN: Well, that hunger for the quest is what inspires me about such books/movies. What are people looking for that they aren't finding in the "real" world?

LAWRENCE: Well, I'd say "Bleep" and "War of the Worlds" are both very much products of the Real World. It's all "REAL," it's just that it's not all in our own homes or in our own thoughts when we wake up in the morning or as we piddle the day away. A lot of life seems ordinary, and some things, good or bad, seem extraordinary, and it's those things which tend to engage us, wake us up, unsettle us, even threaten us. But we're addicted to wanting to feel threatened. The human animal needs its little kicks of danger and not too infrequently. Just witness how many versions of "Law and Order" there are on TV these days.

SUSAN: Or do we find or want more validation? Mostly it is the answers to the questions popped in the movie by the priest: why are we here and what are we supposed to be doing? And where do we go, be it under anesethesia or after death? And what the hell is out THERE? Who is observing and making sense of the world, our brains or our hearts?

LAWRENCE: Well, to be clear, the impressions of your "heart" are ALL inside your brain, just attached to a different array of peptides and neural nets, Candice PErt's so-called "molecules of emotion," as mentioned in "Bleep." And as for those questions, I think the answers offered in the film weren't flakey. Indeed, they were right on: we are here to try, to strive to endure, to survive, to learn, to create, to create things and ideas, to consider mysteries, to solve problems, to become satisfied with life and successful at living in the here and now. Religion is mentioned in the film, but its crux and its perspective are secular. It's about now, living well in the here and now.

SUSAN: Maybe stuff like this (the New Agey stuff) inspire a sense of control that science doesn't.

LAWRENCE: And religion doesn't successfully either these days. Control, yeah, but also AWE. Remember, people are addicted to awe and mystery and desire as well as to control.

SUSAN: But back to science. In the everyday world, only the scientists seem to "see" how it works, how things work, how it all works whereas to me, I don't see gravity, I don't see the laws of thermodynamics. I see the effects of them and only know that the laws exist because someone else told me that they do. And trying to wrap my head around black holes gives me the willies!

LAWRENCE: Well that would give you the willies! But as the film said, we usually "see" how things work when they bump up against something else, so you "see" in that way too, as a naturalist attuned to looking at relationships - no mystery there, really. You see nature and relationships in nature, micro and macro - bats and bees pollinating, certain birds attracted to certain plants - and on the macro scale, you see whole ecosystems, even global warming. And you see relationships in human nature and in social interactions. That's not heresay. In fact, making direct observations is what supposedly gives us common since - wish more of us had some - and wisdom - never enough of that to go around!

And Susan, you see? You're having a response to awe and poetry - the sentiment that we matter, which "Bleep" is really all about, "at heart." So give yourself a little more credit, eh?

SUSAN: But on a day to day basis, how does the big bang apply to me? And not all scientists are in agreement about the various "theories."

LAWRENCE: That's why they're called "theories." That's what theories are - a lack of focus in the facts gathered thus far, lack of agreement, the inability to conclude. It's agreement that changes theories into answers, however audacious or misguided. The better science gets, the more "right" we'll be. And believe you me, we are only at the very dawn of the time when science begins to shape the values and views of the masses, only the very beginning, and progress toward secular, rational knowledge will be surprisingly slow, especially to those who think we are already there or should have arrived by now.

SUSAN: So who do I believe since I'm not a scientist in that field? I've been reading a lot about the early days of science, and no one had an instant following because they had the "answer." Even Einstein is still being debated.

LAWRENCE: Well, as with quantum physics, our answers, even our best answers, are "tendencies." As [our friends] Raul and Sandy were compelled to point out, quantum theory is about potentialities, probabilities, "not possibilities," and they're right. But to that, in the context of "Bleep," I would say that human curiosity, which includes fantastical notions as well as scientific hypotheses and experiments, IS about possibilities, running the whole gamut - ALL possibilities, not just probabilities. That's why some of these notions and gray areas and fantasies seem so flakey, whether some aspects of "What the Bleep!?" or "War of the Worlds." It's just that I'd rather deal with the aspirations of "Bleep" much more than I would the gratuitous antagonism and animosity of "War."

