US and Iran: Exceptionalism, not Imperialism, in Extraordinary Times

Sixty years after the CIA-orchestrated coup d'état that replaced democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh with a military government that effectively allowed Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi to rule as the absolute monarch until the United States could not prevent his overthrow in 1979, a 15-minute phone call broke the 34-year freeze in relations between two very influential players on the global stage. On Friday, September 27, 2013, US President Barack Hussein Obama's call to newly elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani marks a momentous occasion that, in concert with the dramatic saga that brought about the UN resolution on the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons program, should assuage any doubts that Obama is, indeed, creating the change in US foreign policy that the world had expected from him.


In his address the UN General Assembly, Obama asserted US exceptionalism – and in a sense, he's right.

By virtue of its military superiority, its economic power, and its cultural influence, it can't be denied that the United States is exceptional. The world has looked to the United States for inspiration and leadership since its constitution became the benchmark for all codified constitutions established by every free republic to come. In 1886, the people of France presented the Statue of Liberty to the United States to celebrate not only freedom as a republican value but also the promise of the expansion of freedom that Lincoln's victory in the Civil War represented. During the two world wars, the Allies in Europe called upon the United States to help them stand up against imperialist expansion. Today, the cultural reach is global, as billions of people throughout the world enjoy the music, entertainment, and technology generated by the United States.

Of course, the idea of exceptionalism is cringe-worthy when used with a sense of arrogance and entitlement; and of course, outside of US borders, the people of the world are fond of neither the insidious way that the US government has used them as pawns in its global power plays nor the annoying way that people from the United States tend treat them dismissively.

But exceptionalism doesn't necessarily have to take on that connotation when simply alluding to the realities that the United States, like every great world power that has had its moment in history, has exceptional qualities that are what brought it to prominence on the world stage and that, since the fall of the Soviet Union, it has been the world's single superpower.

Because isolationism is not an option in today's globalized world, in its role as a world leader, the United States has certain obligations to the international community; and there is some merit to the argument that those obligations include taking on the responsibility of enforcing what Obama called at the UN "a prohibition whose origins are older than the United Nations itself." Of all the atrocities of war, the use of chemicals as weapons of war is the atrocity that has engendered the deepest abhorrence, and it has the longest legacy of societies coming together to prevent it. So, despite all other moral crimes ever committed by the United States, the president's decision to enforce the chemical weapons ban carries exactly the kind of moral authority that the president of the United States should be exhibiting. The wisdom of using bombs to do this is what is questionable, not the mandate for the leader of the international community to enforce its ban.

Thankfully, whether by shrewd plan or sheer serendipity, Obama has succeeded, without using military force, in ensuring that chemical weapons are now far less likely to be used by either the Syrian rebels or the Assad regime. The threat of force by the most powerful military in the universe, combined with dogged behind-the-scenes diplomacy, has brought the much-needed engagement of international actors, and this engagement could lead to real solutions for the people of Syria – a prospect that is all the more hopeful as the opening of relations with Iran brings that country into the process, as well.

Not imperialism

While embracing exceptionalism, Obama rejected the notion of US imperialism in his speech at the UN, at once acknowledging the past and stressing a change in direction when he mentioned "a hard-earned humility when it comes to our ability to determine events inside other countries." He referred to the idea of "American empire" as "useful propaganda," which, he pointed out, "isn’t borne out by America’s current policy or by public opinion" – and again, to a large degree, he's right.

Public opinion in the United States has demanded a contraction of military intervention as well as far more accountability in everything from Obama's drone policy, to NSA spying, to the latest round of free trade agreement negotiations – all of which mark a decided turn away from support for the use of the nation's exceptional power to ensure its own interests whenever and wherever it can with impunity.

Still, the United States has a long ways to go to throw off the yoke of the imperialist bully, especially with the constant drip of NSA leaks inflaming passion against the US government both at home and abroad.

The Snowden Affair has made for good political theater in Latin America, although in reality, it changes little, as the trend away from US influence was already well established. Having failed to progress out of its paternalistic Cold War mentality toward the region, the United States has squandered the opportunity to build stronger economic relationships, leaving a void that other world powers – notably, China and Iran – have been quick to fill. And along with a sea change in attitudes toward drug policies sweeping the hemisphere, Mexico and Central America are beginning to rethink their militarized policing, which will bring a waning of the US' heavy hand in the name of security in the region. The age of US imperialism in Latin America has quietly slipped away.

Surprisingly, it is from the very heart of the Middle East, in the very midst of tumultuous times, in the very birthplace of CIA interventionism, that another sea change is occurring. On June 15, 2013, the Iranian people elected Hassan Rouhani as president with more than 72 percent of the vote. Having been the chief negotiator on Iran's nuclear program for 16 years before resigning under Ahmadinejad's hard-line presidency, he has wasted no time in setting a new course toward easing tensions in the region and opening up diplomacy with the West. At home and at events during his historic visit to New York, such as Rouhani's talk before the Council on Foreign Relations, he has continually stressed the danger of extremism, pledging to establish Iran as a stabilizing influence in the troubled region – particularly in regard to Syria and Afghanistan.

While pointing to the source of suspicion and mistrust that has haunted Iranians over the past 60 years – US imperialism at its worse – Rouhani, like Obama, has made it clear that he is determined to move forward. Like Obama, he faces great challenges from the opposition within his own country. But, with the will of the people solidly behind him, through his program of moderation and confidence building, these two world leaders now have the extraordinary chance to usher in a new age of international cooperation.


False Flaggy Fake Whistleblowery

This is a rant about those who are suspicious of everything Obama does for reasons of racism/conservative paranoia who point to the perceived Fast and Furious gun-walking scandal as proof of the administration’s evil intentions to sell arms to the world’s most dangerous criminals in order to create a situation where they can call a national emergency, swoop in and take away everyone’s guns, and install martial law.

It is, of course, mass schizophrenia, considering that the most destabilizing illegal gunrunning operation ever carried out in the nation’s history was actually perpetrated by the conservative guru himself, Ronald Reagan, and his team of anti-communist, pro-Israeli, freekazoid neocons headed up by Robert McFarlane, Alexander Haig, and Paul Wolfowitz. It’s schizophrenic because, although lying and propagandizing during wartime has no political bounds, secret, illegal government arms dealing during times when no war has been declared has only been the province of the right ...at least in my lifetime.

There is a Fast and Furious scandal, but it doesn’t involve a policy of gun walking. The real scandal is the gross opportunism and sheer political theater drummed up by a bizarre coalition of neocons and libertarians. It’s bizarre because the neoconservative need for the United States to be a cowboy, kick-ass nation with a moral (and commercial) imperative to impose its will on the rest the world doesn’t jibe with the libertarian desire for less government. Neither does forcing Christian fundamentalist beliefs on everyone – wholeheartedly embraced by the Tea Party even more than by traditional conservatives – jibe with the idea of freedom. Just as with the boundless Benghazi outrage, it is difficult to find a real source to the over-amped outrage expressed by this league of super-patriots other than blind hatred and ingrained distrust.

The inane conspiracy theory about putting more guns on the streets so that there will be more gun violence so that the government will have an excuse to take everyone’s guns away is crazy enough, but what is really crazy is that even people who recognize how bat-shit crazy that is don’t realize, due to the way that the media likes to use catch phrases like “Fast and Furious Scandal,” that the gun-walking policy itself didn’t actually exist.

That’s right – according to a six-month investigation by Fortune magazine, the gun-walking that is so upsetting to those who are easily upset by anything that might be twisted around to suggest that Obama was born not in the state of Hawaii but into the state of villainy, was instigated by a rogue agent – the same rogue agent who then decided to take down the very agency he was working for, claiming to be a “whistle blower,” because he, like the prosecutors who would not prosecute all the straw buyers that were being tracked because that would limit the God-given right of U.S. citizens to purchase as many guns as they can shake an AK-47 at, is a rabid gun nut. This guy, John Dodson, has actually doubled down on his double-cross and sued Time Inc for libel because the article portrays him (as well as two cohorts) as an infantile, arrogant, lying douchebag with no respect for his boss, Dave Voth:

Dodson then proceeded to walk guns intentionally, with Casa and Alt's help. On April 13, 2010, one month after Voth wrote his schism e-mail, Dodson opened a case into a suspected gun trafficker named Isaiah Fernandez. He had gotten Casa to approve the case when Voth was on leave. Dodson had directed a cooperating straw purchaser to give three guns to Fernandez and had taped their conversations without a prosecutor's approval.

