The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Sunday, December 31, 2006
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Final Thoughts from an Old Year: Oh well, 2006 is almost over. Too bad, as it wasn’t the worst of years. For me, anyway.

About the only thing on my mind right now is soda ash. The stuff they use to make glass and a whole lot of other stuff. Here in the USA, we used to manufacture most of our soda ash from limestone. Now, we get most of it from mines out in Wyoming. A guy I know who talks with people who actually make stuff like glass tells me that the old manufactured soda ash was better, in that it was always the same. The natural soda ash from the ground varies from lot to lot, in terms of moisture and impurities. That’s a pain for people who have to make stuff from soda ash – they have to keep adjusting their processes to whatever kind of soda ash they get.

That’s a side of America that no one much notices or cares about anymore, the stuff that we’ve mostly lost to China and India and Brazil. We live in a world of consumer electronics and financial services and management consulting and entertainment and information technology. We hardly get our hands dirty anymore in making stuff from the raw elements of the earth (like wood, iron ore, petroleum, sand, minerals, etc.). I really wonder sometimes if that’s a bad thing for us here in America. We really don’t have a good sense anymore of what it takes to keep things going. We’re getting kind-of disconnected from reality. Kids today see nothing but shopping malls, internet cafes, theme restaurants and movie theaters. The rest of it is shipped in from somewhere over the horizon, by UPS and FedEx.

But, whatever. That’s America in 2006, soon to be 2007. I hope that your soda ash will be pure for 2007.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:54 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Thursday, December 28, 2006
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DON’T ALWAYS TRUST WHAT YOU DON’T SEE: In 2007, I’m going to talk a lot here about my “studies” regarding the subject of human consciousness. I’ve been reading some really interesting stuff about it lately, so I’m going to share some of what I’ve learned — along with my own reflections on the confounding question of what consciousness actually is. To be honest, I haven’t got the slightest idea on what the true nature of consciousness is or how it could be explained. But it’s still an interesting journey finding out what is and isn’t known about it.

One interesting phenomenon that I recently learned of is called “change blindness”. The Scientific American web site published a nice little article about it. To sum it up, our brains need to do a lot of unconscious processing of the internal signals that our eyes send, before we can actually “behold” a coherent image of what’s going in front of us. A lot of unconscious analysis goes on in the milliseconds between the light hitting the nerves in the back of our eyes, and our conscious response to what we see. In effect, the subconscious is trying to make a coherent picture out of a series of different identifications coming from different regions of the brain: colors, shapes, surfaces, motions, etc. In trying to put a coherent picture together, the subconscious may ignore what it doesn’t expect or has never experienced before; at the very least, it takes longer to “admit” that something unusual is happening. As such, you might not become aware of a dangerous situation as quickly as you do of a normal one.

I was a bit dubious regarding this concept, but it happened to me just this morning. I was driving over to a shopping mall, feeling fine, fully alert (having just finished a cup of tea). The weather was OK, sun behind some clouds, probably optimal visual conditions. I was tooling along on a straight road going downhill, fully aware of a truck stopped in the left lane, half way over the shoulder, about a thousand feet in front of me. Then, “as if out of nowhere”, I saw a car along side the truck; it was in my lane, coming right at me, head-on. Yikes! The guy was taking a risk, but he got past the truck and zipped back over into his lane, just a microsecond before I had to slam my brakes and veer to the right. To be honest, I never saw that idiot slide over into my lane, despite my staring right at where he was. My mind lost a couple of precious milliseconds before it accepted the fact that a car was heading at me at full speed. It was not expecting the unexpected. I was lucky in that the jerk who was coming at me was correct, after all; he did in fact have enough time to complete his maneuver and avert another highway tragedy. But if his calculations were off by just 5% or so, it could have been really messy for both of us.