SUSAN: OK, but in the end I suspect we pick things to believe that "seem" right whether it feels right in our gut or makes sense in our head.

AGAIN: Again, I'd have to say that all thinking takes place inside that cranium of yours. It's emotions that make some thoughts feel so different from other thoughts, a point made significantly though perhaps vaguely in "Bleep." The idea, in the beginning and especially toward the end, is to be smart enough, educated enough and "clear-headed" enough to make rational, reasonable choices as to what to believe - or think. But our beliefs must be open and pliable enough to evolve along with new theories, new discoveries, new "facts"/knowledge - and recognize but not necessarily demonize the multi-faceted frontiers of human curiosity and fantasy. We'd be negating human nature if we did that too stubbornly or stridently. We've got to dance with the better angels of our nature.

SUSAN: Unfortunately, we live in a world of filtered information: I didn't discover gravity, I was taught it by a teacher, who was taught it by someone else.

LAWRENCE: Well, you didn't discover dish soap, either, but it comes in handy, and you use it. You can see the results, whether it's soap or gravity. And hey, I find it FORTUNATE that our world has been "filtered" by some wise and ingenious people like Socrates, Newton, Copernicus, Ben Franklin, Henry Thoreau, Bertrand Russell, C.S. Lewis, Charles Dickens, Rachel Carson, Jane Goodall, Gandhi, Joseph Campbell and Mr. Einstein himself - and all of his descendents, who are debating and tweeking his ideas and "laws" as they should.

SUSAN: But my point is, in school, for example, or watching a film, we didn't perform or witness all of the experiments ourselves, and yet we judge and "believe." Are we "trusting" someone else to tell us what to see? What to think? What to believe? And how is that different from religion? We're still trusting someone else to give us the "truth."

LAWRENCE: I guess it goes back to education and intelligence, though as one guy in "Bleep" said early on, "You're responsible. You're old enough to figure it out for yourself." And that's what we have to do, more and more of us. Not all first hand but with our brains, these minds of ours that can think very well, extrapolate information, remember a million things and assess probably consequences. So Susan, unless this is just a rhetorical stance, give your brain - and your ability to observe and assess - some more credit.

I think our task - the essence of higher and higher wisdom - is to reconcile what we can prove - the "truth" as we see it or "know" it now - with a healthy skepticism so that we continue to test the limits and yet, at the same time, come up with new ideas and new experiments. We don't want to be too flakey, but as Einstein said in several different ways, poetically, playing to our sentiments (wise man), "Imagination is more important than knowledge." What we know and what we don't know keeps us going.

SUSAN: Oh, I'm just stirring things up.

LAWRENCE: Yes, you are, and good for you. My old 'thinking-cosmically' mentor Charlie Ogilive would be glad to know that we are at play, questing, trying to articulate - if you can't dance or refuse to, you're stuck, too decided for any prescient artist or ambitious/wise scientist. To paraphrase another mentor hero of mine, H. L. Mencken, 'We are here, and it is now. All else is mere moonshine."

Susan, as you so often say, play is good. We need more play. Well, this is life as play and experiment. Thinking is a struggle and a quest. And sometimes, we make up some of the grace to counteract the grief.

So everybody: go out and have a day with some grace in it. Grace that's real.

Friday, July 08, 2005

What the BLEEP Do We Know!?

What the *&%#@!!!???

Just saw a movie called "What the BLEEP Do We Know?"

Friends and readers, I think many of you'd like it A LOT. Maybe not mind blowing and definitely quirky (you wonder WHY sometimes) but well worth a few hours of your time to see something on your glowing screens besides explosive drivel - that is if you'd rather blow your mind with Big Ideas rather than dynamite. Spacey associations or a short fuse? You choose.