Voth first learned these details a month into the case. He demanded that Dodson meet with him and get approval from prosecutors to tape conversations. Five days later, Dodson sent an uncharacteristically diplomatic response. (He and Alt had revised repeated drafts in that time, with Alt pushing to make the reply "less abrasive." Dodson e-mailed back: "Less abrasive? I felt sick from kissing all that ass as it was.") Dodson wrote that he succeeded in posing undercover as a straw purchaser and claimed that prosecutor Hurley—who he had just belatedly contacted—had raised "new concerns." The prosecutor had told Dodson that an assistant U.S. Attorney "won't be able to approve of letting firearms 'walk' in furtherance of your investigation without first briefing the U.S. Attorney and Criminal Chief."

It was the first time Voth learned that Dodson intended to walk guns. Voth says he refused to approve the plan and instead consulted his supervisor, who asked for a proposal from Dodson in writing. Dodson then drafted one, which Voth forwarded to his supervisor, who approved it on May 28.

On June 1, Dodson used $2,500 in ATF funds to purchase six AK Draco pistols from local gun dealers, and gave these to Fernandez, who reimbursed him and gave him $700 for his efforts. Two days later, according to case records, Dodson—who would later testify that in his previous experience, "if even one [gun] got away from us, nobody went home until we found it"—left on a scheduled vacation without interdicting the guns. That day, Voth wrote to remind him that money collected as evidence needed to be vouchered within five days. Dodson e-mailed back, his sarcasm fully restored: "Do the orders define a 'day'? Is it; a calendar day? A business day or work day….? An Earth day (because a day on Venus takes 243 Earth days which would mean that I have plenty of time)?"

The guns were never recovered, the case was later closed, and Fernandez was never charged. By any definition, it was gun walking of the most egregious sort: a government agent using taxpayer money to deliver guns to bad guys and then failing to intercept them.
For all the conspiratorial accusations swirling about of false-flag operations – the Bush administration, supposedly being behind the 9/11 attacks so they would have support for their attack on Iraq, and now the Obama administration supposedly setting up fake gun-violence situations (see this article on Aurora and this great article on conspiracism in Slate) – the Fast and Furious situation looks a lot like just that: a false-flag operation. This guy goes and does this unconscionable thing, then reports it as something that he was forced to do against his good conscience.

It doesn’t really fit the “false flag” definition, though, because it doesn’t seem that Dodson had any evil plans when he went ahead and carried out the gun-walking operation. Rather, just as many, such as myself, believe was the case with George W. Bush, it was a lethal blend of incompetence and the audacity to take advantage of a tragedy for the most fucked up of reasons. Dodson only decided to become a “whistleblower” as an afterthought in the wake of the killing of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, when two semiautomatic rifles that were found at the scene of his murder were traced back to a suspect in the Fast and Furious operation. It was a bit of retrofitted false flagginess, fake whistleblowery that was done so that Darrell Issa would have an excuse to go after Eric Holder and prove that the Obama was “the most radical and controversial president in our nation's history” just in time for the 2012 elections.


Javier Sicilia Speaks Poetry to Power

Mexican poet and founder of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity Javier Sicilia was in New York City on Friday, 7 September, where he made a short speech that's referencing of several other popular poets before getting to the inventors of peaceful revolution – King and Gandhi – or any mention of the movements that they inspired proves once again just how much the world needs our poets.

The speech is titled Let's give peace a chance, words that have been cached in cliché in a culture that refuses to take peace seriously, but which deserve much more than a knowing nod of nostalgic agreement. They are words that, when de-compartmentalized from that place in our brains where we store warm, fuzzy memories of grandma's cinnamon rolls and cozy family gatherings around the Christmas tree and our innocent first kisses the words to our favorite feel-good songs, hold the power of an idea unleashed from the confines of the ideal, a dove released from its bondage as a symbol of unattainable, perfect peace, freed to bring the reality of peace down to earth as a participant of an ecosystem where every creature innovates and creates its own niche.

In the individualist culture of the United States, the reality that many times, relationships are symbiotic in nature is washed over by the adrenalin rush of competition for resources. In the same way, the vision of an apocalyptic Mad Max future grabs the imagination, denying the chance for peace from being heard above the gripping din.

What this Mexican poet is seeking to do is what all poetry can do, if only we would let it. With the enduring strength of careful language, poetry serves as a connective force, connecting and reconnecting people, places, and ideas through past, present, and future, vanquishing the myth of separation with which those who hold so much power in our societies veil the truth of our ability to refuse to accept their version of the way things must be.

It was the words of Jim Morrison with which Javier Sicilia introduced the deeply Mexican notion that the dead can, by invitation, be with us in a meaningful way. After quoting that martyr of the culture wars, he began his speech in New York: 
For all the dead that this absurd war against drugs has left, but have come with us from far away; for the dead that this terrorist imbecility of the 11th of September left behind, and whom at the side of these victims of violence have been summoned here by the verses of Morrison to “anoint the earth”, “to announce the sadness” that overcomes us and to pray with John Lennon to “give peace a chance”, I ask for a minute of silence.
Every year, at the beginning of November, Mexicans summon their dead – to home altars and cemeteries – with such enticements as golden cempoalxochitl (Mexican marigolds), candles, pulque or tequila, sugar skulls, pan de muertos (sweet bread of the dead), and bowls of comforting atole.

Javiar Sicilia brought this stubborn Mexican refusal to deny the sadness of memory on a caravan of care that passed along the U.S.-Mexican border from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas, then headed up through the heart of Texas, over to New Orleans, on through Jackson, Miss., Montgomery, Ala., Atlanta and Fort Benning, Ga., and then up to Chicago and over to New York City, to end up in Washington, D.C.

The Caravan for Peace with Dignity and Justice has sought to expose the roots of drug violence in Mexico, raise awareness about the devastating effects of the War on Drugs particularly upon communities of color in the United States, and to inspire civil society to demand changes in the priorities of the most powerful democracy on earth.

To expose, raise awareness, and inspire – this is what poets and other thought-provokers do, and it is through words that the legacy of an individual's actions, which can only take place at one moment in time and in one location at a time, can be shared through space and time. The Caravan certainly made its enduring marks on the lives of many people who had the good fortune of being in each place and time that the pilgrims of peace stopped to expose, raise awareness, and inspire.

Now is when poetry can serve as a mnemonic device for our consciences to remember to move forward and take action rather than allowing ourselves to revert to our more comfortable, compartmentalized, disconnected, and forgetful cultural habits.
Ojalá podamos merecer que nos llamen locos, como han sido llamadas locas las Madres de Plaza de Mayo, por cometer la locura de negarnos a olvidar en los tiempos de la amnesia obligatoria.

If only we could merit being called crazy, as the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo have been called crazy, for committing the insanity of neglecting to forget in times of obligatory amnesia.

Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, in his poem, los caminos del viento, The Ways of the Wind, reminds us that to forget our past is to allow others reshape our reality. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo are the women who have been gathering in front of the Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires every Thursday for decades, ever since their children were abducted and "disappeared" by their government during Argentina's disgraceful Dirty War.

Eduardo Galeano's ode to the courage of hope ends with the words, 
no tienen fronteras los mapas del alma ni del tiempo,
neither maps of the soul nor of time have frontiers.
With these words, he connects souls across space and time, just as Javier Sicilia's caravan journey maps connections between souls across space and time. Along the U.S.-Mexican border, the fates of the citizens of two nations are inextricably tied together. And their fates are strung together with those of Indigenous Americans in New Mexico and African Americans in the agricultural South and the soldiers from throughout Latin America who have come to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation at Fort Benning, Ga., to learn how to wage war against the illegality of drugs and uphold the illusion of security in their countries and more African Americans and Mexican Americans and so many more people from less developed countries who have come without official sanction to the industrial North to try to forge a better life.

In New York City, Javier Sicilia spoke, as he did in each place where he spoke, in the language of the place. To introduce his Caravan to people in the United States, he began his essay for the Huffington Post by quoting Bob Dylan. In Atlanta, he summoned collective memories of Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Maya Angelou. In Chicago, he invoked the image of Al Capone as a reminder of prohibition's failures. For New Yorkers, John Lennon's words struck the chord that blends together all of the irrational ironies of violence that the Movement for Peace is all about.

And just as Javier Sicilia speak through the voices of others, so did John Lennon voice idea of imagining peace expressed by Swedish writer Stig Dagerman, who understood that life is little more than how we choose to face our fears. His poem, En dag om året, Just Once a Year, begins: 
En dag om året borde alla låtsas,    
att döden vilar i ett vitt schatull.
Inga stora illusioner krossas
och inge skjuts för fyra dollar skull.