How many times have you heard the phrase “it came out of nowhere” when people describe the circumstances leading up to a nasty collision? That’s change blindness at work. Because of the way our minds work, we lose a couple of split seconds that could have been used to avoid, or at least lessen, the damage and injury (and sometimes death) that followed. The only thing you can do is to drive as SLOWLY – that’s right, I said SLOWLY – as is practicable in a given situation. The slower you go, the more time you have in an unexpected emergency. I realize that you can’t drive at 30 MPH on a main thoroughfare marked for 40; you’d either get shot at or have your car rammed or sideswiped. At the very least, you’d be the subject of a variety of obscene epithets and gestures. But do realize that most people overestimate the amount of control that they really have while driving. That’s why car insurance rates are so high these days.

Back when I was learning how to drive, no one knew about “change blindness”. Today we do – but then again, how could you convince teenagers that what they see or don’t see isn’t always what’s really out there? Actually, there may be ways; there are interesting films that demonstrate change blindness. Hopefully, the drivers education institution will make good use of this . . . . before the next young idiot behind the wheels risks his life and mine.

And have a Happy New Year . . . .

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:36 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
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PERSONAL TRIVIA: First bit of personal trivia – in my opinion, Celestial Season’s African Mango Orange Rooibos Tea tastes like a balsam Christmas tree! My family always had a balsam tree for Christmas when I was a kid, and this tea (oddly enough) tastes something like that good old balsam smell (back in the days when the trees were fresh and sappy, and you didn’t need to buy aerosol Christmas tree smell). I don’t decorate my apartment for Christmas these days, but I did make myself a cup of this tea yesterday morning. It was my cup of kindness, for auld lang syne. Call me sentimental, if you must . . . .

Second bit of personal trivia: I never really liked Mickey Mouse or any Walt Disney cartoons. I didn’t dig the TV shows or movies either (from way back in the 1960s, when I was a kid). Disney cartoons were quite well-made, but there was something too . . . . just too suburban about them. Sort of like Wonder Bread and almost any product sold by Kraft Foods (think of Miracle Whip, which was made for Wonder Bread). I liked Warner Brothers ‘toons a lot better; the characters on Bugs Bunny had more of an attitude. Mickey Mouse and his friends were just too . . . excuse the expression . . . “Mickey Mouse”.

Third bit of personal trivia: I didn’t like the old Dead End Kids shows on TV (and some movies) when I was a kid. But I thought that the Bowery Boys were great. The Bowery Boys were the final evolution of the East Side Kids and Dead End Kids movies that were started in the 1930s and ended in the early 1950s. The Bowery Boys were young adults, not juvenile semi-delinquents, as in the earlier incarnations. They were down-and-out adults, which just added to the charm. They hung out in Louie’s Sweet Shop, located deep in some New York City neighborhood (perhaps the Bowery?), and didn’t really do much of anything until something came along that got their attention (like a damsel in distress, of some sort). I tried to buy a DVD boxed set for the Bowery Boys (as a gift for a relative), but it doesn’t exist! Only the earlier “East Side Kids” incarnation is available. That’s a shame. The Boys deserve better.

And finally …. some personal trivia about the nation as a whole, when the lights go out. Recently, the US Center for Disease Control released the results of a 2002 survey regarding the sexual behavior of people aged 18 to 44. It turns out that for both men and women, 90% consider themselves straight — just plain straight. On the other end of the spectrum, 2.8% of men consider themselves definitely gay; for women, the corresponding number is lower, 1.3%. If you lump those who answered “definitely homosexual” together with the “definitely bisexual” crowd, it totals to about 4.1% for both men and women (which corresponds with past estimates showing that roughly 1 in 25 people are gay in some way). Interestingly, a somewhat greater percentage of women are bisexual than men (2.8% versus 1.8%).