Ever see the film "Mindwalk"? Interesting, if slightly naive and stodgy discourse about similar paradigms, spiritual and scientific, starring Sam Waterston, Liv Ullman and John Heard, based on What's His Name's (oh yeah, Fritjof Capra) popular book "The Turning Point." Well, these would make an excellent double feature, if you could take time out to drink too much and then discuss the meaning of life and such. (I'm also reminded of the circuitous twists of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," my personal choice for Favorite Movie of 2004.)

"What the BLEEP" features Marlee Matlin, George Segal and other actors in a spacey allegory of sensory perplexity and animal urges, spliced together with some pretty bright talking heads - you know, a little herd of spiritual and scientific gurus whose books you may want to dabble in, just to feel like you're BS'ing in school again.

Should we call it "allegorical documentary" or just "more goosey hoopla about matter as thought and thought as matter and what the heck did that new agey 'Mr. Rogers Goes to Princeton' just say"???

Anyway, this spacey must see for those in the know loosely strings together quantum physics, consciousness, matter, reality, spirituality, emotion,
the spaciness of atoms and the density of the little thunderstorms in the brain, plus good ol' addictions (um, lust) and meaning (um, as in the meaning of life).

Big questions and a fun romp, really.

If you're a thinking, schpinking person with sphincters, a spine and a neocortex, you know, the sort of homo sapien sapien who wants to spice up some Big Ideas with a little worldly E!ntertainment - or, as in this case, Otherworldly? - then get this movie. Two craniums and five thumbs up.

And you'll see: it's not just all inside your own head, even if it is. Nothing is QUITE as it seems. It's all relative. There are still many surprises and NEW Mind Treats to be had. Think deeply positive. Have a grander Reality.

And have a nice stay.

Check it out online at:

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Not Sure Where This Is GOING?

Not sure where this is GOING?

Me neither, sometimes.

In some ways, I am hampered by my blog's title, "A Better Nation," even though that title and theme also gives me focus, and boy do I need some focus.

I've kinda got that ADD thing going, whether or not it's a real "disorder" or not. And how's that for irony? A disorder about disorder.

I've never owned a TV, 'cause really I'd be addicted to it, and I wouldn't have as much time to haphazardly squander my time in other ways, like watching the dust collect on the window sill. And my haunted house does have more than the usual number of spider webs. Ah, the nooks and crannies of this beat up old homestead somehow resemble the mind of it's lone (or is that no so "lone"?) inhabitant? Ok, lone human inhabitant, except for the ghosts. (It's my grandparents' old house. They last lived here in 1970 and 1991, respectively. My grandmother's old sequined and gauze-shrouded hats and dresses from the 50s are in the cedar closet. My grandfather's white tux with black trim, now slightly tarnished with age, still hangs in its dry cleaner's bag in "his" closet.)

So life goes on at different levels. Our levels tend to be multifarious - what some might call "scattered" or even "prone to attention deficit" - if we are acutely sensitive or aware or contemplative or sentimental or curious or ambitious people. And that's whether we've got good focus or not.

I do think there's a shared reality out there - and in here, no matter how small or big the view. We often mistake "Reality," as things are, capital R, objective Reality, with our individual perceptions of reality. Sure, our perceptions are varied. Each of us is unique, just like everyone else.

In other words, we share many things in common, including the same star dust that is the stuff of everything we see, even our own bodies. But we skew things, too. Makes us fascinating AND infuriating, determined to be hopeful and so often it seems, bound to a hopeless ball and chain, crude and curious.

So where is this going? With so many days to come, it will be a portrait of two things I keep both eyes on, with some hope: my country and myself. You get the view from here, harping on the negative lately? Maybe. Maybe that's a strange way to push for hope. There must be some deep desire to write so much about one's self and one's surroundings, interior and exterior.

For now, thanks for coming along for the ride.