Why don't we make believe just once a year
that Death has drowned beneath the deep blue sea!
No one's life is undermined by fear,
and no one shoots his neighbor for a fee.


No Stranger To Strange Lands - Dedication And Apology

I honor the following individuals who have passed away in the time since I originally wrote this book. They were all of a previous generation, and had lived long and interesting lives:

My father, who came in with Queen Elizabeth, went out with Ted Kennedy, and always expressed his love for me in the very best way he knew how,
Edward Thomas Butler, 21 April 1926 – 26 September 2009,

And two inspiring men, both people’s historians, with whom I feel a special connection because of the part they play in this book,
Louis “Studs” Terkel, 16 May 1912 – 31 October 2008,
Howard Zinn, 24 August 1922 – 27 January 2010.

No Stranger to Strange Lands is dedicated to their spirits, and, most importantly, this book is dedicated to my Jamie, whose spirit for living life to the fullest and whose tremendous, unbounded capacity for love has inspired my mission to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new thoughts and new ideas; to boldly think what no one has thought before.

I thank my sister, Nancy Butler, and my friend, Pam Wynia, for their editorial assistance and advice, and my Jamie for his patience and for the cover art.

And finally, I must apologize for a grave mistake that I made. Despite everything that I profess in this book, I found myself acting shamefully when President Barack Obama went to Oslo, Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize on 10 December 2009, where he made a speech titled, A Just and Lasting Peace, rationalizing his recent decision to escalate the War in Afghanistan. Overwhelmed by a mudslide of stultifying irony, I forgot what Howard Zinn had said one year previously in his speech of 8 November 2008, that war is antithetical to peace and stability because its outcome is unpredictable, as the perpetrators always seem surprised when their goals are not met, and it ends up corrupting everybody. In my desire to defend the President and hold on to the Hope that he represented, I was corrupted by this war, and by the anger and pain of that excruciatingly surreal moment in history, which tore a piece of my heart out and caused me to go just a little bit insane. I am sorry for allowing my distress to misguide me, for trying to rationalize the irrational, for wavering from my principles, and for misdirecting my anger.

Julie R Butler
3 September 2010
Lago Puelo, Chubut, Argentina

No Stranger To Strange Lands - Prologue: It’s About Time

Time demands that we move forward, always forward, at a measurable, constant pace – well, relatively constant, under normal circumstances, and measurable to the degree that our experience of it is measurable. Apparently, if we decide to travel close to the speed of light, then all bets are off, because, according to Albert Einstein, time slows down the faster we go. This bizarre characterization of the nature of time has its roots in the earliest uses of optical lenses to manipulate beams of light, and it underscores the intrinsic relationship between time, space, and the nature of light. Ever since Galileo had looked through his telescope at far away objects, our basic understandings of how the universe functions began to enter the strange realm of modern theoretical physics that only seems to become more and more distant from our ordinary observations. Indeed, just as Galileo's discovery of Jupiter's orbiting moons dispelled, once and for all, the illusion that the heavenly bodies circle the Earth, so, too, have the investigations of the increasingly large and the diminishingly tiny continued to dispel the myths of our everyday experiences, such as the belief that matter is solid or that space is empty.

Matter became an expression of energy in concert with light’s motion; space and time were woven into a fabric that warps and curves around planets and stars to create the delusion of gravity; the measuring of bodies in motion was found to be relative to speed and the frame of reference of the observer, and it all only became curiouser and curiouser. The otherworldly conceptions of how time, space, and energy are related, on a cosmological scale, could smoothly predict gravity, but at the atomic level, things were spastic, lurching, and at the most, probable. And at this level, the influence of perception, of perspective, would become magnified. The scientific theories, with such perplexing names as Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and Pauli Exclusion Principle, and with Niels Bohr's Complementarity Principle asserting the paradoxical notion that matter and energy possess wave-particle duality, would divert further and further away from normal experience, diving deeper and deeper into the wonderland of the strange. For having unleashed upon humanity, with his most famous of equations, the science behind the atomic bomb, Einstein spent the latter part of his life seeking redemption, attempting to put the genie back in the bottle, to return humanity to a state of grace and unity of thought, to develop a Unified Theory of Everything, but to no avail. Pandora’s Box had been opened, and, as with the march of time, there is no going back, only forward. The divide separating the weird science of the extremely large and the quirky mechanics of the exceedingly tiny grew seemingly irreconcilable. That is, until Stephen Hawking, after squeezing the entire universe, in its beginning moments, into an unimaginably dense point called a singularity, went on to explore the edges of black holes, where gravity meets quanta, where the two different systems of thought converge.

It is at the edges, the transitional areas, the margins, where the things get really interesting – a shoreline, where water meets land; a fragile ecosystem with a subtle message; a melding of cultures; a music that unites and inspires; a journey between places; an interdisciplinary convergence of grokkings; an idea that navigation through space and time can align our thinking patterns to the patterns in nature; a conception of time that is non-linear, more than a fourth dimension, expansive, existent every-when, knowable through the telling of stories, experiential through dark network daydreaming, accessible from another universe. It is by journeying into the margins, just over the very edges of our understandings, where the really interesting questions lie. Where does humanity end and nature begin? What does spirituality have to do with physics? How are perception and emotion intertwined with objective reality? Why does thinking matter?

Stephen Hawking also boldly went where no man had gone before in a different way, navigating into another margin – to where the scientific community meets the general public. He wrote a series of books that began with A Brief History of Time, in which he introduces the bizarre world of cosmology to regular people. The title suggests that the concept of time is at the center of the universe, somehow holding everything together, and its presence in all matters of physics is ubiquitous, even as it remains mysteriously secretive, hinting at possibilities, sparking our imaginations, offering fleeting glimpses of momentary infinity. The real beauty of Stephen Hawking’s popularization of theoretical physics is that he is able to demonstrate that, somewhere amidst all the strangeness and the uncertainty, the paradoxical and the contradictory, there is a way to make some sense of it all. And this gives me hope, that, amidst my own strangeness and uncertainties, my paradoxes and my contradictions, I can make some sense, too.

Despite the nature of this prologue, my book is not about physics. What it is about is exploring questions and ideas, discovering different perspectives, being at peace with some amount of uncertainty, confronting complexity. It's about time. It's about motion. It's about places, and ideas, and connecting ideas with places, thoughts with happenings, and past with present with future. It's about connectivity of each to all. As is theoretical science, the ideas that I present in these pages are in flux, as this is a thought-experiment-in-progress, an investigation into how thinking, feeling, and grokking – Robert A. Heinlein’s notion that the observer and the observed can engage in deeply empathetic interaction with each other – might affect the physical universe. My book is about the process that generates the conclusions, the how as much as the what and the why, the means being intrinsic to the ends. It’s about the journey. As Einstein taught us, understanding comes from finding relationships between measuring and measurements, and content must be attached to context and constructs and frameworks to reveal its true secrets. And he, of all people, learned the painful lesson that wisdom teaches about knowledge, that it is uncontrollable, that once an idea or a discovery is born into the world, it has a life of its own.

The how of this book is an overlaying of ideas upon a landscape that is itself layered with energies, histories, passions, and meaning. It is an interaction and engagement with as many layers as I could get my mind around. It is at times an obsession, at other times a release, with a lick of tongue-in-cheek here, an insertion of foot in mouth there, a poetic turn of phrase scattered about, and a healthy sprinkling of capricious cultural references throughout. It is the journal of a person who believes that there are infinite perspectives from which to get at patient answers to the biggest questions and perseverant solutions to the most persistent problems. Like Albert Einstein, I want to find a Unified Theory of Everything, and I believe that a literary means that can speak of anything and everything, that is open to all possibilities, all kinds of ideas, all manner of creativity, all facets of reality – love, spirituality, aesthetics, satire, as well as science and reason – would facilitate this better that trying to tackle the task from within any single discipline. This book is a push in that direction. I want it to be successful in its life, for the same reasons that Stephen Hawking wants regular people to learn about theoretical physics, because it unveils universal patterns, revealing interconnections, expanding understandings, unleashing the power of our imaginations.


No Stranger To Strange Lands - Chapter Outline

Click HERE for other information about the book.


Added in September 2010, the prologue begins with a look at modern physics, emphasizing the points that processes are more important than results, that contradiction is something we always have to work through, and that the way to navigate uncertainty is to fearlessly engage in the process.