What about the rest? About 1.8% of both men and women didn’t answer at all, and 3.9% of men / 3.8% of women answered “something else”. So, for both men and women, around 5 and ½ % didn’t want to call themselves hetero, gay or bi. Wonder what that means? Is voluntary chastity more popular than we think? If so, is it a permanent life-choice, or just burn-out from a string of broken relationships? And what if you included older people – what would be the percentage for “too tired to bother anymore”? Let’s hope that someone follows up on that, although I’m not sure if the federal government is the right organization.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:33 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Thursday, December 21, 2006
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OUR LADY OF HOPE . . . and Madison: I saw a story the other day about an outdoor shrine that the Mexican community of Passaic, NJ recently built to house and honor a tree stump that looks like a statue of the Virgin Mary. The stump was cut down in 2003 on Hope Avenue in Passaic, and would have been tossed into a woodchipper or something, except someone noticed that it looked a bit like the Blessed Virgin in her flowing robes. Well, that touched off a blaze of Marian apparition fever in Passaic, which has vibrant Mexican and Polish immigrant neighborhoods (both nationalities are definitely from the old-school of Catholic Marian worship). A few months ago, some Mexican business people chipped in to set up a little bricked park next to a highway overpass, with a well constructed wooden shrine to protect the stump. Passaic is not far from my stomping grounds (and my mom grew up there), so I decided to drive over and have a look. So, here are a couple of pix.

First off, the new shrine and the brick plaza, in the shadow of Route 21:

Next, a local guy and his kids have a look.

Here’s Mary: you see the head and shoulders; the flowers block the rest. But you can just see two raises in the wood that more or less look like hands over the heart. Hey, no wonder this stump has a following.

But here’s what I see: when you look at the top of the stump, the dark area, you see another sort of face . . . one with teeth sticking out predatorily, not terribly Mary-like.

I suppose it always depends on how you look at things – perhaps I’m looking at the dark side, while those good Catholics of Passaic are seeking out the light. Hey, being of Polish stock, I still have a soft spot in my heart for those old stories about Mary extending her cosmic protection to all the simple of heart. But at bottom, I guess that I’m still an iconoclast.

I’m not a Catholic anymore, but even back when I was, I never had much regard for the whole Mary thing. It all seemed like a way of retro-fitting some female attributes into the whole God thing, while not compromising God’s paternal strength and masculinity. Instead of elevating a Palestinian Jewish mother from the first century into a virginal demi-god, why not just say that God can be both mother-like and father-like, in the traditional sense? But OK, I will admit that I’m expressing a very modern sentiment here, whereas much of the world still struggles for daily survival. And that part of the world very much needs its myths. I guess you could do worse than to give the masses an immaculate celestial-mother, to promise them shelter and hope.

(Of course, as Marx tried to point out, you could do better – by actually giving them opportunities for justice and economic enfranchisement. But forget about Marxism and other forms of Utopia; you might as well let the downtrodden have their religion, ‘cause it’s gonna be a long time until they all get their share of earthly paradise.)

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:12 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Monday, December 18, 2006
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Sad to read that Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci died not too long ago. That lady had a classic north Italian face, a nice body, a sharp brain and a major attitude. She had the guts to say about old-school Islam what many of us suspect, but hope really isn’t true (or hope that by not saying it, it will fade away all the quicker). She was a guy’s kind of female world-affairs writer, a lady who took a few bullets, quite literally (Mexico City, 1968). I hope some other chick will pick up the torch (any woman who’d carry on Ms. Fallaci’s work would be tough enough not to mind being called a “chick”). Resto nella pace, la Fallaci.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:59 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Saturday, December 16, 2006
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LISTEN TO THE RHYTHM OF THE FALLIN’ RAIN: One of the nice things about having a window air conditioner is that it lets you hear the music of a rain shower. Some people would say that the nicest thing about a window air conditioner is that it cools off your room during the summer. Well, I’m not a big fan of air conditioning – actually I’d rather open the windows and use a fan, unless it’s horribly hot. But I do like the sound of rainfall pinging on the metal casing of the air conditioner. It’s just one of those little things that makes me feel content. At this point in my life, it’s good to notice and appreciate every little thing that brings contentedness, because there are so many big things that cause discontent. It’s good to savor every little contented moment, while they last. Like the rhythm of the fallin’ rain, on the window air conditioner.

(What other rain songs can I think of? “I Love a Rainy Night”. “Tell It To The Rain”. “How I Wish That It Would Rain”. “Rainy Day People”. “You and Me and Rain On A Roof”. There’s probably a whole lot more.)

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:22 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Foreign Relations/World Affairs ... Politics ...