Time to blow out some cobwebs and get outside, get moving, get back into the sweltering swing and, by afternoon, reptilian rest of these summer days, this summer daze.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

HWJV? How Would Jesus Vote?

Wednesday is rant day here at ABN. Buckle up for safety.

So if a person like Jesus were alive today (and there may be a few prophets out there, male or female, secular or religious, espousing virtues, living close to their beliefs), the question is... HWTPV? How Would That Person Vote? How Would He or She Vote? And yes, HWJV? How Would Jesus Vote?

And would he be a Democrat or a Republican or an independent or an affiliate of any other political party? Would he vote at all? Would he never miss a vote? Would he hide out in the hinterland, maybe making fun of those who vote? Ridicule them? Be a nonvoter? Apolitical? A marginalized proslytizer or a mainstream media monger?

Would Jesus encourage others to vote? Would he like the idea of secular democracy? Or would he promote a church-based state or a theocracy or a fundamentalist society?

I mean, does anyone really think Jesus himself would drive a Falwellian SUV and vote Big Oil? Vote against gays? Vote against women? Vote against teenagers' needs to take responsibility? Vote for big business? Vote for the Romans over the pacifists??? Come on. What a crock for fundamentalists to think they're taking the high road. They're riding a high horse, they are, angry and fearful and dumb as below average can be.

Yeah, I think Jesus would have a thing or two to say about government getting mixed up in supporting or bashing any particular religion. He wouldn't be a big fan of the 'blood for oil' program. He'd want the people to hide their babies from the empire.

I even think Jesus would say there's a better way to sort out the Jewish/Arab/Christian time bomb. Maybe we do need those seething masses to think another "son of god" has come down to set them straight. Certainly, few of them think we heathen humans can do right by any of them.

I don't think Jesus would want to give Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell the time of day. I think he'd work to undermine fundamentalism. He'd be on Oprah, not the 700 Club. He'd show a diplomatic disdain for the egomaniacal preachers on TV. I think he'd do humble bus tours, maybe drive a hybrid or, better yet, ride a bicycle (at least around town), wear plain clothes, live close to the bone, simply, be single, be full of wanderlust and bohemian values.

Then as now, now as then.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Tour de July


AUSTIN, TX: Usually this time of year I'm out doing some long haul road trips to go lead and support my bike tours, as far east as the Berkshires in Mass, as far west as Alaska. Lately, taking a sabbatical from leading tours, I've been having sudden and sort of forlorn flashbacks to scenes from the road on tours - great roads, lovely curves, dramatic climbs, the ups and downs, flashes of speed and scenery, great times with people from all over involved in the drama of a laid-back yet challenging tour.

But in the midst of my sabbatical doldrums, I'm vegging instead, living a bike life vicariously rather than precariously. It's sort of mindless, really, watching the billboard racer types of my sport on television. But hey, it's air conditioned.

I first followed Le Tour de France when Eddy Mercxk was heading toward the end of his career, in the mid-70s. Back then, there were just rumors of the Tour - no television coverage, no name recognition, no bandwagon, no Greg LeMond, no Andy Hampsten, no Lance. Yep, that's me: the OTHER L-cyclist from Texas.

Lance has won more Tours de France than anyone else in the world, and even on the couch here, parked watching the slow mo, I think back on my having led more vacation bicycle tours than probably anyone else in the world - over 120 since 1986.

So I'm thinking about what leaving that intense cycling world of the road behind. You have to feel some things to feel ready to let go. You have to feel some burnout, some inability to top what you've done. You have to feel that there may not be much more to learn worthy of the work. And you have to feel the spectres of new competition and old decline - nope, time waits for no one.

But then, in July, no matter how you feel as a cyclist, there is the spectator sport of Le Tour de France. It's not just sport. It's a drama of wills and weather. It's exotic scenery. There's a plot and playfulness and honor to Le Tour.

And as my contrarian spirit might have it, I'm a Texan and a bicycle pro who's rooting for Jan Ullrich and T-Mobile.