Dedication and Apology


I explain my motivation for writing this book.

PART I: Movements About The Northern Hemisphere

1. Strange Coincidences:

My journey begins when I read a story by Kurt Vonnegut titled, Protocols of the Leaders of Tralfamadore, then happen upon the document that this is a satire of, the Protocols of the Leaders of Zion, and I document other strange coincidences.

2. Synchronicity:

In an attempt to explain these coincidences without resorting to spiritual paths, astrological scripts, or pseudo-science, I look at Carl Jung's theory of Synchronicity.

3. Switzerland:

My husband, Jamie, and I travel to Zürich, where I am inspired by Switzerland's long history of entrusting the people to decide their own fate; and I note the role of the Swiss in WWII.

- The Shock Doctrine: Then, I include a segment about an interview I see with Naomi Klein, about her book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, where I note the connection between her thesis and my observations about democratic principles.

In Switzerland again, I become inspired on many levels. Back in Florida, I learn that Jung had lived in Zürich.

- Well, Excuse Me, Milton Friedman: In this essay, I explain how I learned about Milton Friedman purely by accident and describe his “free market ideology” as Fascism.

4. On The Road:

Jamie and I hit the road, first running down to Fr. Lauderdale, then north to Asheville, N.C., where I confront the Biltmore mansion and the terms “robber barons” vs. “captains of industry,” in the context of how the wrongs of history must be remembered in order to better understand the present. Then we head westward.

- Nouveau-Nomadism: This description of an alternative lifestyle is included in this chapter.

5. Oklahoma:

We pass by the birthplace of Woody Guthrie.

- On Sadness: In this essay, I talk about the Trail of Tears, the loss of the Bison, and the Dust Bowl.

Then I write about folk festivals, the fighting spirit with which individuals must stand up for democratic principles, how anger comes from sadness, how traditions have both beautiful and ugly parts.

- Tragedy and Irony: I point out layers of bigotry and hypocrisy that blanket this nation's history, arriving at rant about Ayn Rand's twisted morality.

6. Texas:

I talk about humans being irrational.

- Who Is Howard Zinn?: Reflections on having seen the documentary, Howard Zinn: You Can‟t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, which leads to my thoughts on Marketing and The Pursuit Of Happiness.

Next, I run down a list of what a guy Tom Delay is and describe some of the scenery of Texas.

7. New Mexico:

I detail how landscapes, climates, and human histories converge to generate the unique energies of places. We drive back roads over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, into the Santa Fe region, then head past Los Alamos National Laboratory.

- Power Requires Wisdom: This is an essay about the wisdom of knowing the limits of our control.

We go on to visit Bandelier National Monument, where I ponder the significance of the atomic bomb lab's location nearby, in light of the Ancestral Pueblo lore about the unintended consequences of power without wisdom, and I introduce my fabulous Mexican dog, Kutzie.

8. Colorado:

I talk about the nomadic tribes and their sad encounter with Capitalism; we travel through Durango, birthplace of our other fabulous dog, Ursa, over the passes to Ouray, the supposed inspiration for Ayn Rand's capitalist paradise, Galt's Gulch.

- Chief Ouray: Here, I marvel at how Ms. Rand heard the voices of Capitalism over the voices of Nature, and I discuss how monetary, social, religious systems have nothing to do with Nature.

We then pass through our favorite mountain cowboy town.

9. Utah:

We celebrate solitude in the back country, and I talk about how Property does not equal Happiness.

- Studs Speaks: This essay is based on an interview with Studs Turkel.

We go on to Moab and encounter the spirit of Edward Abbey, where I express the Passion associated with that place.

10. Heading Back East:

While heading toward Cortez, CO, I recall the incident of the fugitives who escaped from the massive federal dragnet after gunning down a cop.

- Militias To Mercenaries: I wonder about the militants who hate the government so much, also mentioning the book, The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, by Naomi Wolf.

We go via the San Luis Valley and South Park to Denver to visit family, and memories of my suburban upbringing surge forth.

- Accountability: This essay explores George Lakoff’s Father Figure Framework as well as Speaking Truth to Power in connection to taking responsibility.

At the end of the chapter, we leave Kutzie with my sister and zip back to Florida.

11. String Theory:

I learn about String Theory, and wonder if thoughts might exist as closed loops of vibrating energy strings.

- Possibilities: Here, I talk about Herbie Hancock's documentary on the making of his album, Possibilities, and about his association of Jazz music with the Human Spirit.

12. Heading North To Go South:

I hear Daniel Goleman on NPR talking about mental wi-fi while driving to West Virginia. We leave Ursa with our friend, get to JFK airport, and head off to Tahiti.

PART II: Movements About French Polynesia

13. Tahiti:

We arrive to Tahiti, explore, it begins to rain, I read about Jack London, which leads me down the path of romance.

- Romancing Romanticism: Romanticism is in the air, but it corrupts our view of reality.

We emerge from our room, enjoy the spectacular scenery, and I become inspired to write the outline for the short story:

- The Man On The Tram: A Short Story.

14. Moorea:

I describe our adventures while staying at a camp ground on this fantastically green island, including visiting ancient ruins, discovering ginger liqueur, some of the people we meet, the full moon rising.

- Change?: The 2006 midterm elections occur in the States, and I discuss the consequences of those elections over one year later. I also discuss the Bertolucci movie, 1900, about Italian Fascism, pointing out disturbing similarities with the mortgage crisis as well as with New Orleans.

15. Huahine:

Here we stay at a hostel, make friends, visit a museum a few times, experience the sacred blue-eyed eels, and I end up diverging into memories of travels to Costa Rica

- Here And There: This essay lays out more of my thoughts about energies of places.

Switzerland enters the discussion, along with what one might be proud of their country about, we observe French military maneuvers, move down the beach to get naked, Synchronicity strikes again, and we depart the islands.

PART III: Movements About Australia

16. Learning Aussie Speak:

We arrive in Sydney, learn to speak Aussie, and explore. My essay,

- Cuckoo Clocks, Condottieri, And Character: This is an essay about Orson Welles' famous “cuckoo clock speech” and how he was mistaken about the Swiss having invented the cuckoo clock, the role of the House of the Borgia, the nature of power struggles in Europe, and the motivation for great art.

17. In Darwin’s Footsteps:

We travel into the mountains to Katoomba and experience the ancientness of the land.

18. Cultured In Sydney:

We go back to Sydney to take in several cultural events along with some craziness at the youth hostel.

19.The Train:

The Indian-Pacific Train takes us from Sydney to Perth on a four day odyssey, where we meet people from all over the world, see the moon hanging upside-down, and I become one very discombobulated traveler.

- Space-Time: This is the result of three days of “squishing the x-axis, stretching the y-axis, squelching the z-axis, erasing the line of Time altogether,” and trying to stand still on a moving train.

20. The Oz of Oz:

Arrived in Perth, we socialize with people from the train, explore the city, see the Indian Ocean for the first time, and then head down to a flat in Fremantle, where “Surfer Boy” from the train, who reminds me of the anti-hero, Dean Moriarty, and “Friend of Surfer Boy” pay us a visit.

21. Southwest Corner:

Stumbling upon the Daniel Goleman book I had heard about leads me to discover an amazing essay titled, No Fixed Address: Nomads and the Fate of the Planet, by Robyn Davidson, that speaks to me, especially her beautiful description of the Aboriginal Dreaming. A road trip then takes us along the southern coast to the town of Esperance, where we experience more craziness in the youth hostel, visit pristine beaches, and back at the hostel again, a drunken Jamie announces that a black man could very well become the next president of the United States. We drive west to where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean, then back to Fremantle for a quiet Christmas.

22. Dream Time:

Here, I tie together the myriad ideas that are sparking off in my head, ignited by the nomad essay and an article about neuroscience.

- Origins of Ideas: Here, I acknowledge that many of the ideas I have been expressing had originated from this brainstorm, write about offering new paradigms to replace the old paradigms, discuss Zoroastrianism, and recognize that humans are always drawn to Conflict.

23. New Year:

How we end up being the most Mexican people at our Mexican New Year’s Celebration and begin New Year’s Day with a shriek.

- From Ferlinghetti To The Beat-Les: Here, I recount an interview with Lawrence Ferlinghetti, write about romanticizing, critique Mr. Ferlinghetti about his view of Jazz music, and explore more about drama and conflict and scripts and the need for new patterns.