Ever since the election, our nation’s top leaders have adopted a mantra regarding the situation in Iraq: “a fresh approach”. Unfortunately, no one can determine just what that approach is. Former Secretary of State Jim Baker and his Iraq Study Group recommend easing our combat troops out while keeping some troops in Iraq to train and support the national army, together with urging Syria and Iran to do whatever they can to calm things down between the Sunnis and Shiites. OK, who else out there is old enough to remember the phrase “Vietnamization”? President Bush agrees that a fresh approach is needed, but disagrees with Baker. He doesn’t have any other ideas, though, so for now he’s continuing with the same old approach that has worked so poorly.

In my opinion, the main problem isn’t what the United States is or isn’t doing in Iraq. The heart of the problem is that there isn’t enough interest amidst the current occupants of Iraq in maintaining a unified nation. There doesn’t appear to be an Abraham Lincoln, inspiring the masses to suffer greatly for the cause of reunification; not even for a weak “federalized” version of nationhood. The center cannot hold.

There’s an article in todays NY Times by Roger Cohen entitled Iraq’s Biggest Failing: There Is No Iraq. I think it’s fair to say that Mr. Cohen basically agrees with what I just said. Mr. Cohen, however, ends his insightful article urging the United States to keep on trying to put a unified and viable Iraqi government in place. Otherwise, there could be a blood-bath in Baghdad, and the Sunnis would get stuck with a dirt-poor desert province that would make a wonderful headquarters and training site for Al Qaeda and other international jihad terror groups. Unfortunately, Mr. Cohen didn’t have any “fresh approach” suggestions as to how to accomplish this. I suppose that he agrees with Mr. Bush, i.e. stick it out, take your lumps, and hope to eventually get a lucky break.

Personally, I don’t see any hope of a lucky break in the offing right now. Civil war situations usually end only after a whole lot of destruction and bloodshed causes exhaustion on both sides. Hopefully, the exhaustion is of equal magnitude and both sides set up a compromise that prevents further warfare (although preventing growth and development for many decades). Examples: Yugoslavia and Cyprus. When one side wins decisively (as in the United States), the underlying issues may fester for the next century or so. Sometimes the break-up option is the best of a series of bad choices. It’s looking more and more like that in Iraq.

It seems to me, though, that there is a possibility to break Iraq up in a way that might avoid the worst of the downsides. The USA would have to be the dealmaker, and our hands would be dirty from it; but at this point, how can the USA come out with clean hands?

The deal is this: Let the Shiites have their own nation in the south east, and let them do what they will with Iran. All we could do about that would be to offer continued economic assistance, especially with regard to restoring their oil infrastructure. If they could feed their people and otherwise support themselves economically, they wouldn’t need to suck up to Iran. Although both Iran and Shia Mesopotamia share the same religious sect, there is still a strong line of cleavage, i.e. ethnicity. Arab Shia don’t necessarily want to be puppets of Persian Shia. With some quiet US assistance, perhaps they wouldn’t have to.

As to the Sunnis and the Kurds, here’s the deal. The Kurds would love to declare an independent Kurdistan and gain US recognition and continued support. They also have lots of oil and could get by economically. The USA would benefit from having another friend in the Islamic Middle East; perhaps over time, we could help secularize and modernize their ways. I.e. we could still set up the model Islamic democracy that we hoped Iraq overall would be, only a bit smaller. We’d hopefully get favorable treatment in buying their oil, and they’d probably let us keep some US troops there to support their national army. They’d probably let us keep some special forces active there, quietly carrying out pro-active anti-terrorist operations. Turkey would get nervous about a strong Kurdistan, but we have a door open with the Turks; with some old-fashioned diplomacy and economic assistance, I’m sure we could keep them in line. So overall, the USA would still come out with some real benefits from the whole Iraqi campaign.

But OK, then what about the Sunnis? They get the dirty end of the stick, out in the western provinces without oil. What keeps them from supporting terrorism against the new Kurdistan, and against the West in general (via Al Qaeda)? Well, here’s where the deal gets tough – but not impossible. Suppose we told the Kurds that we’d fully support their immediate independence, if they agreed to take in the Sunnis? I.e., if they agreed to some form of weak federalism with the Sunni province, mainly as a means to share their oil revenues with them? That would be our catch. The Kurds can have nationhood now; the USA would immediately drop its efforts to keep the zombie of federal Iraq alive. But the Kurds would have to share enough of their wealth to keep the Sunnis from going over to the dark side. The USA would obviously get stuck with part of that bill; the Kurds would demand assurances of long-term aid of the same magnitude that we now support Israel with. And the Turks would exact their price too. It would be expensive for us. But fighting a losing war in the Middle East is also expensive.