One degree of separation: I have a girlfriend and friend who dated Lance and subsequently made him the godfather of her daughter, then got shunned as Lance moved on and left a bunch of his early Austin friends behind. It's too bad Lance has tarnished his reputation around here, not with drugs but with letting others catch the dust of his self-centered focus. He's not a very good ex-friend.

So I have to side with the one guy who's added more drama and plot and suspense to Lance's career than any other, also an ex-partying family man but one who's stuck with his family: the "Kaiser," Jan Ullrich, the only other participant to have won Le Tour... and I do like those pink jerseys!

Go pink! Go Jan!

Monday, July 04, 2005

It's Independence Day

So be independent.

I think there is a common sort of caution that has gotten us into so much trouble in this country and on this planet.

The guys we supposedly celebrate today were diehard revolutionaries, ready even eager to make personal sacrifices to make the colonies a better nation than the parochial (and UNrepresentative) monarchy they'd left behind. Not a bunch of hot dog munching picnickers, this lot of American revolutionaries.

And still today, as then, we've got to educate ourselves AGAINST acquiescent nationalism, against blind faith, against state religion and promulgated religious furvor, against saccharine sentiment that blinds us toward our own ruts and addictions and rote status quo.

Karl Rove knows it. He's a brilliant American revolutionary, with his war of terror, his fundamentalist war that uses hate and fear - "a war against love." Rove knows, and do a few of us progressives as well, that ours is a more brutish and overreaching country than many would seem to admit or even see. Think King George, 1776.

Things American have not gone the way of the bleeding-heart diplomat since Reagan redesigned the definition of what it means to be a good American. It's Independence Day. Caution is not in order.

I am not so angry as all this "A Better Nation" tirade may sound. Hell, I've got my sights on human nature. I know we're hard-wired to it, not just out here on our own making a mess of things local and global. So I have an age-tempered awareness of what's up and what's at stake - a bit of Ben Franklin in me, I hope. Meanwhile, I am markedly less cautious than others - a bit of the Dean Democrat in me. Give 'em hell, those ruthlessly Rovian and selfishly state-sponsored powers that be.

My intention is not to be angry or pessimistic or cynical. It is to be realistic and to look with steely eyes at what might be best for the planet. It is, ultimately, to be patriotic in the real sense of the word - a voice for if not quite champion of what really might be best for all of us and all of life in the long run.

And it is a long run, folks, even if your American education has instilled in you the manic drive for momentary, hourly, daily, instantly messaged results, pushed and paraded and multi-tasked to the hilt - a culture in which quarterly reports are seen as the long term good of all that money and work.

So, my friends and fellow countrymen and women, have a non-nationalistic 4th of July.

I'm not boycotting the idea of cute parades and the visceral thrill of fireworks. But I would say that military honors is a nonsequiter and that we should not glorify the might and machinery or even the men and women of our imperial march.

I would say that people who appear to be conventional patriots are fools. my mind, itt does seem like a good time to make brash and brainless displays of red, white and blue seem like the costume and cloak of clowns.

I envy those who serve a better cause - and a better nation.

Be careful out there, but don't be too cautious. Supposedly, this IS the home of the brave. Let's see it!

Friday, July 01, 2005

COMING SOON: Ode to the Station Wagon

It's the Friday leading into the July 4th holiday weekend. Most years, I've been off leading bike tours hither and yon, loving it. Now the midlife reassessment crisis has set, and I sit homebound, suffering wanderlust for the far horizon....

That wanderlust comes from fairly early in my life.... Ah, the classic summer family vacation, the happiest times of my young life....

Yes, it seems so old-fashioned now, like something out of "Leave it to Beaver"... the big station wagon, loaded down, bags on the roof, kids pestering each other in the back seat..............

Coming soon: the remainder of this ode, including references to Stephen King and the Warren Report, yes, an indirect family station wagon connection to Lee Harvey Oswald.

Stay tuned, friends. Come back for more!