24. Across The Continent:

I discover a note in an old diary about Kurt Vonnegut and strange coincidences; We hop a plane to Adelaide, then a bus to Naracorte, visit with some real Aussies, ride another bus to Melbourne, then fly to Tasmania.

25. About Tasmania:

I describe our Tasmanian adventure, the highlight of which is our visit to the midden site of Preminghana.

- Emergent Patterns: In this essay, I consider the idea that patterns might be a way of storing information, and that active travel might be a way of using different thinking patterns.

We drive the back roads, visit Hobart, then meander back to Launceston.

26. Southeast Corner:

Back in Melbourne, we can't find a hotel room because of the Australia Open tennis tournament. Then we drive back to the edge of Sydney in a camper van, where I am thrilled to finally see the comet that has eluded me. Then we head on to a campground farther north, where I observe Muslim family dynamics and read Jack Kerouac's novel, Dr. Sax.

- Creative Spiritualism: In this essay, I connect the Dreaming to Kerouac's jazz writing style in that such imaginative thinking can free our minds and bring us spirituality.

27. Back To Sydney:

We return to Sydney to see an incredible flamenco performance.

- Skeletons And Calendars: This essay refers to the Swedish ethnologist who smuggled Aboriginal remains out of Australia and was haunted by them, then talks about the misguided “calendar change peace movement.”

- Making Things Right: I praise the new Australian prime minister for apologizing to the Aborigines.

We then return the van, and stay a couple more days in Sydney, going back to the Museum of Modern Art and enjoying our final days in Australia.

28. The Longest Day:

We leave Australia on Australia Day, flying back to JFK then driving to West Virginia just in time to start celebrating Jamie's birthday.

- The Power Of Music: I applaud Herbie Hancock for winning the Grammy for his latest album, River: The Joni Letters, I talk about jazz patterns, and about how the Beatles defeated Soviet Russian Communism, not Ronald Reagan.

PART IV: Back In North America

29. West Virginia Dreamin’:

Upon our return to the US, I immediately get back to looking at cognition and how the brain works.

- Rethinking Thinking: I explore patterns some more in Thinking, Rethinking, such as stellar constellations as an animated mapping system, how the need to keep track of Time and accounting affects our minds, and how Jazz music is expansive and barely balanced, like the universe.

30. Human-Nature:

I do more reading and think about what it is that makes us Human, what differentiates Humanity from Nature, and I decide that the best gift that Humans have to offer the cosmos is To Care.

- Someone Who Cares: This essay is based on a Bill Moyers interview with Sarah Cheyes, who stayed in Afghanistan and started a business in the spirit of helping the people there.

31. Waves:

At this time, I am obsessed with the Scooter Libby Trial.

- Duct Tape, Dick: In my essay about West Virginia, I remember Dick Cheney in his secret bunker.

- Waves: Then, I get poetically subliminalized.

32. White Lines On The Freeway:

We hit the road, and I talk about the extra resources used by speeding and rant against Nascar Racing.

- Consequences And Truth: I look at the importance of trying to follow through what the consequences of our actions might be, the Culture Wars, and how Truth is an Asymptote, which all leads me to the abortion issue, and Eliot Spitzer.

33. Synchroncity II:

We settle down in South Georgia, and I discuss the band, the Police, and their song, Synchronicity I.

- Message In A Bottle: The fifth anniversary of the U.S. Invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2008 brings an opportunity to send a message to any remaining Iraq War apologists.

34. Confluence:

Here, the timelines of my story and my life come together, engendering reflection and a revisit of Jung’s Synchronicity and the archetypal principle. I conclude that my own idea of the creative principle better follows the line of thinking I have trying to develop, and I identify emergent patterns as major components of the complex processes that define the universe.

- Hadrons On My Mind: I invoke the CERN Large Hadron Collider to state that science also abides by the creative principle, where patterns continually emerge.

35. ...And Now, Back to You, Kurt:

Having begun this book with Kurt Vonnegut, I end with Kurt Vonnegut. I question my own conclusions, and wonder if Mr. Vonnegut ever knew that he was at the center of the workings of the universe.


I add this epilogue when Dennis Kucinich introduced 35 Counts of Impeachment Against President Bush on my birthday.

- It’s About Place: Here, I point out yet another strange coincidence, discuss Homer's Odyssey as a place-mapping narrative in recognition that it is the same as the Aboriginal Dreaming, describe the rich multi- cultural energy of Latin America versus North America, and state my hopes for the future.

- George Carlin: My send-off to George Carlin.


The Mirror of History

The story about medical experimentation in Guatemala is a harrowing reminder of our past, yet our reaction to this story is itself a snapshot of where our society is today, and I see a welcome image of hope for Progressives, in this time when disillusionment and disappointment seem to be almost overwhelming.

Amy Goodman's October 5 interview with Susan Reverby, the medical historian who recently brought to light the unpublished documentation of the project, puts the incident in perspective. As an authority on the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, she is very familiar with the social attitudes of those decades when the lives of some were simply and plainly not considered to be as worthy of respect as the lives of others. In the case of Tuskegee, poor black sharecroppers in Georgia who were found to already have syphilis were studied, without being told that it was syphilis that they suffered from, they were lied to about the nature of their medical treatment, and they were never treated for their disease, even after penicillin was found to be an effective cure.

The study in Guatemala is even more egregious due to the fact that individuals who were institutionalized in a prison and in an insane asylum, as well as some army soldiers, were actually infected with syphilis, surely without their knowledge, although what they were told was a detail that had been left out of these newly discovered physician's notes. And even in the atmosphere that allowed for the Tuskegee experiment to go on for forty years, from 1932 to 1972, Susan Reverby points to a comment in a letter referring to a statement by the surgeon general himself, showing that he knew that it would not be ethically acceptable in the United States, as the most shocking aspect of her discovery.

On one hand, it is difficult to acknowledge the wrongs of our nation's past. Many would prefer not to think about them. When Glenn Beck spoke of “restoring honor” to the United States during his rally in Washington, for example, his statement rang of the personal experience of a man who seeks to put his own past behind him. He said,

Let's be honest. If you look at history, America has been both terribly good and terribly bad. It has been both, but to concentrate on the bad instead of learning from the bad and repairing the bad and then looking to the good that is still out in front of us within our reach— We have a choice today. We can either let those scars crush us or redeem us.”

When Glenn Beck looks into the mirror of history, while acknowledging the bad, he cannot bear to dwell for long on those painful aspects. Assuming that what has worked for him in his own life will work for the nation, he turns toward the language of religious redemption, seeing those shameful instances as a part of a necessary spiritual path, as all-too-human lapses, their lessons being those of faith rather than of seeking deeper self-awareness. And whenever Progressives are characterized as the “blame America first” crowd, this abject refusal to look in the mirror and take responsibility for our collective actions, particularly in the “America” that stretches all the way to Tierra del Fuego, the colossal societal disconnect is strengthened.

On the other hand is the hope that surrounds this story. I perceive this moment to be a brief flash of the hope that Barack Obama campaigned upon, the hope that progress brings. That we find this story to be so horrifying, that the president's immediate apology to the nation of Guatemala is seen nearly universally as the appropriate response, shows that the rate of progress is, like the growth of a child, slow and nearly imperceptible to those who are witness to it day in and day out, yet society is moving forward.

Furthermore, by facing up to the attitudes that decided that it was acceptable to do in Guatemala what was not acceptable to do in the United States, the story links us to other past actions that our nation has taken in the Americas that merit attention, if we want to find realistic answers to problems such as illegal immigration or improve our relations within the rest of America. Rather than fearing that our scars will crush us, or refusing to accept blame beyond doing so in seeking redemption, we must study our image in that mirror in order to link our past actions to issues that continue to affect us today.

Walt Long's novel, The Travelers, achieves this goal. It is a story about the smuggling of illegal immigrants through a community in southern New Mexico that not only humanizes all of the factions involved, but also makes the link between the social realities that so many of the travelers are escaping in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, and the part that the United States has played in helping to create those situations. This novel evenhandedly depicts the complexities of a vexing issue, offering not answers, but respect for the fact that it is as complex as the human character is.

Similarly, the past year's unveiling of classified State Department documents from the Nixon era merit close examination, as they go a long way in explaining how the brutal dictatorships that gripped the Southern Cone region of Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay were the results of a concentrated effort by the United States to weaken social movements that were becoming legitimized through democratic processes, thus threatening the veracity of the neo-liberal narrative.