Let me spell out, one more time, the benefits to the USA of such a deal, however expensive: We get another friendly Islamic nation, one that might be willing to be tutored in the ways of modern Western values. We get another friendly Middle Eastern oil seller. We get to keep some troops in the region, though not in a combat role; this keeps Iran and Syria just a little bit nervous, which is good. We give the Sunnis a line of cash flow, in return for their not sponsoring a jihadist carnival in Anbar. And we quietly keep special force troops active in their backyard, to make sure that they don’t.

OK, but as to Baghdad – that’s still a time bomb that needs to be defused. In the end, I think we want to draw the borders such that Baghdad could be split, half to the Shia nation, half to the Kurd-Sunni federation. Families would need to migrate to the correct sides of the dividing line (which they are already doing). But over the next few years, troops would admittedly be needed there to avoid massive violence. They should be international troops, working under a UN mandate. I say that we go back to the UN and arm-twist the French and Germans and Russians and Arab states to support a Baghdad stabilization mission as part of our end-game. Yes, we’d have to eat some crow and go back to good old fashioned diplomacy, as was practiced before the current Mr. Bush (he could check in with his father about that). But if it were done right, I think that everybody would come out with something. For example, the French and Germans would be allowed to keep their smug “I told you so” attitude.

I’m not imagining that this deal would be perfect. There would still be plenty of violence and set backs. But it seems to me to be the one scenario that gives the USA a real chance of gaining half a loaf. If we stay the current course (despite a few so-called “fresh approaches”) and try to gain the whole loaf of a stabilized, united Iraq, the chances seem very good of losing everything; and not so good for gaining anything.

That’s my two cents. The window for such a deal is probably short. The Bush administration would have to swallow a lot of pride. But it might save the historical remembrance of Mr. Bush’s presidency from the disaster category.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:16 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Thursday, December 7, 2006
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The world has changed so much over the past few decades that it’s hard to imagine what life must have been like a century or two ago. It’s hard to believe, but people once got by without gasoline and electricity and professional sports and refrigerators and video cell phones and e-mail and microwaved food. That’s what makes the new TV series “Jericho” sort of interesting, despite some really crummy acting and plot lines. What if some nukes really did go off and our economy was gone, and in order for anyone at all to survive we had to go back to eighteenth century ways of living? In Jericho, nobody seems to have the faintest idea of how to do that. They’re just living off their stores and complaining and forming militias and hoping that something will save them from their steadily worsening lot. Well, in order to avoid a total crash in ratings, I suppose that the script writers at CBS are planning something like, though not without some intrigue (i.e., just who is Hawkins working for?).

But enough about such depressing subjects like Jericho and nuclear terrorism. Let’s ponder something that has not changed in 100 or 200 or 500 years. I was reading a William James essay on the nature of consciousness, and I was taken by a metaphor he used to exemplify how hard it is to capture a moment of change between our various thought patterns. Here’s what he said: “As a snowflake crystal caught in the warm hand is no longer a crystal but a drop . . . .” That distracted me from James’ main point, and made me realize that back in his day, around a century ago, snowflakes were the same as they are now. And so were hands. And so was what happens when you let a snowflake fall on your hand. You could go back 200 or 2000 years, and it would still be the same. People from long ago, people who are long dead, had the same little experiences in their lives that we have today, even if they never watched Sunday NFL action on a big-screen TV.