History does not refer merely […] to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it, the past, with us. And we’re ‘unconsciously controlled’ in so many ways, that history, the past, is present now in all we do.” - James Baldwin


Someone Who Cares

This is excerpted from No Stranger to Strange Lands: A Journey Through Strange Coincidences, Connective Thoughts, and Far Flung Places

In light of the recent Wikileaks of the Afghan War Logs, I am posting this segment from my book (which will be available VERY SOON) regarding the mess in Afghanistan.

Talk about someone who cares: Bill Moyers had an inspiring interview on his show, Bill Moyers Journal, last night, with Sarah Chayes. She used to be an intrepid journalist for National Public Radio, but was moved to action after the United States attacked Afghanistan to supposedly topple the Taliban, which, of course, we had originally empowered during the good old Cold War days to fight a proxy war against the Soviet Union's occupation of that country. She had been reporting from there, and decided to do something to try to actually help the beleaguered people of Afghanistan in some little way. So she opened a small natural soap factory, putting people to work on a sustainable product that gives them an alternative to poppy farming that is so prevalent there. Her company is called Arghand, and the all-natural hand-crafted soaps are available in the United States and Canada. The woman is a goddess of strength, love, intelligence, and determination, and Bill Moyers asked her great questions about what is really going on over there. The poppy business, she reports, is not being conducted by any criminal enterprise, nor by the evil Taliban, as our government likes to claim, but by regular businessmen, who are the only entities in the country to dole out any kind of credit to farmers, and so that is what they farm. Their business dealings are only slightly more complicated than any other business there by having to pay more bribes than usual. The term 'criminal' has no real meaning there, because everyone in the entire society is forced to be 'criminal' because of the lack of any kind of oversight or system of accountability. Everyone is forced to pay bribes up and down the line to get anything done, and to skim resources like development aid money just to survive, because a lethal combination of inflation and unemployment is crushing families there. She says that the Afghans don't want handouts, they want jobs and a government that functions. She draws a metaphorical picture of a town in the Wild West, where the sheriff needs to catch some bad guys, so he hires a posse, which is probably made up of some criminals willing to go and catch those bad guys for money, but when the feat is accomplished, the sheriff does not then put the posse in charge of the town. In Afghanistan, however, that is exactly what United States did. They placed real criminals in charge of the government, except for Karzai, who was the only one elected by the people, but who is powerless against the hugely corrupted system he oversees. Now, the U.S. claims that the Afghan people had their democratic vote, and it is up to them to hold their government accountable, which, of course, is impossible because they are being shaken down by their own government, not helped by it in any way. She is the only foreigner that people there see doing what should be done, which is to help rebuild the economy through business investments that offer jobs that will help them get back on their feet.

On Pakistan, she says, “It's been very clear to me, watching since 2002, that Pakistan has been buying us off, by a well-timed delivery of an Al Qaeda operative, which has then caused us to look the other way about the Taliban.”

On why the southern part of the country is so important, she says, “It's kind of like the marrow of the country's bones. Afghanistan was founded in Kandahar. Later the capital was moved to Kabul. It was really the capitol, the Taliban's capitol. It's also the part of the country that the Pakistani government has been able to control most successfully by-proxy. So, this is why 99 percent of the people in Kandahar believe that we are allied with the Taliban. Everybody thinks that America is allied with the Taliban.”

On the nature of the Afghan government, “We keep hearing in the West, about the democratically-elected Afghan government. And, oh, no, we can't get in there and interfere with any of these people, because they're the government of a sovereign country. Well, you could have fooled the Afghans. The Afghans – the only person who's really elected, who has any power, is president Karzai. But every other government official that Afghans interact with on a daily basis, they didn't elect. And they don't have any recourse. They've got no way of lodging a complaint against this person. Or nobody who can put any leverage on them... We're only fooling ourselves when we talk about this democratically-elected Afghan government.”

And on why Afghanistan is so important to the future of the entire world, "There are a lot of people, I think, both in the West and in the Muslim world, who believe in clash of civilization, who want to see the world as a place dominated by two irrevocably hostile blocs. I don't want to live in that kind of world. I think that we live in an interconnected world full of rich, flawed, varied civilizations that are inextricably intertwined. And, so what I'm doing in Afghanistan is working for that intertwined world."

In that sense, George Bush and Osama bin Laden are on the same team. Also, I would note that Afghanistan is in a state of true and absolute free-market capitalism, the kind that Milton Friedman had wet dreams about. That is the true result of that type of system – an unfettered, unregulated, free-for-all, where everyone has to fend for themselves, and only the strong and powerful survive. Lovely, isn't it? Maybe Grover Norquist would like to move there and see what it is really like to have a government small enough to drown in a bathtub.

see: No Stranger to Strange Lands Chapter Outline

other book excerpts: Studs Turkel, King Marketing and His Queen, Pursuit of Happiness, and Three essays from No Stranger to Strange Lands in which the topic ineluctably turns into an Ayn Rant


On Zeitgeist

My answer to the question, "Have you seen Zeitgeist?"

Yes, I have now seen Zeitgeist, after having put it off for a long time because I had read the transcript. But it was important to see the effects of the whole sound and visual deal to find out why this movie seems to be so persuasive to so many people.

While I agree with many of the basic sentiments, like how we are all connected, and greed and war and war-profiteering are evil, and organized religion is little more than a power trip, I have to say that this movie is completely misguided. It really bothers me that most people are uninformed about Egyptian mythology, and so they will simply accept the assertions that Horus was born to a virgin mother, was the sun god, died and was resurrected three days later, and on and on. But all you have to do is look up Horus on any internet source you like (other than those connected with the movie - don't be a lazy sourcer!), and you will find that he was the god of the sky, that Isis was by no stretch of the imagination a virgin, and that nearly all of the other connections made in the opening segment are tenuous, at best.

You don't even have to look on the internet - just watch for the three stars of Orion's belt in the night sky (you will have to be up before dawn in the southern hemisphere to see it at this time of year (the end of May), while up north, you people with your long summer days will have to wait for a few months to see it at all). Or better yet, do yourself the favor of purchasing a star chart, so you can connect with the big wide wonderful universe. You will not find a constellation named "The Tree Kings," but you will see that Orion's belt ALWAYS points to Sirius, the Dog Star, the brightest star in the sky. (This star is useful, if it is visible, for figuring out if another bright star is really a planet. If the "star" in question is brighter than Sirius, which is easy to find - those three stars are ALWAYS pointing at it - then, by golly, that ain't no star! This would all be so much easier if the little buggers would stop moving around all the time.) Then, once you have become a junior astronomer, you might reconsider the meaning of statements like this:

"The star in the east is Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, which, on December 24th, aligns with the 3 brightest stars in Orion's Belt. These 3 bright stars are called today what they were called in ancient times: The Three Kings. The Three Kings and the brightest star, Sirius, all point to the place of the sunrise on December 25th. This is why the Three Kings "follow" the star in the east, in order to locate the sunrise -- the birth of the sun."

Really - when it is Canis Major, the Big Dog that follows Orion, the Hunter in their continual march from east to west across the night sky - are they Sirius?!

I am in complete agreement that Christianity is a myth-based belief system that borrows many ideas from other belief systems. Joseph Campbell wrote about this decades ago, without diminishing the power of these myths to enhance people's lives in positive ways. Unfortunately, the movie develops its own set of myths, presented as facts, to establish another belief system: that because Christianity has been used as an instrument of control, is based on myths that some claim to be "truths," and often demands blind submission to its authority, so, too, is the government doing the same thing in regard to 9/11 and to the banking system and the education system and the secret North American Union, and so on.

As to the 9/11 stuff - the Bush administration had a lot of shit to cover up, but pulling off the 9/11 attacks was not one of them. What they covered up was their total incompetence and/or having allowed the attacks to happen to fit their agenda. But that's all the credit that I am willing to give those douche bags. All of the supposed proof that the official story is false can be explained by regular old physics, from the way that the Twin Towers, building 7, and the Pentagon were constructed and affected, to the crash site in Pennsylvania, to the capacity of the amateur pilots to pull off the maneuvers, to the fact that airplane aluminum melts...

The 9/11 conspiracies are not just a matter of not understanding physics, but also of ignoring all of the eye-witness accounts that disagree with their assertions, especially all of the people who saw the airplane strike the Pentagon, and all of the people who immediately went to the crash sites in Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon to try to help in whatever rescue operation there might have been, who saw mangled airplane parts and the devastating horrors of these unusually high-speed impacts.