That’s something to ponder as December progresses, as the days grow dark and cold, as the snowflakes start to fall. Someday, everyone alive today will be gone, and people will think about how different their lives are from the way it was in 2006 (although with global warming and nuclear terrorism on the horizon, I’m not sure if that means more or less wealth and consumer electronics). But the snow will still fall, and occasionally someone, mostly children, will notice when a pretty snowflake pattern quickly vanishes into a drop of water on the skin.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:55 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Monday, December 4, 2006
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Unless you’ve been a big success in your chosen career, you probably have a boss. Even if you’ve become a boss, you still usually have a bigger boss over you. If a job is like a piece of wood, then bosses are just part of the grain of it all, the part that gives you splinters. Some bosses are OK, some are really bad, and most are mediocre. If you play the game right you get thru the day with them, and life goes on.

There is a certain kind of boss that can be rather difficult, though. That’s the “paternal boss” (for lack of a better description). I’ve had two of them in my time. You really have to be careful with them, because you’re in for a lot of head games.

How does it all start? Well, maybe you first meet your future boss in an interview. Or maybe you know them in passing, and one day they mention to you that there might be a good opening in their company, and would you be interested. However it happens, they seem to like you right from the get-go. They’re very positive about all the interesting things you’ll be doing for them. You really feel appreciated; it’s great.

But after a month or two, things get just a little bit weird. For a moment or two, you’re not the golden boy (or girl) anymore. You did something wrong – but it’s hard to say just what. It’s not like you made some huge mistake and sent a million dollars of stuff off to the wrong place. It’s much more subtle. And then it goes away. But eventually it comes back again. And then things are fine again. Back and forth.

Eventually it gets worse. Your boss-friend now has some comments about your habits. Maybe you’re a bit too quiet at meetings. Or maybe your clothes or haircut aren’t exactly right. It’s all kind of insulting, but allegedly the boss is trying to help you. Your actual work product may be just fine; you’ve done everything you were asked, and you did it very well. But that’s just not enough for your parental boss. You should have put just a little bit extra into it. You didn’t see the big picture. Of course you won’t get fired; you’ll probably still get an annual raise. But the attitude remains: if you don’t change, then how can you ever get ahead . . . . like guess who . . . . . yes, like your wonderful head-case boss.

Then you’re into the thick of some heavy role-playing. Your boss is the successful parent, who works hard to make it in the world despite tough odds. And you are the lazy child, the one who has all the talent but just hasn’t yet learned how to unleash it in the world. The problem here is that the parental boss looks at you as something that he or she can change. You become their project. They want to change you. They want to turn you into them. They’re quite certain that this would all be for the best.

Hopefully, you have enough self-regard to resist being changed. Hopefully you’re going to stick with being you. Again, I’ve had two bosses like this in my life, and in both cases they came from families with fathers who were very demanding. These fathers came up in tough circumstances and fought their way to career success. Obviously they wanted to imprint it onto their own kids.

Some kids rebel against fathers like this, but some kids give in. (For both of my own parental bosses, they went thru rebellious phases in their teen and early adult years, but by age 30 or so they settled down into the kind of career that their father might approve of). And in the giving-in process, something is lost. Something of the real you, the deep-down inside part of you; it’s gone forever. And that makes a person insecure.

So in a nutshell, that’s what’s going on with a parental boss. He or she is very insecure, deep down inside. You couldn’t tell directly that they were insecure; they seem very self-confident in their actions. Hey, they’re bosses, after all. They’ve made it! But way down inside, they know something is wrong. And to help shield themselves from this quiet inner knowledge, they force themselves on you. They want to see you “blossom”, so as to affirm the goodness of what their fathers did to them.

And if you don’t play ball with them, then it can get very weird. You eventually split them in two. One day it’s dad, all mad at you for being a failure in life despite all he did for you. Then, another day it’s the “real person” down inside trying to come back to life, wanting to be your friend. But hopefully, your schitzo boss eventually gets tired of what you’re doing to him or her, and then just treats you like another worker. So long as you don’t make any big mistakes, they leave you alone, mostly. But the other two inner-characters never completely disappear. So long as you keep working for this boss, things will be unpredictable.