The eye-witness accounts that they do focus on, which are used for emotional emphasis in the movie, are the accounts of explosions being heard by people in and near the World Trade Center. But the trauma, anxiety, and stress, in addition to what is referred to as "reconstructive memory," which is the brain's mechanism for trying to put things into context, can greatly affect memories of an event witnessed at close-range. Add to these factors the power of suggestion and the probability that there were some huge explosions involved in the chaotic catastrophic failure of these humongous towers, and the jump to the conclusion that there must have been explosives planted in the basement must be further questioned.

Then, the third section goes back to just making stuff up out of thin air - misquoting, taking things out of context, failing to point out that Nazis and other antisemitic types believed that the Jews ran a secret international banking cartel, which was their basis for fear and loathing of "international bankers," and flat out getting it wrong that the gold standard was abolished in 1933, when this didn't happen until 1971, for just a few examples.

I am really concerned about all of this because I keep meeting people who believe every word of this movie. It is so strange because I wrote a book, long before I ever heard of Zeitgeist, that I have been trying to get published, which begins with the idea that fear-mongering can be so persuasive, and ends up grappling with how our understandings, or rather, misunderstandings, of cause and effect are at the base of our belief systems - and here is this movie that takes the same ideas and uses them to create fear of the government as an agent of a secret cabal (so secret that it can't be proven to exist) and a whole cause-and-effect scenario of its own. What really bothers me is that anyone who disagrees with any of it is considered to be under the influence of the evil powers that be - it's exactly like how Christians will argue that ideas that oppose their belief system are the work of the devil, who is just trying to confuse us and turn us away from God.

HERE is a good debunking website, if you want to get another opinion. And HERE is an awesome article about real corporate greed by Matt Taibbi, who is also the author of The Great Derangement, and he has debated Griffith, who is in the movie. Additionally, I wrote a long essay titled, Secrecy, Democracy, and Fascism: Lessons from History, that, in part, looks into how fascism came to be in Germany, with frightening similarities to what is happening in the United States right now. Racism (which is at the base of this North American Union myth, and is very similar to how the Jewish banking cabal conspiracy was at the base of the Holocaust), fear-mongering, and a crisis of confidence in the government were all major factors, all of which this movie plays right into.

I also write a lot about how different societies deal with complexity, and how Latin American culture deals with this so much better than US culture, due to complex histories and other sensibilities. They know what real tyranny is, and have often had very personal experience with US-sponsored greed and hypocrisy. We just found out the other day that our landlord was imprisoned and tortured with electric probes during the dictatorship - and it is well documented that the US supported all of the dictatorships in Latin America, due to fear of socialism, plain and simple. He is very skeptical of his government as well as of the US government, yet he is still a patriotic Argentine. He said simply that every experience in life has its lessons to teach. He is not a bitter man. He is the opposite - very kind and gentle and thoughtful. Life goes on, and he is still a socialist, in the spirit of the self-sufficient individualist that so defines Patagonian heritage. And this is my whole point: that he can be an individualist AND a socialist. He can be an atheist AND a spiritual person. He can see things in terms that are more complicated than "You're either with us or against us." This is what I mean when I speak of dealing with complexity, and I'm afraid that this Zeitgeist movie encourages people to fall right into George Bush's simplistic thinking pattern in a world that is far from black and white.

So do not think that just because I do not agree with what the movie promotes I therefore believe all of the lies of the US government or that it is somehow inherently good. It isn't that simple. Nothing is ever simple. I don't believe what the movie says, AND I don't believe everything the US government says. I even believe that the Bush administration might like for people to think that they were involved in 9/11 in order to distract from their real crimes and muddy the waters of what issues citizens should really be concerned about. And if the "logic" of this movie is followed through, it points to the existence of a One World Order, to which the response is so often to run away and hide, giving up on the democratic process on the premise that individuals can have no effect, whatsoever, against the secret uber-rulers. It's called "silent consent," and the powers that actually do exist are diggin' it.

One of the things that I love most about Latin America is that people do not take their democracy for granted - they get out on the street and make their voices heard and struggle for what they believe in, instead of accepting that they have no power against huge financial and military interests, which is what this movie basically comes down to. Just live your life, and don't pay any attention to the men behind the curtain. It is supposedly a wake-up call, but to what effect? And if their concerns are so legitimate, why do they lie and make shit up - including that they don't make any money selling their DVD - to make their point? Inquiring minds want to know!


Small Change

The small steps that lead to giant leaps for humankind are often not recognized as such when they are being taken. They may require some time for discovery, or processing, or convincing. They may be small occurrences that pass by, hardly noticed, or big events that are celebrated, but for small reasons. Despite the deep-seated fears that are being played upon by forces that have a vested interest in preventing humanity's progress toward creating a more tolerant and just society, and despite the woeful cries of those who bemoan the slow pace of such progress, I believe that this health care reform represents one of these unrecognized small steps.

This is Rosa Parks, refusing to sit at the back of the bus - an unremarkable event, at the time it was occurring, that followed several other such acts of resistance to racial segregation, except that Ms. Parks was already part of a larger movement that was peacefully pushing for progressive change. The other persons on the bus that day could not have known of the potential that her small act of tired defiance held. But Rosa Parks did.

She intuitively felt the spark that lit the fire that was the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which inspired U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr. to call for a movement of "Massive Resistance," which was met by the Southern Manifesto, which was followed by Browder v. Gayle, the civil action law suit that outlawed racial segregation on buses in each state under the Fourteenth Amendmen's "equal protection of the laws," which lead to the sniping and bombings of Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders' homes and churches and the formation of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, and on and on, back and forth, with the Freedom Riders testing the law on buses, lunch counter sit-ins, and other non-violent demonstrations against bigotry in the South, which were opposed by more lynchings, bombings, and defiance against the federal government, until the unified dignity of the civil rights movement won out over horrific images of police brutality and the news of little girls dying in their church finally ushered in a era of equal rights legislation and Supreme Court decisions that insisted upon the wholeness of racial integration.

The health care reform is being celebrate as a political victory for President Obama and for the Democrats. It is possibly the most controversial issue the nation has faced in recent history, with opponents on the right furious that it has gone too far, while progressives are angry that it didn't go far enough. But despite all of the vicious politics surrounding it, the passage of this legislation is about something much bigger than all of that. At the same time, despite the monumental effort it took the Democrats to finally pass it, and the emotional fervor stirred up by the Republicans and their backers in the insurance industry in opposition to it, it is really rather less than all of that. This is only a small step forward, a tiny spark that helps to keep the flame of human progress alive. But its potential to set a new fire aglow must be properly understood, if it is to spread to something far greater than the people on the proverbial bus could ever imagine.

This potential lies in a serene place, away from all the rabble of misplaced anger and repressed entitlement on the one hand and disillusionment mixed with sadness about being so demonized on the other. It is the promise of patient, yet persistent, change, the same promise that the election of this president represented. And it is a part of the same march forward that the civil rights movement was a part of, and the anti-Vietnam War movement, and the women's rights movement, and all other human rights movements that continue to push for the social evolution of our species.

This change requires an elegant kind of thought process that is somewhat foreign to the either/or, absolutist mentality that seems to be encouraged by the culture of the United States today. This thinking tolerates the coexistence of what, on the surface, might appear to be conflicting ideas, so that ideology will give way to the flexibility that is necessary to get things done in society. It is the kind of thinking that is necessary for social change to take place, because its flexibility allows those who are trying to introduce new ideas to do so in a way that assuages the fears of those who are resistant to change. It is incumbent upon progressives to be careful in our push for change, to show that we are not a threat to others in our quest to reform an unjust system. While we must stand by our ideals, we must also be able to recognize the limits of society's willingness to change and find creative ways to nudge at those boundaries. In the face of exasperating misinformation and mis-characterizations of our intentions, we must be content to take baby steps and let time be the messenger of the good news that social cooperation is actually less costly than separation and divisiveness.

Such maturity of thought can recognize that individual liberty and social responsibility are interrelated; that democratic principles and social welfare policies are not mutually exclusive; that ownership of property and wealth is not equivalent to freedom; that tyranny and hidden taxes can be imposed by private institutions as well as by governments; that giving can be receiving and big can be small and patriotism can be other than the uncritical acceptance of a self-serving narrative.

Such thinking makes sense out of the actions of a man who campaigned on the promise of "change," who was supported by progressives because he seemed to have come out of left field and was seen to be uncorrupted by the political process. He spoke of the civil rights struggle and the "end of small politics,"constantly drilling at his message of "change," which spoke to progressives as a change from the Right to the Left. It was a brilliant campaign slogan, a nebulous, open promise that could mean almost anything. And when things came down to the wire, voters who were offered two images of "change" chose the one that looked and sounded and acted the most like real change. But this change turned out to be less dramatic, less obvious, less palpable than we would have liked to see, and many progressives soon gave up on the new president, expressing the kind of dismay that Frank Rich and Micheal Moore and many other disillusioned supporters have expressed.