Hopefully you’ll eventually get a better job. But until you do, you just need to keep on believing in yourself, and in your ability to do a good job your own way. In both of my parental-boss jobs, other people in the organization – including the boss’s boss – saw that I was doing good work and told me so, without any head games. “Stay in the light”, and eventually, it will all be all right.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:10 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Saturday, December 2, 2006
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WYATT EARP AND THE KOSMIC KID: THE DIS-INTEGRATION OF KEN WILBER. Back in the 1990’s, I was on a spiritual search of sorts. Well, that’s all a long story, which I’m not in the mood to explain right now. Heck, a lot of people in my age bracket were on spiritual searches back in the 1990’s. We all started worrying about getting old right around then. And Ken Wilber was there to help us, the great integrator, the doyen of transpersonal development, the guy who would lead us to all quadrants and all levels. He kept on knocking out books about a wide variety of psycho-spiritual growth topics, and the Baby Boom just kept on buying them. President Bill Clinton himself admitted to being a Wilber devotee (that was obviously a tip off regarding what was to come). Ken was the new-world man.

I became familiar with Mr. Wilber thru a column he wrote for some spiritual quest magazine from California. I now forget the name of it, but it was basically New-age-ish, although the editor (a short, stout-looking fellow named Richard with a good sense of humor) still had some respect for the old-schools of religious spiritualism. Somehow they got my name and address, probably from some letter that I wrote to a more Christianized magazine regarding the contemplative life, and they started sending me free copies. Mr. Wilber seemed interesting, but after a few issues I could tell that he had an aggressive streak in him. He was always irritated with somebody about a disagreement regarding the finer points of kundalini energy or spiral dynamics or such. All the meditative experience and inner peace that a guru like Ken should have in spades had failed to extinguish something very angry deep down within him. That was my take, anyway.

After about a year, I decided to send payment to the magazine in question for a year’s subscription; it seemed interesting, and I figured that you can only freeload for so long. Well, about a month after they cashed my check, I got a notice from them saying that my subscription was up and would I please send in payment for renewal. Oh, I see. The free issues weren’t so free after all. OK, I figured it would be best to just call it even and walk away. I’d have to somehow get by in life without the brilliant tidbits of wisdom from the great bald integrator.

I did consider buying one or two of his books, just before the turn of the century. But I decided against it. I don’t remember exactly why; maybe it was the Bill Clinton connection. Or maybe Ken was just a little too brilliant for me.

The other day, I decided to do a Google on Ken, see what he’s been up to since the new millennium began. A lot, as it turns out. He’s kept on knocking out the books, and he’s formed a semi-academic institute dedicated to his approach to things. It’s called the Integral Institute (or I-I for short). And a cottage industry of Wilber de-constructors and critics has grown up around him.

One of Mr. Wilber’s more noteworthy commentators is a Mr. Frank Visser, who has a rather interesting web site just chock full of commentary on Wilber and transpersonal growth theories. I’ve read that Mr. Visser and Mr. Wilber have met, and have even socialized a bit (no, they’re not gay; Ken was married, but his wife died of cancer a number of years ago). Earlier this year, Mr. Visser critiqued one of Mr. Wilber’s recent books. I guess that it hit a nerve, because old Kenny had to write a long diatribe on his blog (even longer than my rants!) about why he was mad at Visser, although it wasn’t that he couldn’t take honest criticism. (Even though that’s really what it looks like).

Well, bottom line for me: Ken Wilber hasn’t changed a whit. Wilber describes himself as having the kind of intellectual software which gets upgraded and renumbered every so often. Right now he’s at Wilber 5.0. Back when I was reading his columns, it might have been Wilber 2.1 or something. But the main point is that Wilber still has something smoldering deep within himself. And that’s probably the source of his genius; those at peace with themselves are not always the most creative of folk. It’s the tortured souls constantly in search of something who knock out the best thinking. And Ken Wilber certainly has knocked out a whole lot of good thinking, really good. Way beyond what my slug brain could ever turn out. But as to finding peace within . . . . Wilber may have his integral theory and his holons down cold, but is he integrated and holistic himself? Or is he just like the rest of us after all; just another sloppy work in progress?

P.S. Actually, now that I shave my head once a week, I look a bit like Ken Wilber(!). But I’m not going around bragging about it.

Also – as to the Wyatt Earp thing – simply read the Wilber meltdown blog, or click on the link that I just provided.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:17 am       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
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