But perhaps the president's apparent timidity to make big changes is not due to weakness, nor inexperience, nor naivety, nor crass political maneuvering, but instead comes from an insight that is difficult for all but those few who have faced the struggle to succeed in a covertly racist society can immediately comprehend. The man has spent his whole life honing his ability to convince others to overlook the color of his skin, his unconventional upbringing, and his unusual name to give him a chance to show what he is really made of. It has not only been his persuasiveness that has been most crucial to Barack Obama's success, but his ability to follow it through with action and intelligence, and by asserting himself in a measured and non-threatening way. This is a kind of progress that connects individual achievement with social responsibility, that works from the inside while never forgetting all those who remain on the outside, that understands that one must sometimes tack in one direction to create the headwind that will move them in another direction, that utilizes subtle, patient, and even controversial techniques to slowly soften hard-edged thought structures and create small but significant change.

When we see the health care reform from a larger historic perspective, we can begin to understand how President Obama's actions mirror those of the man that he admires so much, Abraham Lincoln, and how the current situation mirrors the abolition of slavery. Lincoln ran for office as a vociferous opponent of slavery in the United States, and as soon as it became clear that he would soon become the president of the United States of America, the secessionists began to form the Confederacy. The attempts to find a compromise by President-elect Lincoln and outgoing President Buchanan that would convince the southern states to remain part of the Union could not go far, because the stance that one class of people had the right to enslave other human beings in the names of "heritage" and "freedom" and "states' rights" had become entrenched and non-negotiable. Lincoln pointed out during his inaugural address that the stated purpose of the U.S. Constitution was "to form a more perfect union" and offered up the Corwin Amendment to the Constitution that would have protected slavery in those states where it already existed, in order to ensure that new territories would not become slave states. He was criticized by the Copperheads for not giving in on the issue of slavery and thus taking the nation into civil war, criticized by the abolitionists who felt that he was not doing enough to end slavery, and deeply despised by those who put their own desires above their allegiance to the principle of democracy as social progress toward becoming a better and stronger union. Lincoln could not prevent the Confederacy from being formed, but he refused to negotiate with Confederate agents and thus legitimize the Confederacy, and both the Union and the Confederacy danced around the issue of who would be the aggressor in the ensuing civil war, until Confederates in South Carolina, with the aim of claiming U.S. federal property, could not contain themselves any longer.

Now, as then, it is not the proponents of progressive change who are causing the divisiveness that is tearing at the heart of the nation. Rather, it is those who refuse to let go of an ideology that is, at its core, a claim of entitlement of the "haves" at the expense of the "have nots," the clamoring for the rights of corporations to enslave individuals in the names of "heritage" and "freedom" and "states' rights," that is dividing the nation.

The passing of the health care reform legislation by the Democrats and the vow by the Republicans to use the dwindling resources of the states to fight against it is a huge political deal, as what will surely be torrid midterm elections approach, but it will only be a small chapter in the nation's history. Whatever increase in the level of anger and, as many are worried about, violence on the part of those on the Right who see this as a major threat to their idea of what the nation is supposed to be about, will reveal the deeper core of this issue, that sense of entitlement that manifests itself as racism and sexism and homophobia and religious- or class-based exceptionalism when the veneer of civility is worn thin by fundamentalist populism, and it will all lead back to the 2008 elections that brought the Democrats into power in Congress and an unusual black man into the White House. But as the civil rights leaders who were brutally attacked by the police in Selma, Alabama, know from experience, these kinds of outbreaks open up those people's eyes who want their nation to be a shining example of humanity's best character, who were previously unaware of the deep level of contempt for universal human dignity as well as for the federal government that underlies conservative ideology.

The images pile on: Representative John Lewis, a longtime veteran of the civil rights struggle, and others on their way to vote for the legislation being spat upon; reports of death threats and brick throwing; Sarah Palin's goading of violence by presenting individuals in the cross hairs of a gun; President Bush wiping his hand on President Clinton's shirtsleeve after shaking a Haitian person's hand... These images speak far louder than any denials of reality can. And they present conservatives with the dilemma of looking at their own contradictions, because they can't have it both ways. They cannot label William Ayers as a terrorist and a traitor to the nation and at the same time hold up those who are willing to commit acts of violence against members of the government as patriots for a cause. I believe that most sympathizers of what William Ayers did thirty years ago have matured and now see the enormous error of trying to further a just cause through the instigation of violence. (To those who disagree with this conclusion, I would point out the fact that the radical elements of the anti-war movement in Berkeley were the original cause of the Reagan backlash against liberal ideologies that has persisted throughout these thirty years and remains as a bedrock of conservative thought structures today.) If it is democracy that is at stake, then the violent overthrow of democracy cannot be the answer. If nationalism is the calling, then states' rights cannot trump federal law. If government is the problem, then making the government less effective cannot be the solution.

Perhaps this rise in anger is a direction that President Obama foresaw and chose to take on in order to force the nation to deal with the polarization that has been increasing in recent years. Perhaps he knew that the level of contempt that so many would hold toward him is deeply rooted in our society, yet it is no match for the will for humanity to progress, with the weight of all of history behind it. Perhaps he understood the larger significance of his presidency and saw the opportunity to use his skills as a real "uniter," taking on the dual role of president of all of the people of the United States and at the same time gently, patiently, through persuasion and follow-through, inching the nation forward in its quest to become a more perfect union. And perhaps this is the answer to his non-involvement in the political struggles of the legislature on an issue that is so important to his presidency, as he was attempting to set the example of how a president should be everyone's president and not simply be the leader of one party. That the Democrats could not see the forest for the trees, having wasted an entire year being, themselves, too timid to come together and get this task completed, was painful to observe. It took the president's final stepping in, convincing such actors on the far left as Dennis Kucinich that there was a larger cause at stake, then conceding to the anti-abortion contingency on the right in a big way, thus providing the political party leadership that the Democrats are so desperately lacking.

Of course, many concessions were made, from the very beginning, in order to get this legislation passed. That is why this is really just a small step forward. But the fact of its passage, no matter how watered down or what was necessary to secure it, is the spark that could lead to the fire that brings the United States to face its inner demons. The political victory is just a small reason to celebrate. The spark that has been lit lies in the potential to change the politics, themselves.

President Obama will have learned from this experience, during which many have labeled his leadership as weak, wobbly, foggy, uninspiring... But he seems to have come to the realization that the nation was not ready for his attempt to be a national leader by distancing himself from the political circus ring or refusing to be a bully. He has been faced with the classic progressive dilemma of how to be ahead of the curve, yet be able to relate to the bulk of those who are following behind in a way that makes sense to them. Real leadership means that someone is ahead of the pack, leading the way, setting an example, not that someone is powerful because they are the most forceful or they have hung around the longest, having amassed their power, essentially, by default. But the president may have just learned the difficult lesson that the entrenched political system in the United States only understands the language of force, and that changing this system will be a much longer-term project that will have to remain secondary to the project of ensuring that the Democrats can address the current economic situation in demonstrably effective ways while at the same time defending themselves with honor and finesse against the vengeance of the party that knows how to raise a rabble and manipulate the fears and emotions of their constituency to gain support for their causes.

For their part, the Democrats could muster some finesse by looking at the larger significance of the health care reform not as a victory so much as the continuity of a long struggle for human rights. It follows the constitutional mandate "to promote the general Welfare and secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity" by limiting the tyranny of the insurance companies that separates society into those who can afford health care and the astounding number of those who cannot, which weakens the nation's work force, and which imposes hidden costs on employers.

Let us fan the flames of what has been sparked, that is, a movement that is willing to stand before the clamor of the fearful and the misguided, just as Martin Luther King Jr. and so many others bravely did, and insist that the country come together to reclaim our government so that it will work for the people instead of for the corporate financiers of all of the politicians. The next political battle will be over the ideology of deregulation, but to get at that issue we will need to force our representatives to take a long, hard look at the way that government works, focus on why it is so frustratingly inept and wasteful, and figure out how to limit the corrupting influences of lobbying and campaign financing as a better fix than simply dismantling it. Today, health care - tomorrow, returning our democracy to its most basic principle of "government by the people." Now that would be one giant leap for humankind.